My love of running began several years ago when I finally found the right stride and strike that worked for my body. Everything changed that year, and running was no longer something that brought me pain and shame, but something that brought me freedom and opportunity. The freedom to get out on an open road, a path, a trail, and let my body go. The freedom to see where my limits fell, and the opportunity to push past them. The opportunity to take part in events that brought me pride and a deep sense of accomplishment. And, the opportunity to be inspired, forge new friendships, and discover a deeper sense of who I am and what turns that little spark inside my soul to a raging inferno.
Discovering Oiselle and joining their Volee team played a huge role in this. I had been looking for a good pair of running underwear and my search brought me to them. Who knew a pair of knickers could be the gateway to something so important in my life? I found friendship, amazing Sheroes, and an abundance of support and encouragement within the running community. I am truly in awe of the examples set by Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher, and deeply moved by what they stand for. I have found so much joy in running that my husband and friends have been urging me to write about it. It makes sense… I love to run and I love to write. But, I honestly felt I wasn’t the person for the job. I have no major records or wins to share and inspire others with. I’m not even fast. In fact, I’m one of the slowest out there. And I have to take walking breaks on any race longer than a 10k. Up to this day, I wondered if I even belonged at that starting line. Can I really call myself a runner? What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said?
This morning, I laced up my shoes and hopped on the treadmill to squeeze in a few miles while my 4 year old played with his Legos. Trying to get my momentum and trying to undo the huge break I’ve taken these last few months has been brutal. I’ve started training a little differently in the hopes of getting a little faster this year. I have races on the calendar. I have a training plan in place. Yet I still expect to hear the whisper in my ear “You aren’t a real runner”. Kara Goucher recently put out a book called “Strong” and in this book she does beautifully in encouraging others to accept that they belong. Her book and the “Believe” training journal by Lauren Fleshman & Roisin McGettigan have been huge tools for me. I’ve tried to take their advice to heart… believe in myself, find my mantra. It seems, at least for me, things like this have to happen in their own time.
That time was today, on a treadmill, turning an ordinary moment in my ordinary day to extraordinary. Because today that whisper never came. Instead, I heard my own voice. It started as an aspiration, optimistic and hopeful. I forced it into a declaration. And as my breathing got labored, my heartrate climbed, my muscles ached, I found myself shouting. I am strong. I am fast. I belong here. Ironically, these are the things I have doubted most. The three things I believed in the least. I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel fast. And I don’t feel I belong here. But, nonetheless, it was evident. I just found my mantra. And finally, after all these years, I finally believe it.
As my run finished, my mind was afire. Really? Can I really claim this? Then I decided to look up the definition of a runner. According to the Oxford dictionary: “a person that runs, especially in a specified way”. According to the Urban Dictionary: “A runner is a person that runs. A runner will run in any kind of condition. Rain, below zero temperatures, hot and stifling humidity, a runner will put on his/her shoes and run, a poser will not run in these conditions.” What I found interesting and honestly surprising, was that in neither one of these definitions is there any mention of speed, size or age. I then began to think about the difference between belonging and qualifying. I have always, without thinking much about it, accepted the two as synonymous. But perhaps they are not. Qualifying is a result of physical strength. It is a reward for the elite, the true athletes, to be able to push your physical limits past those of the average populace. To qualify for Boston, Nationals, the Olympics…all extraordinary feats without doubt. So I posed the idea to myself, what if I qualified? Would I then belong? And the answer is yes. If I qualified physically, of course I would belong. But wouldn’t I be the same person as the one that didn’t qualify? Nothing would change in who I was. And I realized, belonging is a reward of mental strength. Knowing your worth, and believing in yourself. I may never qualify for Boston. And that’s ok. But it doesn’t mean I don’t belong on the roads and trails pushing my body to its limits in my own races.
The idea of speaking of things as they could be, even if it’s not how they are, is a powerful tool. I reminded myself that the whole point of running is the joy and strength it brings me in my life. I AM strong, because I have come this far and I am still here. I am trying to be better than I was the day before. It takes courage to risk and face failure day after day, and strength to continue to try again. I AM fast. I thought back to where I started, to the pace that is right for my body right now, and what I am capable of with my training thus far. I may not be as fast as the runner next to me, but for me, in my journey, I am fast. And I belong here. Because I say I do. Because I put in the time. Because I run early before my children wake up. I run late when everyone else is in bed. I run on the dreadmill because I have small children and don’t always have time to get out on the road. I run through the fog and the rain in the fall, through the cold and the sleet in winter, through the wind and the sweltering summer sun.
The only person that decides whether or not I belong at the starting line of my next race is myself. So should that little voice whisper back in my ear “But, are you REALLY a runner?” “Do you really belong here when everyone else is so much faster and so much stronger?” I will shout back. I am strong. I am fast. I belong here. I love to run. I am a runner. And I am honored to run alongside those stronger, faster, runners pushing their limits and watching them realize their true potential. Because they, too, deserve this and their personal success inspires me to push even harder towards my own.
Read the book, plant the flowers, take the trip, and always have the courage to be kind.