My parents have been in the process of cleaning out their attic.  While my mom has an almost militant anti-hoarding aesthetic, it seems that we have had years of birthday, Mothers’s Day, Christmas cards, and grade school papers filling up boxes with our history.  One document which survived was my fourth grade journal, which I recently reread.  I had to laugh at this entry:

Today I have track.  I don’t want to go to the meet on Sunday.  I am too slow.  It will just be a waste of time like at the last meet.  Even the third graders beat me.

Growing up, I was never a runner.  While I always participated in sports that necessitated you actually have to run, including tennis, soccer and skiing (which required dry-land training session), I was extremely self-conscious of my lack of running prowess, and was adamantly anti-running.  This may be because my dad and my sister made fun of me incessantly for the way my feet splayed to the side and flopped around when I attempted to run.  We’re a good natured-family; ridicule is part of how we express love (or something like that).  So, in front of them, I preferred to walk.  And?  Running wasn’t fun!  My dad has always run 3.5 miles, four days a week.  Who would want to do that?!

So, how did I turn from avid elliptical-er to somebody who craves a long satisfying run?  The voice of my fourth-grade self made me ponder.  It started in college.  I had been in a gym routine for a while and was challenged by my friend Jenny, who was on the cross-country team, to join her on a run around the campus.   She let me set the pace, and while I worried I was too slow for her, at the end of the 3.5 mile loop, she conceded that I had done a lot better than she had expected.  After this, the treadmill was integrated into my cardio.

When I graduated, I returned, less than ebulliently, to the New Jersey suburbs to live with my parents.  Let’s just say that the social scene was severely lacking.  I began to find challenges in the physical, and focused more on running.  I slowly increased the distance and pace I could run.  One day I passed five miles on the treadmill.  And suddenly, running didn’t seem like such an insurmountable challenge.  On the urging of my father, I entered a community 5k race.  My dad looks forward to race season with an excitement fueled by his OCD.  I was not sure I was ready to jump into that, but my time of 22:38 surprised me and was fast enough to win my age category (it was a small race… that time would get me nothing in a Somerville race).  I was officially hooked.

I am still uncomfortable with the self-proclaimed label of “runner.”  In my mind, runners are svelte and serious, they are women who know how to integrate speed training and strides into their training regiment, they are at least 5’9” and eat healthy all the time.  These concepts are sort of foreign to me.  I just run.  Sometimes I try to run fast.  Sometimes I try to run for a long time.  I have short legs, and lack the wiry thinness I associate with “natural” runners.

But, over the years, I have grown into the label, and while still reluctant to wear it for fear that I don’t quite deserve it, I will say that I want to be a runner, and want to become somebody for whom running is second nature. I’m just about there.  During my hiatus from running (hello painful stress fractures), the absence of running in my life made me realize how fundamental it had become to me.  I had lost part of my identity, and I felt mournful and lost.  These days, I sort of hate the elliptical, which I definitely utilize on my restrained low-impact days.  Yes, it’s a useful piece of equipment, but it’s not running.

I’m looking forward to this summer, the first running season in almost 2 years when I can set some goals and compete in some (fun!) races.  Stay tuned… I may need some help in training for those races from all those “real” runners out there.