I have a hard time using the word “runner” to describe myself. It’s definitely not the first word that comes to mind. If I think about it long enough, I’ll remember it, but that takes awhile – after going through several other adjectives and roles. Recently I was talking to an acquaintance about running. She told me how she decided she wanted to run a 5k – run the whole thing without stopping. So she trained and she did it. She completed the 5k! She struggles with calling herself a runner too. She was never athletic and, compared to those around her, she felt inadequate. I identified with her story. But, her husband told her, “You run, so you are a runner.” It doesn’t matter how fast she runs, she’s running so she’s a runner. I told her, “I struggle with calling myself a runner too.” She couldn’t believe it – I just completed my tenth half-marathon earlier this year. How could I struggle with this identity?
Well, most likely because even though I’m 37, I still easily fall back into my pre-teen self. I recall the difficulty I had in gym class. I remember standing in the back of the gym hoping no one noticed me only to be hit in the face with a dodge ball and my glasses falling to the floor. I can feel the anxiety of putting on those gym clothes wondering what I would be subjected to that day. I remember my use of humor to get through volleyball, tennis, gymnastics…if I can make them laugh maybe they won’t notice how uncoordinated I am. Participating in sports of any kind made me feel self-conscious, inadequate, and less than. Despite what I’ve accomplished in the last several years, I still hold on to those feelings of inadequacy when it comes to my body.
But, she’s right – I have run ten half-marathons! That means hundreds and hundreds of miles and hours of training. That means choosing to get overheated and to freeze my fingers and to wear smelly, drenched clothes all for one goal of crossing that finish line. I did it – over and over again, for no one but me. I am proud of all my body allowed me to do – for the strong legs and healthy lungs. It was something no one, including me, ever thought I would do or even want to do. But I did it!
I decided after the race in May that I was going to take a break from running. I figured I needed to literally slow down if I was going to take full advantage of my fall sabbatical. This summer I ran a few times, but I didn’t push it. There was no schedule on the refrigerator. There was no race to train for. I just ran if I felt like it and more often than not, I didn’t feel like it. I’ve run so little that even when I’ve thought, “Maybe today?” I ended up not running. I thought I’d lost it. Today though, I ran and I learned a few things from this simple run. I learned a few lessons about assumptions I make about myself.
Reason #1 That I Told Myself I Couldn’t Run…
We’ve got two dogs right now. Denali and I are a great running team. She knows to stay on my left when we’re on the road and on the right when we’re on a path. She doesn’t pull hard, unless I’m just dragging and in that case I’m grateful she’s keeping me moving in a forward direction. We know the routine – we know how to run together, we’ve done it for years. Gus, on the other hand, can barely walk in a straight line. He is all.over.the.place. I told myself that walking with the two of them was a big enough challenge; there is no way I can run with them. It turns out I was wrong. After watching Gus do sprints around our living room this morning, I figured he needed something different. So, when we crossed the street, I decided to just start running. And I kept running. I have no idea what my pace was, but that wasn’t the point. We ran and ran. For the most part, we had no issues. So, it turns out, running with two dogs (in a quiet neighborhood with very little traffic) is possible.
Reason #2 That I Told Myself I Couldn’t Run…
I haven’t run in months. Since I stopped tracking my runs, I really don’t know when the last time I ran was. Maybe August? I figured I’d lost everything – my stamina, my endurance, my strength. I figured I would huff and puff (more than usual), stop and start (more than usual) and overall feel frustrated with myself. I figured I would want to quit as soon as I started. It turns out I was wrong. I started running and I just kept going. It may not have been very fast, but I never stopped moving in a forward motion. There was no time to beat or distance to reach. I just ran. And I felt great! I encouraged myself to run up the “hills” so that’s what I did. I never said to myself “I just can’t go any farther.” It turns out my legs are still strong, my lungs still breathe and my endurance wasn’t lost. After a few months away from running, I went outside, without any intention of running, and ended up going about 3 miles. So, it turns out, I can still run.
Reason #3 That I Told Myself I Couldn’t Run…
I’m trying to slow down – I’m trying to reduce the chatter in my mind. I decided back in May that in order to slow down my mind I would also need to slow down my body. I’ve been more intentional about walking – paying attention to what I see and hear, noticing changes in nature. I figured I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was running. I say this as if I’m super fast or something – like when I run everything in my peripheral vision is just a blur, like I’m riding in a car. Let’s be real, I don’t run that fast, sometimes the word “run” is very generous. It turns out I was wrong. I can still see the trees and the flowers. I can still hear the lawn mowers and the dogs barking. My mind stays busy whether I walk or run – there was no difference in my mental state while running today. It just made me feel stronger and more confident. And, I probably wrote the majority of this post while running, so I can still think and process while running. So, it turns out, running doesn’t ruin my sabbatical.
Now, I don’t think I’m going to sign up for a race any time soon. I don’t think I need to start tracking my miles or keep an eye on my pace. In response to my post yesterday, I opted to go out this morning ear bud-free. I ran without music or a podcast. I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve done that. And I loved it. There was a freedom in the “silence” around me. I may run a few times a week, just to change things up, but my running will be intentional, just like my walking. I may notice my body more and that’s good. I may notice my breathing more and that’s good. I may notice the thoughts in my mind more because I’m not plugged into my phone, and that’s very good.
So, friends, I’d like to tell you something – I’m a runner. It may seem obvious to you, but isn’t that how it works – what we find new and enlightening is often something others have known about us for a while. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard someone else tell me, I needed to recognize it for myself. Stepping out there today without a plan or purpose, just to see what my body remembered, to see what I still had – I learned I can trust myself more than I realized.