Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Verb vs. Noun (Do you run? Or are you a runner?)

Often you will be subjected to a tangent my mind followed on my morning run.  This is one such train of thought. How long did it take for me to think of myself as a runner?  Well let’s see.  I frolicked, chased, and played at running as a child.  I would venture to say most of us did, but I doubt we would use that experience alone to classify ourselves as runners.  I ran while playing games on the playground; kickball, dodge ball, and the like but that didn’t make me a runner.  I even went out for the track team in high school, but everyone was so much faster than me and I was more focused on academics, so I quit.  That certainly didn’t make me a runner.  About 4 years ago, I was feeling stressed at work and was venting to my husband one afternoon.  “Why don’t you go for a run around the block?” he recommended.  “What an odd suggestion!”  I thought.  But for whatever reason it sounded good to me and I went.  I ran, but I was not yet a runner. 

At first, I found that returning to running as an adult was much more difficult than it had been as a child.  As a kid, you could not run for many weeks, then easily join in a game of tag and not even be winded.  As a grown-up of 30 something, my reintroduction to running was much more gradual.  At first I would walk swiftly to a track near my house, then I would jog the straight-aways of the track, huffing and puffing, only to slow to a walk at the curves.  Eventually I got so I could run a whole lap without stopping, then several.  After many weeks, I was running to the track, around it a few times, then back home.  I estimated it was about a mile.  But I still didn’t call myself a runner.  Running was just something I did at least once a week, to blow off some steam.  

After the first spring of running laps, I found a few cool summer morning to run each week and continued the trend in the fall and through the winter.  I was running 2-3 times a week.  Still not a runner…

I found that when we traveled to Europe for the first time, I couldn’t conceive of going the whole 50 days without running at all.  I found locations where I could squeeze in a run.  Around the dirt roads that traced the circumference of the farm we stayed on in Tuscany and by the shore of the North Sea in Germany, I ran while on vacation.  Was I a runner?

I became interested in other runners, how did they run, I learned a bit about posture and technique.  Could I actually be considered a runner?

When my husband and I traveled to Europe with my mom for her 6oth birthday last summer, I ran 3 miles through the countryside as they lounged in the common room of the villa in Italy.  I ran until a thunderstorm threatened.  I found random paths around Lake Lucerne and ran on trails to the shore.  I even ran through the cobbled streets of
Colmar, France.  I might have been on my way to becoming a runner…

I became fascinated with running gear.  I have special shoes, socks, and shorts that I put on before I go running.  I have the equipment, does that make me a runner?
I ran in my first race as an adult this past fall.  I learned that I am not destined to be a competitive runner.  Not because I had a poor time, in fact for me it was PR.  I killed it on the uphill passing folks left and right, but that wasn’t because I desired a certain place, it was because I saw a past student of mine running with his dad and I wanted to catch up and say hello!  After we shared a few words, due to my peaceful demeanor I even slowed down, hoping they wouldn’t feel self conscious or distracted with me right behind them.  As I approached the finish line, I could feel runners make the final push, to pass just one more person or to get a few seconds closer to their desired time.  I moved to the side and slowed to a jog as I heard a person wheezing and coughing behind me.  Perhaps she had trained like hell for this race and at the last minute came down with a cold.  Or maybe she had quit smoking, and this race was a step toward a healthier life.  I made up stories in my mind about why my fellow runners should have the right of way.  So racing might not be for me, but does that make me less of a runner? 

Even as I learned that racing probably wasn’t for me, I hit another milestone.  I ran with another runner.  (Sure I had run with my husband before, mainly because I persuaded him to keep me company on a few of my short European runs, but he certainly doesn’t consider himself a runner).  As I ran with my friend Kaytee over winter break, I shared that I had only ever run a bit over 3 miles at a time.  I highly doubted that I could run further than that in one session.  As I kept pace with Kaytee, she assured me that I could run a 10k.  “If I can do it, you can,” she encouraged.  “Yeah, but she’s a runner,” I thought doubtfully to myself.  But she was right, over the next few weeks I tried running 4 miles, then 5, then 6 and half.  I didn’t have any desire to run a race that long, but still I loved playing with these longer distances.  I was running between 10-15 miles a week.  Was I finally a runner? 

So why was it so hard for me to admit I was a runner?  I think it is in the semantics.  If I say, I run.  That is something I do.  I do a lot of things from time to time.  Sometimes I do the dishes, but I wouldn’t say I’m a dishwasher.   I think when someone declares, “I am a runner.”  We come to understand that they identify that as an essential part of who they are.  It doesn’t have anything to do with how fast you are, how far you go, if you race, what you wear or even how often you do it.  You may even have a love hate relationship with running, as many of us do.  When you transition from someone who runs, to being a runner, it is a very personal and individual revelation.  I cannot tell you the exact moment in time when I came to think of myself as a runner.  But being on the other side of this philosophical question,  does bring me peace.  Just because I didn’t run for two days in a row, doesn’t change my identity.  For runners who get injured or take a planned break from running, their status is not revoked.  Once a runner, always a runner.   For me, the freedom in my body and the focus of my mind that I experience during a run, uplifts my soul in such a way that a time and a space for growth and reflection is created.  This is just another way that I like to “Live Peaceful.”

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