If you went through the starting line at a 5k or even a half marathon today and asked people when they first considered themselves a runner, many would say they never considered themselves runners until such and such happened when they were well into their adult years. Some would say that they still don’t consider themselves a runner even though they were lined up for a race. If you asked me, I don’t know that I would have a concrete answer. I could get philosophical and start reflecting on what it really means to be a runner, but as far as I’m concerned, if you are out there putting one foot in front of the other in a motion that even slightly resembles running, you are a runner.
I have always considered myself an athlete. I started participating in organized athletics at age 3 when my mom put me in gymnastics camp and skiing lessons. (Fun fact: the summer of my first gymnastics camp was when I met the woman who would teach me to have a true lifelong love of running.) I participated in gymnastics until third grade when my gymnastics academy moved to Rapid City and my parents did not want to drive me that far for a sport that I really only did for fun. That is when I started playing soccer; a sport that I still love to watch but never had any talent for.
All throughout elementary school, my favorite day of the year was our track and field day. I could not wait for day we would get to put on our matching class shirts, walk to the track at the local college, and show how fast we were. At the upper elementary school, classes even competed against each other for a trophy. I signed up for my first Hershey’s track meet in forth grade, but was unable to participate during illness. I doubt I would have won anything. At that point in my life, I was convinced I was a sprinter. Ha! In fifth grade, an older girl on my soccer team told me about how she had signed up to run cross country. I had never heard of the sport, but it was the one of few school sanctioned sports sixth graders were allowed to participate in. After spending the fall soccer season listening to her talk about her experiences, I could not wait to get to sixth grade so I could run too.
I don’t remember my first practices, but what I do remember is my first home meet. I remember how hot it was as we ran a 2K course around the sports complex where I played soccer. I remember rounding the corner towards the finish line and pushing it into overdrive for my finishing kick. I remember looking at that ribbon and thinking I finally had a ribbon that I had earned all by myself and without riding the coat tails of others more talented than me. Most importantly, I remember standing at the starting line, not with a feeling of dread, but a feeling of excitement. I had finally found a sport that I could call home.
Fast forward past four seasons of running cross country, three seasons as the cross country manager, three seasons as manager, shin splints, tendinitis, patellafemoral dysfunction, strained achilles tendons, a torn quad, a tibial stress fracture, and a knee surgery to last Sunday.
Nearly fifteen years after my first cross country practice as a twelve year old sixth grade, twenty-seven year old me found myself lined up to start my first half marathon. It was the first race I had run since fall 2006 when I ran my senior season of cross country. Days before, I had started to get nervous. Could I actually do this? Even in the best shape in high school, I could barely make it ten miles, let alone 13.1. I was terrified that I would have to drop out, that my troublesome knees or hips would break down on me, that I just was not strong enough.
The day before the day, at check-in, I knew everything would be fine, and that I’d definitely be able to finish. When I picked up my race packet, my high school cross country coach and my middle school guidance counselor were there. When I was at the starting line on race day, my high school athletic director was giving directions and fired the starting gun, and our assistant coach was on his bike just like always. When I crossed the the finish line, my middle school athletic director was there snapping pictures and cheering me on. It’s because of amazing people like these that I have such a lifelong love for this sport, and I can’t imagine coming back to racing any other way.
For me, running is more than a sport. Running is meditation. Running is therapy. Running is home.