“Running does not define who we are. It refines who we are.” ~Chris Heuisler
I read this in a meme somewhere a few days ago and the thought has stuck with me. I understand what he is saying: running changes you. It changes you in ways you cannot begin to imagine when you start running. Ways that have nothing to do with physical fitness and weight loss.
Running does refine you.
But…it also defines me.
I might not look like a “real” runner. I don’t have those thin-but-muscled spindly legs or defined abs. I don’t run in tiny running shorts (tiny runny shorts are, in fact, one of my worst nightmares). I don’t look lean and sculpted.
In fact, I look a little bit soft.
And then there’s the issue of speed. If you only qualify as a runner based on speed, then I might not be a runner. Right now, while I’m recuperating from a lung illness, I’m doing a combination of running and walking, so my mile pace is in the 11 minute range. Can I call myself a runner when part of the time I spend running is actually walking? When I’m healthy and not injured, I’m thrilled with a 9.5-minute mile on a flat surface. I’ll probably never be fast enough to qualify for Boston. Does the fact that my miles are slow mean I’m not actually a runner but a jogger?
Sometimes I am training for a race. Every once in a while that race will be a marathon, but usually it’s a half marathon. I have fantasies about training for an ultra but I’ve never actually done it.
Does the distance you run make you a runner?
It’s taken me a long time. But after running for almost twenty years, I can finally claim the definition: I am a runner.
Not because running is something I do, but because it is something I am.
I’m a runner because I run.
Not every day, like some runners. But more than half the days.
Since I’m a runner, if I go on vacation I’m still going to go running. In fact, running on vacation is one of my favorite parts of running.
Since I’m a runner, I buy a lot of running clothes. I read magazine articles about other runners, and about running shoes and running techniques and running routes.
Since I’m a runner I have a Costo-sized tub of protein powder in my pantry, and lots of nuts, and Kind bars and protein bars and Luna bars. There’s a box of Cliff Blocks in my nightstand drawer and five or six packages of Gu.
Since I’m a runner at least one of my toenails is funky and I almost always have blisters on my bunions.
There are lots of things that define who I am: I am a parent, a wife, a friend. I’m a teacher. I’m a librarian. I am a reader and a writer, a quilter and a scrapbooker. I am a hiker.
But yes: “runner.” I’m also a runner. It defines me.
And it does, in fact, also refine me.
Because I am a runner, I have a better understanding of how to process my emotions.
I’m a better writer because I am a runner.
Because I’m a runner, I understand my own body. I know the names of muscles; I know when I need rest and when I am just being lazy. I know the deep-down ache in my pelvis of running long and the catch in the lungs from running fast.
I’m stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually because I’m a runner. A better wife, mother, friend, employee.
Because I’m a runner I understand that I can do hard things. That sometimes endurance looks like patience, and that I have more strength in me than I sometimes know. That knowledge doesn’t just help me when I’m still five miles from home and I’m tired but I’ve got to keep running. It helps me when I am grappling with personal struggles. It’s helped me in long, terrifying nights spent in hospitals not knowing if my husband would live. It’s helped me when I got bad news about Kaleb’s heart. It helps me when I am lonely or sad because I know I am strong. If I can run half marathons I can cope with life's challenges.
I love my body more, despite my back fat and my thigh rub, my beginning-to-wrinkle skin, my soft belly, because I am a runner. I know it will almost always take me where I need to go, whether it’s up a mountain or twenty miles down the road. It is my apparatus for being in the world and I am willing to extend grace to the flaws because no one is perfect, no body is perfect, but some runs are perfect and I couldn’t experience them without my body.
I’m a runner because running is what I do. It’s a part of me as deeply essential to my Amyness as my other qualities. I am blessed to be able to run and I am grateful for that blessing.
It defines me, running. It refines me. It teaches me I am a badass one day and it humbles me the next. I would be far less of a person without running. And I hope I can continue running for the rest of my life.