On Tuesday nights I have been helping my running coach with her New Beginners, an intro 5k group for women. This group is massive – I’m talking 60-70 women on any given night. Coach usually splits this group into 3-4 sub-groups, pending participant ability.
Typically I lead group two; these are ladies that are giving it their all, and completing some truly strenuous workouts – but have never before completed a 5k race.
Yesterday, for the first time, they ran the entire SUNY Albany loop – a full 3 miles. Prior to this they have been accustomed to running timed intervals; but when we gathered together yesterday evening Coach surprised them with the news that they were expected to do the full 3 miles. You could see the fear on their faces. When we took off, they were already chattering about how they couldn’t possibly do it. It was too warm, too sunny, etc.
It allowed me to pause and reflect on my own journey so far. From being a pack-a-day smoker to a half marathoner. From a race-related injury, two years ago, to recovery and how I also faced the same breathlessness and anxiety over what I now consider to be such a small distance. Just last year I was in this 5k group myself; anything above 2 miles after my injury seemed like a marathon distance. And now, just one week ago, I completed one of the hardest workouts I have ever attempted. I ran miles (plural) up a mountain (500ft gained elevation…I’m calling it a mountain). I did not stop, I did not walk. And then I ran back down.
I let that sink in.
I have noticed the gains in muscle in my lower body – in my quads, in my calves. I have noticed the ease with which a new pace goal can be achieved. I have noticed the ease with which I am conquering new distances. But for some reason I have the hardest time acknowledging that I am a runner. That I am worthy of such a title.
I have never felt like a runner, due to my party-girl background, or my body type, or my size or my pace. I was too big, too slow, and running was too hard to consider myself a “real” runner. I have often avoided races above the 5k that were reserved for “real” runners. Let me say that again. I have trained for, and still not signed up for, distances of up to a full marathon without ever registering for the race itself all because I did not think I was a “true” runner, that I would be “wasting” the space.
But yet here I was – running up mountains, crushing workouts, increasing distance, tracking my weekly mileage. Here I was spending half a Sunday making sure I get my long runs in. Here I was offering encouragement to women who were just like me, only a short time ago.
Never have I felt more in love with running, or my body, than I did crawling up that final hill with those women. Never have I felt more in love with running, or my body, than sprinting to the finish with them. Never before have I realized that I am tired of fighting my body, and of trying to make it conform to some mental image that I may or may not ever attain.
Today I am looking at the Syracuse Half Marathon registration dates. I know what I’ll be doing April 18th at 11:00am: signing my name to stand in line with the rest of the “real” runners this Fall.
Oh, and my ladies crushed that loop, for the record.