Runner run·ner /ˈrənər/: a person who runs competitively as a sport or hobby
I’ve had a difficult time calling myself a runner when I first started. In fact there were times that when I would use the word I would feel like a fraud. I didn’t look like a runner, I couldn’t compete like a runner, I had no running friends and I had never run a marathon. All of these items were boxes that my running self needed to check to actually allow myself to feel like a runner. What follows is a series of events over the last two years that formed my new definition and enabled me claim the word.
My first defining moment as a runner was completing my first marathon–the Philadelphia Marathon. It was no mean speed feat, but that was not my goal. My goal was completion. I remember feeling empty at mile 18, refreshed by seeing friends at mile 20, and the long walk/run back to the art museum and the finish.
Approaching the art museum, along boat house row, I was walking due to a combination of exhaustion and cramping, but walking nonetheless. People were shouting my name, cheering me on, which made me feel like a fraud–not a real runner. But that quickly changed as I the encouragement carried me to the finish line where a wave of emotions washed over me. When I received my finisher’s medal it became a symbol for me it made me feel more like a runner.
That feeling continued on into December when the confidence from the marathon prompted me to join the local run club–the Bucks County Roadrunners. The BCRR sponsor a winter series every year. Eleven races run weekly, weather permitting of various lengths and difficulty. I had no idea what to expect, but there’s something to be said for gathering with hundreds of other runners in the freezing cold to run. Runners of various ages and abilities all gathering around a smokey fire, enjoying oatmeal and hot chocolate and swapping race stories after the race. These were runners! They were not just about one race–they were about the love of running–and I was not yet one of them.
Following my first Winter Series, I ran the Pocono Marathon in the spring and then began training for the Philadelphia marathon again in the fall. Leading up to that race I injured my ankle and developed a neuroma in my foot. I eased back my training and entered the race taped up, but my injury pulled me off the course after the first half. You can read about that experience here. The injury really crushed me spirit and I felt like maybe my running life was over. I decided that I couldn’t wallow in the melodrama of an injury, I saw a doc, got a good prognosis and signed up for another winter series. During that series, I spoke with many about injury and recovery, because it seems that all runners get injured at some point and have recovered from injury. Also during that series, the club asked for volunteers to help lead weekly group runs. I decided to volunteer because I still didn’t completely feel like a runner. Yes, I had run a big race and been injured, but I wasn’t sure that I loved running. I did know, however, that I enjoyed being around runners.
Our group run met on Tuesdays. We called ourselves #McTuesday, and I was astounded how week-in and week-out there would be more than 20 people showing up to run in the dark–sometimes in snow to run together. On those runs we would chat, trade stories talk about upcoming races. To this day I refer to this group as my #RunFam because it was here that I started to understand more what it meant to be a runner.
My final defining moment came last summer around this time, when my friend Joe asked me to join his relay team for the River to Sea relay race across New Jersey. I remember thinking, “Uh…..Joe, don’t you know I’m no speedster, I just got over being injured…..” There was a litany of excuses in my mind, but what I was really feeling was–I don’t think I’m a runner.
Joe politely listened to my excuses, and he responded simply with, “you’ve been running strong and I think you’d be a great addition to the team.” His encouraging quiet words got me to say, Yes–sign me up! I was so nervous leading up the race and one the day of the race I was trying hard to reign in my nerves so that I could perform and not let my team down. Somewhere between when this picture was taken and my first leg, the nerves were gone. They were probably burned out by the heat of the experience. Once they were released, something interesting happened–I was having fun. The heat was killer, the legs were challenging and the coordination was chaotic, but I was having the time of my life! It was a rollicking road trip of grown adults acting like twenty-somethings. It was a fraternity bonded in sweat, competition and laughter. And that day, sitting on the rocks in Manasquan, NJ, looking out to the ocean I finally understood what those people were talking about while sitting around the campfire, what it was to love running.
What I was doing wrong was that I was focusing on the act of running and not the experience of it. I was too caught up in times and paces. I was blinded to the community of runners and the camaraderie that comes from racing against and alongside others. What I realized that day was that the way we define ourselves as runners is really based on experience and confidence. Each race experience gives you more confidence which makes you believe you can hang with what you used to call “real runners.” Some days you are running alongside them, and other days you’re running against them, but either way you are running. And that’s when it hits you. You are like everyone else sitting around that campfire in the cold or running across NJ in the August heat. You are doing it because you love running. Because you are a runner, and so am I.
My training plan for this week:
|Chestday||7 miles Hill Repeats||Back/Bis||40-50 Min ST||Legs||Rest||13 Easy|