What makes you a real runner?
I feel as though anyone breaking into the running world constantly finds themselves asking “When will I be a real runner?” Is it the first time that you run a mile without walking? Your first race? When you run more than a 5K? A 10K? A half? A marathon? Is it when you lose a toenail, have a fancy GPS watch or need hydration belts and energy gels because you run for so long? I don’t think there’s any one true sign of what makes someone a real runner but this weekend- I started to feel it.
It was the number pickup and race expo. Laying out my gear the night before. The nervous butterfly feeling the morning of. The buses to the start line. The corrals. All of it made me feel like such a real runner.
And as we made our way to the start line it was the crowds of people around us, the sea of runners that I could see ahead who had already started out on the course. Knowing some of my friends were already out there, moving along the route I would soon follow on. It was the countdown, the goosebumps, the horn, and the first cautious steps I took as I crossed over the start line.
Those first miles were beautiful and scenic. The crowd was enthusiastic, the signs were hysterical, the kids stretching out to slap my hand as I ran by… I combined the energy of the race and what I had been taught to conquer the first few miles of hills and I felt so proud of myself. “This is what being a real runner must feel like” I kept thinking.
And then somewhere around mile 5, it got hard. Really hard. The crowd became overbearing, the signs became nauseating to look up at, the kids were annoying. My legs felt tired and heavy and it took all the willpower I had to just look straight ahead and keep moving. There are very few things I remember about this part of the course, I barely even noticed my fiancee jump in and start running with me before I yelled at him to leave me alone. I just kept thinking to myself “This is so hard- how will I ever be able to run any further than this?” I didn’t feel like a real runner anymore. The stretch between miles seemed to never end and when I saw the final hill before the finish line I almost started crying in panic. They may say that running is a solo sport, but there is no way I could have made it through those last few miles alone.
After the race was over I laughed and celebrated with everyone but a part of me felt so sad inside. I felt like a poser, a running wannabe just tagging along, trying to fit in. I hate that that race was so hard for me, I hate that I feel so far behind from my friends, I hate that I can’t do and train for all of the things they are training for and doing. A part of me thought “What if this is as good as it gets? What if I never make it further than this?” I understand that I have been barely running for even a year, and to go from a lame excuse of a jog last summer to finishing a 7 miler this summer is one HUGE accomplishment. So don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of myself. But I’m also very impatient, and I hate feeling so new and naive. There’s so much I need to and want to learn and I feel like it’s going to take forever to get there. I wish there was a fast forward button I could hit and catch up.
My fiancee and I had decided to turn the race into a mini vacation and the next morning we headed to our favorite breakfast spot in Wood’s Hole. I threw on a pair of shorts, my glasses, and my race shirt before we headed out. As we waited in line I heard a voice in front of me say “Did you run yesterday? How’d you do?” I quickly realized he was talking to me and my head shot straight up. “Great course isn’t it?” he said before turning around to place his order. “Yes it was” I said with a proud smile.
I know that I am a runner – I think my legs would have to argue with me if I tried to say otherwise. I am a runner despite never having lost a toenail, or run further than 7 miles. I am a runner who doesn’t have a full calendar year under her belt, yet has over a dozen race bibs. My long runs are shorter than some runner’s “easy runs”. I don’t have a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on my car, and I’m not sure when, or if I ever will. I am a runner who has come a long way but still has so far to go.