Southwest Florida has a pretty strong running community. And, I have to say, runners tend to be some of the happiest and most supportive folks you’ll find (I could be a little biased). However, the more time you spend among runners, the more you come to realize that running is not the same for everyone. Everyone who laces up has a reason for donning their shoes and walking out the door.

The Ultrarunners: These people are crazy. A 50-mile run for fun? That’s just a normal weekend for them. In Charlotte County, many ultrarunners seem to reside west of the Myakka River. I don’t know if there’s any significance to that; just an observation.

The Devoted Marathoners: This is where I fall. Running 26.2 miles is the perfect challenge … OK, if you’re me. Word of caution: Marathoners can work the topic of marathons into literally any conversation. We’re like vegetarians — you always know who they are because they will always tell you.

The Middle-Distance Runner: Runs from 15k (9.3 miles) to half-marathon (13.1 miles) are great distances. In fact, the half-marathon distance is now the most popular race distance, outcompeting the 5k (3.1 miles). This of course is great for running supply companies — at this distance comes the need for energy gels, chafing balms, and a whole host of running-specific gear.

The Run, Walk, Runners: Pioneered by running Coach Jeff Galloway, there’s a whole movement of run, walk, running … and walk, run, walking. The idea is that you run a for a set time, and then walk for a set time. This group spans all distances.

The Tough Mudders: This group includes all obstacle-type races. Over walls, under barbwire, through ice, etc. Personally I struggle to understand why anyone would want to be voluntarily electrocuted, but hey, to each their own.

5K Warriors: This is the bread-and-butter of local running. There is literally a 5K (3.1 miles) every weekend and an endless supply of runners to run them. Charity runs, color runs, night runs, whatever. For many, this is where running starts.

Run, Bike, Swimmers: I’ve done a few short distance triathlons, but I find it too challenging to fit three sports into my life at the same time. However, Southwest Florida has a bunch of triathletes who seem to make it work. At this sport’s extreme is the Ironman with a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile run — all in one day. Crazy!

The Trail Trekkers: Find a preserve, any preserve, and go. Trail runners tend to enjoy nature. And being out in nature is a great way to recharge and refresh. On trails there are no hard sidewalks, no cars and no exhaust. Of course, there are roots and stumps, which in part explains my quarterly falling.

The Ovalists: Turn left and spit. No, wait, these are the track runners. Typically short distance and fast, track running is popular with high school and college students. There’s also the senior games, and a lot of runners, 5k to marathon, who like to do speed work on the track. Personally, I find it about as exciting as a treadmill.

Run For Fun: There’s a whole group of these folks. They don’t care about racing. They’re not concerned with running fast. No need to worry about long runs, tempo runs or the speed workouts. They just head out the door and run for a half-hour or whatever feels right.

The reasons we run are nicely summed up by ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes: “I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch. I run to breathe the fresh air. I run to explore. I run to escape the ordinary. I run … to savor the trip along the way. Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense. I like that.”

Why do you run?

Betty Staugler is the Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program and an active runner. Contact her at staugler@ufl.edu or 941-764-4346.

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