Experiences like these made Rivera feel like running wasn’t for her. “I put running back on the shelf,” she says. But after the pandemic inspired her to try low-stakes weekly runs on her own, she not only fell back in love with the sport, but decided to create a place where other back-of-the-pack runners would truly be welcome with her Slow AF Run Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Rivera and her club are part of a much-needed shift that’s opening up the competitive culture of running to people who care more about getting outside and having fun than setting a PR. And it’s not just those who’ve been excluded from the fitness industry who are reclaiming the fun of running slow: Even Equinox, possibly the pinnacle of high-end fitness, recently launched guided workouts focused on jogging—yes, jogging. Once (and to some, still) a cringe-inducing term in the eyes of “serious” runners, jogging is now being reclaimed by those who see it as an alternate—but not lesser—form of running.
The origins of modern jogging
Parts of this emerging running culture harken back to the running boom of the 1970s, when for the first time, average people were running casually en masse. Or, as many called it back then, jogging.
But soon after jogging came into style in the ’70s—replete with pastel shorts and matching sweatbands—the term “jogger” began to turn derogatory, thanks at least in part to serious runners who felt the need to distinguish themselves from the new swarms of recreational ones.
“Somewhere along the line, ‘jogger’ became pejorative,” says Mark Remy, a former Runner’s World editor and the founder of dumbrunner.com. “It became associated with dilettantes, beginners—people who went on very short runs or very slow runs, usually both, and who didn’t really care about how far or fast they were going.”
Writer Peter Flax pointed out in a 2020 Runner’s World story defending joggers that not only did the term come to denote slowness and casualness, but also incompetence, and a lack of passion and grace. “Nearly every sport develops an insult to describe deplorable pretenders,” Flax writes. “Cycling has Freds; surfing has kooks; skating has posers. And running has joggers.”
“Jogger” also began to take on a sinister usage, says Remy: Even today, the news media and TV shows often refer to runners who encounter news-making violence on their run—like finding a body or getting hit by a car—as joggers, no matter their running resumé.
So, what’s actually the distinction between running and jogging?
The real difference between running and jogging is debatable. (And boy has it been debated. See: The dozens of threads on the notoriously caustic running forum Letsrun.com, which have come up with such unrealistic and exclusive definitions of a “jogger” as anyone who doesn’t get paid to run, or anyone with a 5K time over 15 minutes.)
David Siik, a running coach and founder of Equinox’s Precision Run program, sees overall intensity as the distinction: A jog should allow you to have a conversation without getting breathless, he says, and should be sustainable for a long period of time.
But this doesn’t account for the fact that, for some, running at even a very slow pace might be a challenge, and unsustainable for more than a few minutes. Whether this kind of slow but breathless pace is a run or a jog speaks to how individual (and arbitrary) these categories can be.
For Andrea Ettinghausen, who grew up in the competitive running world as the daughter of well-known ultrarunner Ed Ettinghausen, jogging is about mindset rather than pace. “A hobby jogger is someone who runs for fun, for health and fitness,” says Ettinghausen, who recently founded the Hobby Joggers Running Club in Temecula, California. “They don’t have an overly competitive mindset or rigorous routine.”
Though Ettinghausen is reclaiming being a “hobby jogger,” a term usually meant as an insult, she sees “runner” as a broad category inside which “jogger” lives. “If you go out and do a 5K or a marathon, I don’t care if you walk the whole thing—in my mind, you’re still a runner,” she says. “I think when you say you’re a runner a lot of people think you’re out there doing six-minute or seven-minute miles, and it’s nothing like that.”
“If you go out and do a 5K or a marathon, I don’t care if you walk the whole thing—in my mind, you’re still a runner.” —Andrea Ettinghausen
Making everyone welcome
Inspired by her dad, who is known for finishing races and then going back to finish again with the last runner, Ettinghausen’s club is built around making sure no one feels inferior because they run at a slower pace. Ettinghausen sets up mile markers along an out-and-back path, and waits at the start/finish to greet participants who’ve run as far and as fast as they’ve liked. Then, members build community during a post-run conversation, on topics like mental health.
Rivera, too, is careful no one gets left behind on her group’s two-mile runs: She chats with new members pre-run and introduces them to others who might be a fit for them to run with, and always brings in the rear so that no one finishes last. Rivera finds the distinction between “runner” and “jogger” unhelpful. “I feel like it doesn’t really matter,” she says. “Especially within our group, it’s already the premise that everyone’s slow. And also, I want people to feel empowered—if you’re running at 13 minutes a mile, or 14 minutes, or even 15 minutes, you’re still running.”
But Siik believes that jogging can be just as empowering as running, and has structured Equinox’s guided jogs, which live on the Equinox+ app, with that idea in mind. “We never treat somebody who is jogging like they are doing a less intense workout,” he says. “We don’t have to make them feel like they’re doing less, because they’re not doing less. They just made a choice to jog, so let’s make them feel just as powerful as somebody who takes a treadmill class.”
Though he likes the idea that jogging can be meditative, an opportunity to sit with your thoughts rather than focusing on the mechanics of your workout, Siik has strategically programmed Equinox’s jogs to have “just a little bit of structure,” he says, walking the line between being accessible to those who are intimidated by the idea of running and giving joggers tools to grow and improve. For some, these jogs are a stepping stone to running; for others, jogging itself is enough—and that’s okay.
For Siik, the rise of jogging culture has gone hand-in-hand with changing perceptions of what a “running body” is. “There’s been a lot of getting over body-shaming in running,” he says. “The idea that any body can be a running body—that changed everything.”
Today’s take on the word “jogger”
The pandemic reawakened some of the vitriol behind the term “jogger,” as new runners desperate for fresh air crowded trails and “selfish joggers”—not runners—without masks were unfairly blamed for spreading COVID on a viral sign in New York City.
But Siik says that, overall, he’s noticed the contempt behind the word soften in recent years, as social media has helped competitive runners realize that hobbyists make the running world go ‘round by paying race fees and buying gear in droves. Athleisure brands, too, that make stylish clothes suitable for casual miles but not necessarily performance-grade (think: Outdoor Voices or Girlfriend Collective) are “feeding the beast of jogging—making the connotation more sexy,” says Siik.
Sexy or not, jogging—or at least running slowly—is less a trend and more a reality of most every runner’s journey at some point, whether they like it or not. Rivera says her Slow AF Run Club is a place where older runners and runners recovering from long-term illnesses or injuries can feel at home and rediscover their relationship with the sport. Even elite runners rely on easy runs: Marathoner Molly Seidel credits her recent successes—including an Olympic bronze medal and a New York City Marathon American course record—to her (relatively) slow training runs.
Ettinghausen wishes that someone had told her long ago that it’s okay to run at your own pace; to be at the back of the pack. She’s only received positive feedback on her Hobby Joggers club thus far, though she realizes there are runners who would still cringe at the group’s name. “I’m okay with that,” she says. “We’re not out there running our asses off. A mile is a mile—you’re out there for you.”
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