Am I A Runner Yet?

Am I a runner yet?

I grew up being an active human. I played soccer year-round and maintained my fitness, either
with a team or by myself. I had naturally fallen into one of the less-active playing positions,
goalkeeper. When people would comment about how in-shape I must be, I would almost always
joke, “I hate running. This position was meant for me.” I compared my strong body to leaner
players who did run 2-3 miles per game and told myself I could never run like that.

In my first year of college, I fell out of fitness and into poor habits that led to self-
isolation and 30 additional pounds. By the end of my bachelor’s degree, I had better habits, had
lost weight due to increased physical activity and healthier habits, but still didn’t see that within
my body, there was a strong athlete.

In graduate school, I gained much of the weight back plus some. The stress of working so hard, long hours lead me to consume empty calories and sugary drinks that sitting at my computer all day didn’t counter.

I can’t remember who suggested it or how I even ended up there, but my boyfriend and I
found ourselves at the start line of a very chilly local 5K. I remember very little about training
for that first race besides tears of anger because he wouldn’t leave me during runs to go faster,
but I do remember the hot tears on my rosy cheeks crossing the finish line. It felt good to move.
The long-lost work-out endorphins were back. What was this running thing?

That semester, I ran another 5K where I placed third in my age-group. That early 5Ks were invigorating because there were no expectations. I had no idea what I was doing – I hate
running, remember? I just went and ran without a watch or GPS. Everything was a step forward
because I had never been there before. I was unconsciously reminding myself what it felt like to
be strong. I kept running throughout graduate school but struggled with stress. My health and
fitness roller-coaster-ed from month to month and even though I kept signing up and running 5Ks, I was barely maintaining what I had. Running became a chore just like the rest of the lines on my to-do list of things I had once found enjoyment in.

After graduate school, running was something I still did but not something that I was.

I ran 5Ks and thought about 10Ks and half-marathons. I would look up training plans and make
calendars. The first day of training would come and go. The second and third weeks would too. I
wouldn’t sign up for the longer race because I never started training. 

I was battling this knot in my chest that told me I couldn’t do it yet. Maybe next time. Try and run another 5K for now.

This past January, I ran a 5K and finished with my slowest time ever even though I’ve
been running races since 2014. When the race pictures were released, I sat at my desk and
wondered what had happened. I didn’t think I looked strong. I felt more like a beach ball than an
athlete. I would give anything to be the athlete I used to be. When that thought crossed my mind,
the knot in my chest exploded.

I couldn’t continue to hold myself back from just trying.

I couldn’t try because of fear of failure. Because what if I never found out how good I was? What
if I just stayed at my baseline because it was comfortable? Would I be proud of what I had
accomplished in a year?

So I signed up for a bigger race. Half-marathon at the end of April. Training wasn’t easy, and I missed a lot of runs. I didn’t have a training run where I didn’t walk. I thought about quitting in the middle of long runs. The bitter voice inside of my brain told me it wasn’t worth it, that I couldn’t do it, and I continually pushed it back down.

Running partners reminded me that I was still doing the run, I was moving forward in the
training plan. But I wondered why I was doing something I wouldn’t be good at.

But I didn’t quit. I trained like someone who runs. I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And I guess that makes me a runner.