I’ve always been reluctant to call myself a runner. Maybe it was the spandex, or the discussions about pace and splits and mileage or my slower-than-average times, but saying “yes, I am a runner” was something I was – and still am – uncomfortable with.
I refused to acknowledge it after my very first race, a 10k. I ignored it during my first, second and third half-marathons. Even when I ran 30k the first time and had the best race of my life, “Erin the runner” was not a title I was comfortable with.
I even ran a marathon – a magical day – and came out of that experience uncomfortable with that thought. I signed up for a second, and still – nope, not a runner.
I have nothing insightful to say about my trepidation towards the running community (which has only been lovely and supportive) or about labels (which I have eschewed with vengeance since childhood) other than that calling myself a runner was something I wasn’t ready to do. It probably has to do with my relationship with running more than anything else. There are people I know who love running. LOVE IT. They love 5am wake-ups and 8×400 repeats and hill workouts and carbo-loading. They get a runner’s high that can’t compare.
I don’t get it. Very few runs I’ve done I’ve enjoyed. The act of running fills me with dread. I do not like to run. At the very best, I reach a point of zen-like acceptance with the fact I am running (which, perhaps ironically, happens more often on long runs). And so I’ve associated the label “runner” with someone who loves running. Not someone who runs. I’ve reached a point where I need to run – my body gets yelly and achy without it – but that’s not the same as wanting to run.
This changed during my trip to Ottawa. There’s a girl I went to university with. We graduated together. Ever since, I see her, randomly, a few times a year. A yoga class, a park, a bus stop. It’s inconsistent and unexplainable. And I ran into her on the street, the day before the Ottawa marathon.
We discover, during our conversation, that she’s in town for the half-marathon, her first. She’s floored to find out I am in town for the marathon, and that I’ve done one before.
After blabbing about training runs and fueling and how my first marathon went – completely overwhelming her – I wished her luck, and walked away realizing just how far down the running rabbit hole I have gone.
I was so excited for her, to be running 21.1k for the first time. I would have never questioned it if she called herself a runner.
So why wasn’t I one? Being a runner, after all, was about putting one foot in front of the other, again and again, until you crossed the finish line. It wasn’t about enjoyment. It wasn’t about fueling strategies. It wasn’t about time or distance. And whatever I thought I lacked as a runner – well, screw it. It all melted away after that conversation. I run. I run far. For whatever reason, I keep signing up for races. I keep making training plans. I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
That’s what makes me a runner.
It took me three years to learn that. I just hope that others, no matter how much or how far they run, learn this lesson a hell of a lot faster than I did.