- How long is this marathon?
- What about your knees?
- What do you listen to for all that time?
- Do you ever win?
- How do you not get bored?
These are just some of the common questions I get when people find out I’m a runner. And actually, thanks to my friend Beth, I should clarify that sentence: when people find out I’m a marathon runner. After having too many people ask me if a race was my first one, she helped me to change my language. My curves mean I don’t look like what people might imagine a marathoner looks like. My love of Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies don’t match the stereotype either. But the 15 marathon medals hanging on my wall remind me that yes, I am a marathon runner. And the 50 or so half marathon medals that surround them say that stereotypes are stupid.
I’ve written before about my running journey, but in case you are a new reader, here is the short version…I joined the gym in February 2010 to lose weight. One night in the spring I decided to crank up the treadmill as fast as I could for one song (“Bang a Drum” by Selena Gomez). I spent the rest of the night wheezing and got an inhaler that was my friend for a few months. My first 5K was in June, my first 10K was in October, my first half marathon was the next spring, and my first full marathon was Portland Marathon in fall 2012. It took nine years to lose the weight and along the way much more changed than my pants size.
I never intended to be a runner; really I made fun of them for all those loops on the track in high school. And there are times when I have a hard time calling myself as a runner, when I feel some major imposter syndrome at putting myself anywhere near the stories I read in Runner’s World. I have the same feelings about being a writer, or a PhD, or an editor, or a girlfriend, or a daughter, or many of the other parts of my identity. A cruel voice inside says that those around me are going to figure it out. That I really am not good enough and fire me from whatever role I am holding in their life.
When that voice gets too loud, that is exactly when I need to look at those medals on my wall. They are not about bragging. They are about reminding me of the truth that I put in every single one of those miles, and all of the training miles that led to them. And for those other feelings, that is when I pull up an email from a file I keep of kind words from students. Or I reach out a friend for tea and conversation. Or I squeeze my boyfriend’s hand a little tighter, and feel him squeeze back. Or I call my family and listen to the happy voice on the other end.
I seek out the truth to be louder than the lie.
Once upon a time, I joined a gym to lose weight and started running as a hobby. Now I look forward to a 10K race on Sunday morning with no fear of being laughed off the course as someone who does not belong. The truth is I belong, just like every other person at that starting line.
And you belong at whatever starting line you want to step up to. That is the truth.
Just in case you’re wondering about those questions from the beginning:
- “Marathons” are always 26.2 miles. “Races” can vary in distance.
- My grandma had knee surgery and never ran, so we’ll see.
- Mostly podcasts, with some girl power music when I’m aiming for speed or the last mile finish line.
- First place in my age division; not first place overall (yet).
- I totally get bored sometimes. And other times the minutes and hours fly by. Just like at work or with friends or watching Netflix.
“We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). – #52sparks is my year-long writing series for 2020, based on an art prompt challenge. The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch. This series is to explore what hundreds of inches and words can do.