Like most people, I find it difficult to admit to being intimidated by something. Many of the jobs and tasks I perform require fearlessness; so I’ve grown used to executing courageously and allowing my doubts to get expresses in unseen little corners. But I believe it’s a good exercise to face the things that scare us; even if that monster is the fear itself. So here goes: for a long time, I was afraid to call myself a “runner” or an “athlete” and even more afraid to document the experience of being one. Why? Because I didn’t think that I was a “real” enough runner to qualify.
All of the running bloggers I follow seem to be written by incredibly talented athletes; people who are running BQ times, 7 minute miles over long distances, or are semi-professionally (if not professionally) involved in the sport. They are all witty and human people (which is part of what makes following their blogs so much fun), but I had trouble connecting to them as an athlete because they were so far beyond me. My Personal Record on a half marathon course is 2:28 (that averages out to about an 11.5 minute mile). Granted, this was a hilly course, but I can’t say that I run much faster during training. My PR for a 5K is 30 ish minutes (about a 10 minutes mile). This is not fast. During my long marathon training runs, I often run 13 or 14 minute miles. It is summer in New England (which will slow you down), and I do run hills, but by any “reasonable” standards
this is still incredibly slow.
So it’s been difficult to consider that the feats I’ve accomplished; not technically “unusual” in any capacity with the half marathon distance becoming an incredibly popular distance and running as a sport growing in popularity (btw: http://www.runningusa.org/statistics has some amazing statistics about racing and running in the USA); would make me a member of this “exclusive” runner’s club. It wasn’t until I had finished my fourth half marathon with no plans of stopping that I even began to feel comfortable referring to myself as a “runner” or an “endurance athlete” in conversation.
I can’t really say what changed. It might have been the literal writing on the wall as I looked at my ever-growing assemblage of finisher’s medals. I think it was also connected to the thought that someone who had completed multiple distance events would even hesitate to call themselves an “athlete.” It was definitely intertwined with the way I looked at my nutrition; once I had some empirical data that my calorie burn vs. calorie intake was skewed far too heavily in the direction of burn, I began to admit to myself that I needed more and different foods to fuel my body. This opened the gateway to allow for the possibility that perhaps someone who runs the run and has to make lifestyle adjustments to support these runs should probably start calling herself a “runner.”
The truth is this: your speed doesn’t make you a runner. Your distance doesn’t make you a runner. Running makes you a runner. If you run, if you run regularly, you are a runner. If you enjoy running, you’re definitely a runner. If you eat different foods to make your runs better, you are most certainly a runner. Running is not about measuring up to an impossible standard; it’s about your personal journey through the sport. It’s about testing the limits of your body and figuring out how hard you can push yourself. It’s about learning yourself and understanding how to motivate. It’s about achieving goals; conquering demons; and (sometimes literally) climbing mountains. It’s about saying “I think I might be able to do that” and then actually doing it.
Do I still sometimes feel a pang of misrepresentation when I discuss my running habit with faster friends? Absolutely. Do I let it stop me? Nope. I am a runner; anyone who wants to dispute that can try to outrun me over a long distance. I may be slow, but I’ll finish every time.