When people ask me how I got into running, how I became a runner, I tell them that I always wanted to be a runner, because really, that’s where it all started. It was a thing I wanted to be, before I ever signed up for a race, before I ever dropped $100 on a pair of running shoes, before I ever embarked on any non-Army mandated running adventure, before I ever set off down some random road in California, Texas or Oregon, running was just simply something I wanted.
And you’d think it would be easy, to know this about yourself, to know that you want to be this thing and then to set out and become that thing. It’s not like I wanted to be an astronaut or a natural blonde or a unicorn, I just wanted to be a runner and really, by definition, a runner is a person who runs, so it would seem logical that me, a person who wanted to be a runner, would just simply go and run and therefore become a runner, but no. That is not how it worked at all.
Instead, I spent years – actual fucking years – wishing I was a runner, but not actually running, mostly because I did not like running. It was hard. I was slow. It made me sweaty and gross and I did not look like the glorious lady warrior I wanted to when I ran, but rather a floppy faced basset hound. And running hurt. It hurt my knees and my shins and all my parts, really. Running was miserable.
I had this idea that if I was meant to be a runner, I simply would be, that running would one day not be this terrible experience, that I would go for a run – somewhere, somehow, someday – and would actually enjoy the running process. And I operated under this logic for a very long time, determined that maybe one day things would just change. I’d try running every now and then, mostly in the weeks leading up to an Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, but it always sucked. I always hated it. I was always slow. It was always miserable.
Until suddenly it wasn’t.
There was a build-up to it becoming a non-traumatic event, this running stuff – it involved several muddy obstacle races, a lot of miles logged on a treadmill and a commitment to stop Â being a lazy shit.
It was a slow shift. Running went from this thing I had to do in order to accomplish these fun things I wanted to do be doing on my weekends, to this thing I needed and wanted to do at 6am on a Tuesday morning.
And then I found myself at a glamp site in California on a perfect October morning, awake beforeÂ 6am, with the Pacific Ocean less than a mile away, so I did the only logical thing I could think of in that moment and I went for a run. And for the first time ever, it felt like magic. It felt like I’d always wanted it to feel. It felt good, and better than that,Â I felt good.
That’s all it took, really, was that one good run. After that, things changed. I started setting goals related to running. I wanted to improve my 5k time. I started running regularly, outside and away from my treadmill, increasing my mileage just because I could. December came and I hit my 5k goal, came home and signed up for my first half marathon.
On Sunday, I ran my fourth half and just a few days before that I made a vague sort of commitment to run my first full marathon in the spring. On my white board at work, I’ve got a quote from Runner’s World, about mental toughness, and below it a list of my upcoming races. My most expensive shoes are my running shoes and I’ve got different pairs for different sorts of running. I don’t run to burn calories or to stay in shape. I run because I have to. Because it grounds me, because it keeps me sane, because when I’m running things matter less, the pain and the rage subsides and I can just be.
I’m a runner. Finally.
And the thing I’ve finally realized about running, is that it isn’t always pretty. Running isn’t always fun. In fact, sometimes running fucking sucks. This past half was the hardest I’ve ever run – it was hot and humid and everything hurt. I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk, to curl up in some air conditioned space and there were multiple miles where I wanted to be doing absolutely anything other than running. But I kept running. My feet went numb and my shoes got soaked from all the water hoses I ran under to cool my body down, but I kept running. One foot in front of the other, for 13.1 miles, because that’s what you do, that’s what you fucking do when you’re a runner.
So the truth about running, that I didn’t know before I became a runner, is that sometimes, even when you’re a runner, it still sucks. Sometimes you can’t find that perfect pace. Sometimes it’s just hard. Sometimes your slowest usual pace feels like an impossibility. Sometimes running just fucking sucks.
But sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s why I keep going, that’s why I’m still a runner, and that’s why I keep lacing up my shoes. You can’t judge a run on the first mile, or even the second and more times than not I don’t know what kind of run I’m going to have until I’m in the middle of it, hating or loving every minute. But the good moments, the moments when I exceed the pace I wanted to hit, when I set a personal record, when I run my heart out, when I walk through my front door post-run smiling so hard it hurts – that, all of that, is why I run.