This is something I’ve heard a lot since starting my half marathon training. I’m asked what’s going on, anything new? “Well, yes! (big smile on my face) I’m training for the half marathon in April.” This is met with quizzical looks, sometimes a slight sideways head tilt and some form of these words come out of the person’s mouth, “Oh…but you’re not a runner.” At times, the inflection goes up at the end, making it sound like a question, “But you’re not a runner?” As if I have completely altered their thinking of what makes me, well, me.
I’m not sure why this throws folks for a loop. I am a personal trainer. I have been consistently physically active since childhood. I danced, was involved for 21 summers in camp activities, I swam, took and taught kickboxing, was trained before becoming a trainer, and I have led Couch to 5K groups. Why is the thought of me running a half marathon so very unbelievable? I’ve done races before…did I forget to check in on Facebook? I suppose I should cut people some slack because there was a time when I did not like running. And by “did not like” I mean I would run only when being chased or chasing after my children…into traffic.
It was intimidating to me, I admit. I used to see people running down the street, in traffic, or at the park. Sleek running gear and water bottles strapped to their waists. Some of them flying by faster than my car was going, huge smiles on their faces knowing they will have barely broken a sweat at the end of their short 15 mile daily run. Were these people or robots? How could I compete with that?
At the other extreme were those who didn’t really look happy about their situation. Red faces, pained expressions, and all out grimaces made me think twice about wanting to get out there and try it myself. I wondered if any of these people actually liked running or if it was just a badge of honor to say they had gone the distance. I would see my friends come home dripping wet, red faced, huffing and puffing, and I would say, “How was your run?” Many times the answer was, “it sucked.” Well, gee, I sure would like to join you…or not.
So this got me to thinking. What makes someone a runner? Is it how many miles you run a week? Is it wearing the right shoes? Is it shopping for the right running clothes? Is it the number of races you have completed? Do you have to be fast? Do you have to know how many minutes it takes you to run a mile? Is it knowing the lingo? Like what fartlek training is? Or what it means to bonk? Or what a runner’s high feels like? Is it knowing how to get my watch to locate the satellites? If I don’t wear a FitBit does the run even count???? Do you have to belong to a group? Wait a minute, is there a membership card no one told me about????
I don’t think it is any of those things. I think being a runner means that you run. Just that. You lace up some shoes, you put on some clothes, you walk out the door and you go. It doesn’t matter how far you go or how many minutes or hours you spend out there. You just go. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Not all of us look like gazelles bounding across the Savannah. In fact, I often think of that meme with the picture of the Olympic athlete and “What I think I look like when I run” and the Honey Boo Boo look alike and “What I actually look like when I run.” I’m pretty sure most of us fall somewhere in between the two.
I decided to give running another shot. I have found that learning to run correctly makes it not so bad. And even more than that, running WITH friends is down right fun! I have experienced okay runs and great runs, even that elusive runner’s high. I have figured out that what makes someone a runner is running. That’s it. I also know that whether anyone knows I am doing it doesn’t really matter. I’m not going to lie, having family and friends say, “Wow!” when I tell them I ran 9 or 10 miles feels really good. But what feels better is actually doing it and knowing that my body, the one that could barely run 3 miles last fall post baby #5, just finished that distance. More than the shoes, clothes, satellite finding watch, and bragging rights, that knowledge of my own strength is what I think makes me a runner.
Written by Marie Smith,
Personal trainer for InnerStrength in Nashville, TN