Running wasn't something I ever thought I'd enjoy, but when I stopped thinking it had to be fun, it became so much more
A lot of people are hesitant to call themselves runners. They're not fast enough, they'll say; they don't run far enough. I used to agree. I thought runners were born that way, and as someone who never really ran unless I had to, it seemed running for exercise (or—gasp!—fun) just wasn't in my DNA. (Join our 30-Day Running Challenge to run faster, increase your endurance, and more.)
But I do think I'm wired to seek out challenges, and I function best under pressure. As much as I enjoyed my ClassPass membership, I was burnt out on hopping from studio to studio with no real end goal in mind. So in mid-April last year, I signed up for a 10K. I'd never run more than three miles in my entire life (and those were sloooow miles at that), so attempting to double my distance by the first weekend of June felt pretty major. And I did it! It wasn't pretty—race day was stupid hot, my feet hurt, I wanted to walk, and I thought I might throw up at the end. But I felt proud that I had set this goal and followed through.
I didn't stop there. I set my sights on a half marathon in October. During that race, the friend I was running with told me she thought I could handle a marathon next. I laughed, and said, sure—but just because I could doesn't mean I want to.
I didn't want to because I didn't consider myself a runner. And if I didn't feel like a runner, how could I push myself to run for that long or that freakin' far? Sure, I ran, but runners I knew chose to do it in their free time solely because they enjoyed it. Running is not fun to me. OK, that's not to say I never have fun while I run. But that's not why I do it. I run because it's one of the few ways I can find some solitary peace in a city of over eight million people. At the same time, it's helped me find a group of friends who motivate me when I can't motivate myself. I run because it's helped keep a lid on chronic depression; because it's an outlet for the stress that builds up during the work week. I run because I can always go faster, stronger, longer. And I love how I feel every time I contemplate a speed or time I haven't done before and crush it.
After that race, I kept running. And sometime between finishing my second half marathon in November and squeezing in a final run for 2015 on New Year's Eve, I realized that not only had I started looking forward to my runs, I was craving them.
In January, I was getting antsy without a specific goal to work toward. Then I was offered the chance to run the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is the only marathon I was ever interested in—especially before I actually started running. I went to college in Boston. For three years, I celebrated Marathon Monday sitting on a raised grate on Beacon Street, cheering on runners with my sorority sisters. Back then, I never, ever thought I'd be on the other side of the barricade. When I signed up, I wasn't even sure if I could make it to the finish line. But the Boston Marathon is a part of my history, and this would give me a chance to be a part of the race's history too. I had to at least give it a shot.
I took my training seriously—I was a total newb getting a chance to run one of the country's most prestigous races, and I didn't want to eff it up. That meant squeezing in post-work runs as late as 8:30 p.m. (because not even marathon training could turn me into a morning exerciser), giving up drinking on Friday nights if I didn't want to suffer from seriously unpleasant stomach issues during my Saturday long runs, and sacrificing up to four hours of potential brunch time on said Saturdays (that suuuucked). There were short runs when my legs felt like lead, long runs where I cramped every mile. My feet looked gnarly, and I chafed in places one should never chafe. (See: What Running a Marathon Really Does to Your Body.) There were times when I wanted to quit one mile into a run, and times when I wanted to skip my run completely.
But despite all that, I was actually enjoying the process. I wouldn't use the "F" word, but every mile I added to my long runs and every second I shaved off my speed runs meant I was logging new PRs on the reg, which was pretty awesome. Who doesn't love that feeling of accomplishment? So when I was having an off day, I refused to flake out. I didn't want to let myself down—not in the moment, and not on race day. (Here are 17 Things to Expect When Running Your First Marathon.)
I don't know when it clicked for me; there wasn't an "aha!" moment. But I am a runner. I became a runner a long time ago, back when I first laced up my sneakers and decided to run—even if I didn't realize it then. If you run, you're a runner. Simple as that. It still isn't fun for me, but it's so much more. It's empowering, exhausting, challenging, miserable, exhilerating—sometimes all within one mile.
I never thought I'd run 26.2 miles. I didn't even think I could. But when I stopped worrying about what made me a runner and just focused on actually running, I surprised myself with what I was really capable of. I'm running a marathon because I didn't think I could, and I wanted to prove myself wrong. I finished it to show other people they shouldn't be afraid to start. Hey, it might even be fun.