6th grade was the first and only time I went out for track. My coach told all the girls at one point in the season all of us would compete in the mile. Yet somehow, I ended up running the mile at every track meet we went too. I despised distance running. This fact made the mile the bane of my existence as a 12-year-old. If you know me, you know I am competitive by nature. I have been this way my entire life, including during this short middle school track stent. To be frank, I was not good at track. I always joked track truly wasn’t for me because I couldn’t run, jump, or throw. So here I was running the mile at every track meet, and not doing well with an overly competitive mind set. This is when I decided I was not a runner and would never be a runner.
Flash forward to junior college. I was a freshman trying to run to stay remotely in shape since I was no longer playing sports. I still believed I wasn’t a runner. To me a runner was fast (7-8 minute pace), could run 5-7 miles with ease, and never walked. I didn’t fit into this definition, so I placed myself into a box. I have a vivid
memory of running in the spring down the side streets toward main street, with the worst internal dialog. I was mad that I felt slow. I was mad that I had to stop and walk. I was mad that my lungs seemed to always be fighting against me. During this season of my life, I easily burned out with running. I would run a few times a week and then wouldn’t run for a month. It all stemmed back to these internal constraints I was placing on myself. I thought since I couldn’t live up to my internal definition, I was simply a failure at running.
Flash forward to April 2020. I was stranded in Manhattan. My friends left, and the town was empty. To keep my sanity, I ran. I was exploring the town through movement in a way I had never done before. (I also discovered hiking at this point, which I now love to do). Two months later I moved to Indiana and kept running. I made it my goal to run 26 miles over the month of June. This was easily the most mileage I had ever put on my legs, which resulted in the joy of shin splints. Even after I completed it, I still felt as though it wasn’t enough to talk about on any social media, and too much to talk about with my non-running friends and family. I still believed that to be a real runner you had to be fast and run 5+ miles, but my mindset was starting to shift.
This summer I set a goal to run 55 miles. I finished the last mile and a half on the same track my 6th grade self told herself she was not a runner. I still don’t run 5+
miles with ease, or at all for that matter. I still don’t run fast. And I still find myself walking on occasion. But these things don’t make me less of a runner. Putting on my sneakers and moving my legs is what makes me a runner. Running should be about enjoyment, and I wouldn’t enjoy it if I was running 5+ miles at super high paces. I’ve slowly learned that limitations like this have held me back in running and beyond. I’m deliberately escaping the boxes I put myself in and leaning into finding out who I want to become. Today I enjoy running most at a pace of 9:30-11 minutes per mile (PR 8:45 also done this summer) for a distance of 1-2 miles (3 if I’m feeling crazy). Some weeks I run 4 times and others I can only muster up the energy or find the time for 1. I'm proud to say that I identify as a runner. After I finished my 55 miles I lay on the track and listened to the familiar sounds of my small town, and thanked my 6th grade self. I couldn’t have run these 55 miles without her.