I am not a runner.
I think Lauren Fleshman put it best – “Running is not who I am. It’s something I love, something I do”.
Running is not who I am. Running does not define me. And some days I am very thankful for that because I run slow and I run ugly and sometimes I whine a lot.
For a long time though, running did define me. As if my worth as a person was somehow intimately linked to my mile splits. A personal best meant that I was “good enough”. It never seemed to be enough though. There was always something else that I felt like I needed to accomplish before I felt like I could call myself a “real runner”.
I’ll be a “real runner” if I can run a marathon. But it will only be legit if I break 4 hours. So I did that. But then I still didn’t feel like a “real runner” because it really wasn’t that fast. So maybe if I had better times at shorter distances, I would finally feel like I made it as a runner. So over the last couple years, I have set new PRs at every distance. I have done well in my age group and I have a couple 2nd and 3rd place finishes to my name. But I still didn’t feel like a “real runner” because my mile time wasn’t that great. Or my weekly mileage was low compared to other runners. There was always something else. Some new standard that I had to meet in order to be legit.
So then I decided that I would be a “real runner” if I could qualify for Boston. Which I did! It took me a lot of time and a lot of hard training, but I did it. Still I wonder if I could have run a qualifying time without the downhill advantage. Like I didn’t really earn Boston and somehow I am still an imposter. Still not a “real runner”. I guess I’m a great fake runner!
Part of my struggle to see myself as runner is the fact that I am not built like a runner. I’m built like a small truck. When I think of distance runners, I think of SmartCars. Very small, very light, very efficient. On the other end of the spectrum are strength and power athletes, who are more like jacked-up pickups. I’m more like a small utility vehicle. I’ve heard of people and their pets starting to look alike – apparently that can also happen with a person’s car. And that’s okay because I also enjoy being strong. It’s a good balance. I know that hauling around excess muscle mass isn’t the most efficient distance running strategy, but I’d like to be able to put up a fight in case I can’t outrun someone. Being strong just makes life so much easier.
I think like a runner though. I suffer through speedwork and long runs like a runner. I experience the running highs and the running lows. I persevere. I have run in all sorts of weather conditions – 100 degree heat, far below freezing (4 degrees), windy days, a snowstorm, and those beautiful mornings that are sunny and 48. I am horribly familiar with carbohydrate gels, chafing, and blisters. I eat like a runner. As far as I know, I actually run when I leave my house in the mornings.
I race like a runner. I have probably beaten people who consider themselves “real runners”.
But running is not who I am. It’s something I do, something I love. It’s something that brings me immense joy, pain, pride, laughter, social bonding and everything in between. My running shoes are my constant. But it does not define me.
No number can tell me who I am – a weight on the scale that tells me I’m too heavy to be a “real runner”, a race time that tells me I have room to improve, a race time that tells me I’ve come a long way, or my weekly mileage. I am a “real runner” because I run. The end.
And for the record, we are all “real runners”.
“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” (Bart Yasso)