After weeks and months of injury and Polar Vortices and general laziness, I finally ran multiple times this week (for multiple miles each time), and I finally feel like a runner again.*
When did you start calling yourself a runner? Was it when you could run over a mile without stopping? After your first 5K race? When you consistently ran a couple times a week? When you bought your first “running outfit”? When other people started calling you a runner? Or do you still not call yourself a runner?
I can’t remember the exact moment I started calling myself a runner, but I think it was well after my first marathon. Even while I was training for that marathon, I wasn’t really a runner, I was just somebody training for a marathon. And even after I completed those 26.2 miles, I was still just somebody who ran for an inadvisably long time one day – I wasn’t a real runner.
My friend who ran my first marathon with me downplayed her own accomplishment, too. Not long after finishing our race, I called her a marathoner. She quickly said no, that she was just someone who ran a marathon, not a real marathoner. A real marathoner, she explained, was someone who has run at least three marathons. I thought about her words often in the years that followed, and the day I completed my third marathon I was so excited to join the “real marathoner” club.
But when I don’t run for a while, even if it’s because I injured myself running, I feel like I can’t call myself a runner anymore (nor, oftentimes, can I actually run). So identifying myself as a runner is a delicate thing, a phrase usually followed by a knock on wood.
Identifying myself as a runner in a group of people that might include someone who used to or currently can run much faster than me is also fraught with anxiety. Does that person who used to run cross country in high school silently mock my current 11 minute mile pace? Can that dude who just ran a 5K last weekend in 17 minutes even comprehend why it would take me 35 minutes to run the same distance? And how could I possibly call myself a runner if I am so terrible at said activity that I’m almost a “brisk walker,” and so much fatter than a typical runner that it looks like I may have just eaten one?
Calling yourself a runner, whether it’s just in your head or proudly announced to the world, is a brave, potentially fleeting thing. (Certainly more fleeting than me running…) I encourage everyone to self-identify as a runner, size and speed be damned. Because runners are the best, and who wouldn’t want to be in such a cool club? There aren’t a lot of sports that specifically design food to be eaten during the actual sporting activity. Plus you get to justify shopping at Lululemon and taking naps, because hey, you ran at some point this month. And don’t worry about your speed, I’ll bring up the rear.
P.S. Those caramels are just ok. The ad made me think I’d be blowing glitter off records, kicking my striped stocking feet over the top of my couch, and dancing with my hipster friends in skinny jeans, but they’re actually just really sticky soft caramels that taste like so-so caramels, and my jeans are still just jeans… but maybe feel tighter? Nevermind, it works!
*Unless you are faster than me, or run more often than me, in which case you might disagree. I know how to knit, but I wouldn’t call myself a knitter, either. Also, congrats to all of you who just finished the LA Marathon! Share your tales of woe and triumph in the comments!