Crossing the the threshold from a "Wannabe Runner" to a "Runner Who Wants to Improve" is a small, often undetectable shift in one's running. Many people start running for reasons other than becoming a better runner. Often, they simply want to get in better shape, lose weight, or have an excuse to buy skin-tight three-quarter length running tights to show off their legs on a treadmill.
Wannabe Runners will improve unless they do everything in their power to not improve, like running as fast as they can on every run, subsisting on a diet of chocolate milk and protein bars, or running the same distance at the same pace every time they run. While going from running a little bit to running a little bit more will lead to improvement whether they're trying or not, it doesn't make a "Wannabe Runner" a "Runner Who Wants to Improve."
This natural improvement, however, can lead to a "Wannabe Runner" becoming a "Runner Who Wants to Improve." Sometimes it starts on accident. Our hypothetical runner is scrolling mindlessly down Facebook and comes across someone's link to a Runner's World article about how you can "Run Your Fastest 5k on Fewer Miles." She clicks the link and before she realizes what's happened she's got a 13 month subscription to Runner's World with a free running log and a copy of "Run Less, Run Faster."
When her log comes in the mail along with her copy of "Run Less, Run Faster," the madness begins. She starts doing speedwork, tempo runs, long runs, and writing her workouts in her training log. She signs up for a 5k, and after breaking thirty minutes, sets her sights on another 5k to break 25 minutes. She casually mentions to a coworker that she's trying to break 25 minutes in the 5k by running three days a week and doing two cross training sessions.
Her coworker, who runs marathons, tells her that he's tried the "Run Less, Run Faster" program, and that if she really wants to improve, she should try the "Daniels' Running Formula." The next day he brings her his dog-eared copy and when she gets home she throws her "Run Less, Run Faster" copy in the trash (it was free for goodness sake), and starts using the tables to calculate her optimal training paces.
She then realizes that unless she's running on the treadmill, she doesn't know what pace she's running, so she goes out and buys a Garmin 110--the one with the cool pink stripe.
But then tragedy strikes. Her knee starts hurting. After self-diagnosing IT-band syndrome, she buys a foam roller and starts doing core exercises. It's not helping, however, and pretty soon she's thinking that running isn't for her. Her knee hurts too much to run, and she has to eat the cost of her 5k registration.
After a month of trying to rehabilitate her knee, she sees a physical therapist. She does all the exercises, but she can't run without pain, and decides that maybe she's not meant to be a runner.
She piles her running tights, tops, shorts, sweatbands, Garmin, her copies of "Runner's World," and her training log in the backyard. In the heat of her anger, she throws her coworker's copy of "Daniels' Running Formula" on top of the pile, soaks it with gasoline, stands back and tosses a match from what she thinks is a safe distance.
She was too close, however, and loses her eyebrows, arm hair, and singes her bangs. She takes it as further proof that the Running gods are angry with her, and goes from being a "Runner Who Wants to Improve," to not being a runner at all.
So, be careful with your quest to improve as a runner, as it can lead you down the path to injury and lost body hair.