Friday, October 8, 2010

I am not a Real Runner...yet

I was asked by a friend to write a short essay on what running means to me for his running club newsletter a while back.  This is what I came up with.  Enjoy!

I run try to run 3 days a week. I log every run and every workout. I get up with the sun to run in the early morning quiet of the suburbs. I research new techniques, gear, shoes and programs on the internet. I read running magazines and belong to online running clubs. I do all these things…but I am not a real runner. I run for many reasons. I run because it is good for my health and good for my heart. I run because it means I can have an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert. I run because it means I can buy the size 6 jeans instead of the size eight. For me, running is a means to an end. But I do not love to run.

Real runners LOVE to run. They run 5 times a week and they get upset when they miss a run. They enjoy the blood sweat and tears it takes to achieve their lofty goals. Runners push themselves harder, faster, further each time they go out. They love the feeling of the wind in their face and the sun on their back as they work towards their next victory. When people ask real runners about their running they speak about it with passion and excitement. They talk about tempo runs, fartleks, intervals and hill repeats as if they were precious gems to be studied and polished to perfection. They have easy runs, recovery runs and long slow distance runs. They have heart rate monitors to keep them in the zone, Under Armour to keep them cool and dry and $200 sneakers to correct their over-pronation (or at least that is what the guy at the fitness store convinced them).

I HATE to run. I don’t really like to sweat and I hate hard work. If I can find an excuse to skip a run, I will – it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too late. I do not push myself harder or faster. I usually run at the same pace with the same intensity and with the same look of agony on my face. The wind blows my hair in my eyes and the sun gives me sunburn. When people ask me about my running I tell them I hate it but I do it because it is good for me - kind of like eating your brussel sprouts. I can tell you the difference between a tempo run and a fartlek run but I have never attempted either of these techniques. All of my runs feel like long slow distance runs – very long and very slow. I do not need a heart rate monitor because the pounding I feel in my chest is audible without one. I do own Under Armour, but I only bought it because it was pink and my sneakers were well under $200. I am not a real runner.

Real runners believe in a “runners high”. Yeah right!! I believe that the “runners high” is a myth. I can not comprehend, especially during the last few minutes of a run, how anyone could find it pleasurable. The sweat is dripping down my back. My lungs are burning, and so are my legs. All I can hear is the sound my laboured breathing and my heart about to burst out of my chest. I can not wait for the agony to end. There is no pleasure in that. I am not a real runner.

Real runners belong to running groups. They say running with a partner or group will help to keep you inspired and motivated as well as put you in touch newbies and experts for you to learn from. At the very least they will guilt you into doing your run that day. Although I am a very social and friendly person I learned early on that I do not like running with other people. I don’t like to chat while I am running – I can barley breath for crying out loud, the last thing I want to do is talk to some stranger (or even a friend) about how she recently finished her 5th full marathon and is training for her 6th and this is just a recovery day for her. (Recovery?!? Are you kidding me? I am dying here!) I am not a real runner.

I have tried running in the past with little success, although others may disagree as my perception of success is different than those who encourage me to run. I achieved my goals (finish a 5km, finish a 10km) but these achievements brought me no pleasure and no real sense of achievement. I am not sure why. I think it is because I am the kind of person who likes to succeed. I have never been the best at anything, but I can usually come in a strong runner up. And I am fine with that. But with running, it is different. I am slow, and by no means graceful. Younger (and older) runners speed past me on the courses as I move along at my snails pace – and I hate it. So many people cross the finish line before I do and I feel defeated. I am not a real runner.

Halls Lake, Ontario
I ran one of my most enjoyable and inspiring runs while on vacation this summer.   The peaceful morning air and the beautiful lake were enough to keep be going for 40 minutes.
 I have a few real runners in my midst that do their best to motivate me, encourage me and keep me going. I have participated in a half dozen 5km races with my boyfriend (a real runner!). And every time I leave the event feeling tired, sore and defeated. It is not because of his lack of encouragement – because he offers plenty. It is the simple fact that he enjoys these events that has me defeating myself before I even start the race. “Why don’t I love to race?” I keep asking myself. While we are waiting for a race to start he is all pumped and excited. I usually have stomach pains and sweaty palms and just want it to be over with. I know he is going to take off like a shot (along with most of the other participants) without even a glance over his shoulder to see if I survived the starting line stampede. He is focused and dedicated works hard to achieve his goal. I, on the other hand, having no clear goal other than to cross the finish line upright, stumble along at a snails pace, counting the minutes until this hell is over. I am typically a competitive person, but when it comes to running I have no drive, and just resign myself to finishing at the back of the pack. I am not a real runner.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Despite all the negative perceptions and feelings I have towards running I am not about to quit (this time). I want to be the person for whom running is a passion. A way of life. An end unto itself. I want my goal to simply be to run and enjoy it. I want running to be its own reward. I want to be a real runner.

After a not so brief hiatus from running I am back at it. This time around I am coming at this running thing from a different angle. What would a real runner do? Well, I am actually focusing on my running. I am not blindly out there running without a purpose or technique. I am thinking about my body. I am focusing my attention on my technique. I am listening to my body (rather than arguing with it) and making small adjustments all the time in response to what it is telling me. And it seems to be working. I seem to be in less agony than before and after only a few weeks my pace is already back to where I was when I gave up on running. I want to be a real runner.

I still don’t like to run with a partner or a group, but I have decided that is OK. My domestic life is busy and I now approach running as a chance to carve our some alone time for myself. No dogs barking, no boyfriends talking, no dinner to cook, no boss to impress. Just me and the road/path/trail. I haven’t had any ah-ha moments of clarity or physical euphoria so far, but I can say there have been moments where my “I hate this. I am never running again!” mantra has paused and some other part of my brain has kicked in and allowed me to ponder more important things like beautiful morning sunshine or what I am going to have for breakfast when I get back. As I am accustom to my negative mantra these brief moments of non-running related thought are a real triumph. I want to be a real runner.

Is running a means to an end or an end in itself? Right now, for me, I think it is both. For a long time it was only a means to an end – to get skinny – and I think that is why I was never happy or successful with the endeavour. I was never good enough, fast enough, strong enough or skinny enough. But lately there has been a small shift. There is a part of me that wants to run (even though I don’t always listen to it). There are brief moments along the way where I feel good while I am running and I actually enjoy the experience. These moments are few and far between but they are there. I think most runners have a love/hate relationship with running. For me, the hate is still very strong but the love side is slowly gaining popularity. Only time will tell if I will become a real runner…maybe I already am.

Are you a real runner?  Why?

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