Being a good runner is the ability to go the distance, especially when conditions are less than ideal. Any runner who has trained for an event can finish it in ideal conditions. For me an ideal race day would be 10 to 15 degrees C (50 to 59 F) and overcast. I would be injury-free and have no problems during the race. What separates the good runners from the rest of the pack is finishing a race when things don't happen the way you wish them to. The weather may be hot, I may have a small injury, or I may have a cramp during a race. But I've been able to overcome those problems to make it to the finish line.
A good runner is someone who always gives his or her best effort. It doesn't matter if that runner is fast or slow. What's important is that the runner did the best that he or she could do under the circumstances. I'm a middle of the pack runner, yet I consider myself to be a good runner. When I race, I always strive to do my best. I know several runners who are slower than me who I feel are good runners because they always go out and do their best. None of us are going to set any records, but that doesn't matter. It's the effort that's important.
Some of my most satisfying races were not ones in which I set any personal records. They were races in which I knew that I did the best I possibly could. I trained for the 2004 Neumarkt City Run 10.5 km race with the goal of improving on my previous year's time. But on race day the weather was unseasonably warm. I knew that a fast time was out of the question. When I finished, I was over a minute slower than in 2003. But when I crossed the finish line, I was very happy because I knew that I went out and did my best in the warm weather. Another great race was the 2005 Hohenfels Box Run 10K. I was the 3rd place woman in that race, but that's not why I felt good at the finish line. What made that race great was that I was part of a team, which inspired me to do my best. My team ended up winning the team title, which made my hard effort even more worthwhile. The 2007 Munich City Run half-marathon was also a wonderful race. It was my first half-marathon in three years. My goal was simply to go out and do the best I could. My time wasn't my half-marathon PR, but I was happy that I performed better than I thought I would.
I also know fast runners who I feel are not good runners. There was a man who I knew when I was in Hohenfels who told me about his races. I was impressed at first, because he told me that he was always in the top 3 either overall or in his age group. But my respect for his ability disappeared when he told me that he would quit a race when he knew that he wasn't going to get on the podium. That's so wrong. I would rather finish last knowing I had given my best effort than quit simply because I wasn't going to win.
When I started running and racing, my former running partner Bill told me that I was a good runner. I didn't believe it at first because I wasn't very fast. It was after I became an experienced racer that I realized that Bill was right. Bill saw that I not only was fairly fast (in my latest half-marathon I was in the top 20% of the women), but that I had what it takes to go the distance in both favorable and unfavorable conditions.
The majority of runners will never win a race or age group award or qualify for the Boston Marathon. But as long as they go the distance while giving their best effort, especially in less than ideal conditions, they are good runners.