Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I am a Runner

I am a runner.

There, I said it. I've been in denial for over a year. Every time I talk about it or post a photo of my running split times, I make sure to clarify that I'm NOT a runner: (#notarunner).

My favorite shirt for running
It's not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed about being a runner (although if you speak to some bodybuilders, they will tell you that being called a runner is an insult because the body shape is so vastly different than the bodybuilder's ideal). The opposite is true for me. I didn't call myself a runner because I don't want to insult those people who are actual runners. You know, those people who run distances that should only be covered in a vehicle, not on foot. And those people who get together to run in clumps on Saturday mornings. THOSE people are runners. I was not.

For me, running is like meditation. I run alone and listen to an audio book while I run. I rarely listen to music; it's not enough of a distraction and my mind gets caught up in desperate thoughts like: "OMG I can't feel my toe. Do I even have a toe? Why can't I feel it anymore? OMG my lungs are burning. I can't breathe. I can't breathe! I can't BREATHE! Hmm ... maybe if I slow down a bit. There, that's better. Wow, I totally thought I was gonna die and someone would have to use my RoadID to call my mom and then she'd freak out." Well, you get the picture. I'm a bookworm and love being read to, so the audio books serve a couple different purposes.

I don't like running with others. (That sounds funny: "does not play well with others.") I don't want to be pushed or feel like I have to keep up when my body physically can't. I know my body's capabilities and limitations, and I listen to it. On the days when I feel energized and my lungs are open, I run further and faster. On the days when my body is tired and I have difficulty breathing, I run a shorter distance at a slower pace. I don't put any pressure on myself for achieving a time or distance; I simply go with how I'm feeling that day. I do, however, keep track of total times, split time averages, and distances because it's fun to see progress over time.

My 2nd fastest time EVER for this distance!
Why, after nearly two years of running, am I finally conceding that I'm a runner? Because I realized something very important recently:

Running makes me happy.

Earlier last year when I was going through a difficult breakup, I found myself feeling random sudden urges to get outside and just run. I would look out my window at work and wish I could be outside pounding the pavement. I would race home after work so I could get outside sooner to run.

When I took some time to think about it, I realized it was my body's instinctual fight or flight response mechanism. And my body definitely wanted to take flight! All those miles I clocked during that time actually helped me manage my stress levels.

It was during this time when I trained for my first (and only thus far) 10K race. I had enjoyed running, but when I begain following a regimented training plan to train for the race, it took some of the pure joy out of it for me. I felt like I HAD to run, and that somehow made it feel less enjoyable. I clocked a great time (for me) at the race and then settled back into running whenever I felt like it for random distances and times, and the joy returned.

My brother flew out to DC to run the race with me! We had a ton of fun and we both ran PRs!
I run at least 4 days a week, usually outside. During the summer, I only run outside; I can't stand being cooped up inside on a dreadmill on a sunny day. During the winter, though, I've been running on the treadmill periodically because of time constraints (it takes me 20 min to get bundled up to run outside) and snow piles covering my typical running routes.

But what made me come to the realization that I'm a runner?

I began training for a bodybuilding show to be held at the end of April. I started dieting and outlined a training and cardio program to rebuild some of the muscle I've lost over the past year. I joined a new gym and began weight training again. I enjoyed it, as I usually do, but I didn't look forward to it. It was just something that I had to do. I didn't have a negative attitude; I just wasn't enthusiastic about it. I did what I needed to do and then went back home. Like a job.

After a week or two of prep, I went out running and felt AWFUL. I clocked a really slow time and felt utterly lethargic and drained. I was disappointed and unhappy with how my body felt. Running had become so important to me, and when I couldn't perform at my optimal ability, I was frustrated. I pushed through another week of prep and then decided that due to a number of factors, I needed to stop and decide what was most important to me.

I run outside as often as possible, even when it's freezing!
I realized that while I enjoy weight training, it's not necessarily something I look forward to. If I miss a day, I don't really care. If I miss a day of running, however, I really care. I don't feel stressed, like I HAVE to run. It's moreso that I simply enjoy it. I look forward to it and make it a priority during my day. And that, my friends, is when I realized ...

I am a runner!