It starts with a casual conversation about health or working out. Or maybe I slip up and mention something I saw while on a run. It leads to the big question-
“Are you a runner?”
I immediately start spitting out way too many words to answer what was really a “yes” or “no” question.
“I’m not really a runner. I mean, I run almost everyday, but I wouldn’t call myself a runner.”
I know- that does not make sense. I have countless pairs of beat up running shoes with the sole worn through in spots because I’ve run in them so much. I’m constantly putting together running playlists and tweaking my Pandora channels to keep me moving during a run. For some reason, I deny myself that title. What is it that keeps me from classifying myself as a RUNNER, since RUNNING is exactly what I do almost every single day?
It’s the self doubt. The worry that someone is going to look at me and discount my claim. The fear that someone will tell me I’m not good at running, therefore have no business putting myself in the RUNNER category.
Quite a few years ago, when my boys were just toddlers, I committed myself to running. It was the only form of exercise that I could easily fit into my schedule. It required little planning and just a pair of gym shoes. I could go for a run early in the morning, before the kids were up and while my husband was still home. Day after day, I was out there challenging myself and it felt awesome.
My elementary PE teacher would never believe that the girl who ALWAYS had a cramp and ALWAYS finished the required laps close to last was actually running by choice. Every run was hard, and sometimes every step of the way hurt, but I was getting out there and pushing myself as much as I could.
After a few months, my husband thought it was a good idea to take me to a real running store and get fitted for real running shoes. He knew of a nice store by his office. That weekend we packed up the kids and headed to the store for my new kicks.
I walked into the store with my head held high. It was like being a little kid going to get new shoes that will undoubtedly make you faster. When the salesman approached us, asking how he could help, my husband pointed at me. He told him how I’d been running and needed to be fitted for shoes that had the right support for me. The salesman looked me up and down and said,
“What do you run, like a couple miles a couple times a week?”
I didn’t try to explain that I run more than 2 miles more than 2 times a week. I didn’t explain that having babies is pretty hard on the body, and I was essentially a round the clock caregiver to 2 busy toddlers. I didn’t ramble on about how I had started planning my days around when I was going to be able to fit a run in. Instead, no words came out of my mouth. All that I could think was that he could tell just by looking at me that I’m not a runner and that I’ve clearly been wasting my time. SO yeah, I let some 20 year old guy on the North Shore take away every bit of pride that I had earned over the past few months in a matter of 2 seconds. Not only that, I still carry it with me.
It seems this dismissal of another’s running capability is common in the running community. I’ve heard fellow runners scoff at someone who said they ran a marathon. They want to know how long it took, as if there’s some threshold where one crosses over to enter into the special and worthy “runner” category. Isn’t a runner simply “one who runs?”
In 2007, the Chicago Marathon fell on an unseasonably hot October day. Like Texas hot. As the race progressed with the day’s heat, officials decided that they needed to stop the runners for everyone’s safety. They simply weren’t prepared to offer the runners what they needed to run that distance in that heat. Some people I knew said something to the effect of this-
“The problem with the Chicago Marathon is that you have people that aren’t really runners in it. They don’t belong in it in the first place, especially with this type of weather.”
Why take away from someone who is taking on 26.2 miles? Why disregard their training and performance to label them as not a real runner? That attitude infuriated me, but it also kept me from daring to to label myself as a runner.
A couple months ago, my friend visited for us to run a 10K together. I rarely enter races (and if you can’t understand why, reread the above). In the days leading up to it, I was nervous and anxiety ridden, but on race day I was actually excited. What I find so inspiring about organized races is the wide span of participants you see. From middle schoolers to senior citizens, so many people show up for the challenge. It’s inspiring to be in a group of people with different sized bodies of all ages who all share the same goal- finish with a good (maybe best) time. I finished my first 10K with a smile on my face and a new boost of confidence.
There’s always someone that wants to discount your achievements. Someone that wants to take a piece away. They want to break you down. They tell you you’re not that pretty. Not that smart. Not that funny. Not that good at running. Don’t let them. I’m still a work in progress, but I still show up everyday. As I write this, I’m eyeing the clock to get out and run before the sun gets too hot.
I’m done letting doubt and downers creep in. I’m lacing up and I’ll tell you what I am –
I am a runner.