Since I’ve been running for a few years now, I have encountered quite a few other runners in various settings and one of the most common things I hear is, “Oh, I’m not a real runner.” And, admittedly, I felt exactly the same way for a very long time. Heck, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve responded to people asking me about my running with those very words! I say things like “I’m a wannabe runner” or “Well, I’m trying to become a runner.”
Real runners are the people that run marathons (26.2 miles) and ultramarathons (any race longer than 26.2 miles), right? The people that start running and never want to stop. The people that feel more at home on the road/trails than they do at home. Not someone like me who walk/runs. Someone who still struggles to keep going, because running is hard, even though I’ve been doing it for three years now.
I went to visit my running shoe store today to talk to the owner and he and I were discussing this very thing. He said, “You know what makes a runner? Someone moving faster than their walking pace. You do that and, boom, you’re a runner. It’s as simple as that.”
But it hasn’t felt that simple to me. I kept telling myself that I had to improve to a certain point – run faster and farther – to use that label. I simply didn’t feel like a runner.
Until this one moment.
The moment I felt like a real runner wasn’t on the day that I bought my first pair of Brooks Adrenalines or the afternoon that I ran my first mile without stopping. It wasn’t the day I ran my first 5k in 2012 or when I crossed the finish line of my 6th 5k of the year in 2014. It wasn’t the day I decided to train for a half marathon or the day I decided to run 5 miles for the first time despite sub-freezing temperatures and the ice and snow-covered trail.
And all of a sudden, I ached to be out on the road again and realized what running had become to me over the past few years. This thing that used to be the bane of my existence – something I forced myself to do in an attempt to lose weight – was now the very thing I felt completely lost without. I used to grudgingly pull on my running shoes and force one foot in the other until I had burned enough calories that I gave myself permission to stop, but it has since morphed into something so much more than just exercise.
It’s a hobby. One in which I have invested a massive amount of my time, sweat, and energy. I don’t know when it happened, but I am now the girl who comes home from work and runs. Or I call my friends and talk about running. Or I browse Pinterest for every article about running I can find. I want to learn everything about it. I want to read people’s stories and see how they grew and improved and struggled and overcame. And, these days, I would much rather shop for running clothes than anything else. A friend and I actually have a running joke now about our deep love of stretchy pants.
It’s how I stay sane. When I run, my mind clears. My brain is usually racing rapidly through a million and one different thoughts at any given time on any given day, but when I’m running, it calms down. It brings me back to the present moment. I take it one step at a time. I notice the clouds in the sky, I appreciate the mountains in the distance and even the cacti that we pass. My senses become more keen and life becomes simpler. It’s just me, the pavement, and my extremely happy border collie.
It’s my antidepressant. Food has been a comfort thing for me, well, since forever. After a hard day, I would reach for a cupcake or a bag of Cheetos and park myself in front of the tv to distract myself from whatever was going on. But now, when I’m sad or angry or stressed or overwhelmed, I want to run. Well, let me rephrase that slightly. I don’t always feel like taking the first few steps if I’m feeling down, but I always remind myself that I have felt better after every single run I’ve done. Endorphins are wonderful things. They never let me down. Running doesn’t fix life’s problems, but it can do wonders to help me change my perspective. It has improved my quality of life. The more I run, the better I want to be able to run, and that has changed my entire lifestyle. Obviously, I’m more active now, but I also make different food choices.I have spent my entire life trying to force myself to make healthy food choices and now, because of running, my body actually craves healthy food. It’s a weirdly wonderful phenomena. Trying to run a few hours after eating a meal full of fried foods can feel quite terrible, whereas running after eating quinoa, vegetables, and a salmon burger produces a much happier result – more energy, no heartburn, feeling lighter on my feet. I drink more water than I used to, because running while dehydrated is not at all enjoyable and not at all wise. I add other exercise into my days, whether it’s morning yoga or nightly planks or walking lunges around my office during lunchtime. All of these things have contributed to an overall healthier me. I hardly ever even get sick anymore.
And, most importantly, as a wonderful friend pointed out to me in one of my injured-knee-laments last week – running has become a part of my identity. It might not be always be that way, but as of today, it’s not just something I do. It’s part of who I am.
I am a real runner.