I know the precise moment when I realized I was a runner. It wasn’t when I completed my first half marathon, or my second, or even my third. It wasn’t when I signed up for my very first full marathon. It was this morning, as I leisurely ran an easy 5 miles on a trail in the woods.
Allow me to provide a little history: I didn’t start running until about 10 years ago. Before then, I was not athletic at all. I used to joke that if anyone ever saw me running, they should run too because there was probably a serial killer chasing me. In gym class in high school my teacher would lovingly plead with me to run the fifty-yard dash or participate in floor hockey or whatever physical education requirement was on the agenda. I would begrudgingly oblige but I would make it known that I was only doing it because I was being forced to; I hated to break a sweat or be uncomfortable for even just a few seconds, never mind several minutes. It doesn’t help that I wasn’t very fast or very agile when it came to sports, so I spent the first 28 years of my life playing up to the “I suck therefore I sit” mantra. And I got away with it too, because if you say something enough times, people will start to believe it. I even had myself convinced.
And then it all changed in 2006; some friends of mine decided to train for a half marathon and they asked me to join. It didn’t hurt that the race we would be training for was going to be in Hawaii; I admit that the location of the race certainly sweetened the pot for me, but I also felt that running might be a great way to get into shape and as I was approaching 30 and was still not very athletic, I figured I needed the help. Although the idea of attempting to complete a half marathon terrified me, I was up for the challenge. Part of me just wanted to see if I could do it. And I did do it, with gusto.
I guess you can say I have been running ever since. I did take a couple of years off to have two babies, but essentially running became part of my life in the very moment I decided to train for that half marathon ten years ago. Yet, after countless road races and hundreds of miles of sweat and tears, I still did not consider myself a “real runner”. In my mind, a “real runner” was probably someone who ran track in college, someone who could run fast, someone who maybe didn’t sweat as much as I did when I ran, and someone who didn’t have to stop and walk sometimes during road races, like I did. I was full of reasons why I was unworthy of being considered a “real runner”, even after I completed my third half marathon as recently as a week ago.
I don’t know why I felt this way, but even after ten years of running, I continued to feel like an outsider in the running world.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in a class learning about Judaism. A fellow student asked the Rabbi who was teaching the class how someone who is converting to Judaism will know that the time is right to become Jewish. The Rabbi gave an answer I will never forget: he said a member of his synagogue who converted to Judaism once told him that she knew she was ready when “them” became “us”. When she stopped thinking of herself as an outsider, she knew she was already Jewish in her heart and was ready to convert; the word "them" was replaced by the word "us".
I had my own “them/us” moment this morning while running on a trail in my town. This was my first run after completing my last half marathon (six days prior) so the plan was to take it easy. I didn’t track my pace or my exact mileage (I estimate I did about 5 miles total) and I was thoroughly enjoying my easy run in the woods. Since it was a perfect near-summer day, the trail was full of people, many of which were running. Every time I passed a runner going in the opposite direction as me, I would smile and say “Good morning!” As I neared the end of the trail where I had to turn around and head back, the feeling suddenly washed over me, and it was as refreshing as leaping through a sprinkler on a hot day: I am a runner out on the trail with my fellow runners.
It didn’t happen while I was finishing a big race or getting a new PR. No one talked me into it. I was simply running in the bright morning sunshine and I just knew it was true: I was one of them. I am one of them.
After all this time, I am a real runner. It was true all along. But now I finally know it to be true in my heart.
I am a runner.