At some point within the last 24 hours, I began to consider myself a runner.
I think others have possibly considered me to be one prior to this time – my mom said recently she sees me as a natural runner and athlete. The thing is, though, it is a title I have not (and couldn’t) readily give myself. It could be my perpetual low self-esteem, the fact that I am a perfectionist, the fact that I know people who are actually professional runners, or just the fact that my frequency of training and racing has decreased over the past few years, but regardless the reason, “runner” is not exactly how I describe myself to people.
I have never run a full marathon. My speed isn’t anything to brag about. I don’t necessarily LOVE running every single day. But I DO do it. I lace up, I sweat, I push, I try to convince myself I’m not cramping up and my breathing will get more comfortable within the next mile. And though I could downplay it and act like I am perpetually terrible, the fact remains that my hard work and dedication to this mind-game sport that I love, hate, and love to hate, has paid off in improvement. Want to know a big reason why?
Let me tell you about a girl I know named Serena. She cool. Actually, she’s way more than that. She is incredibly loyal, enthusiastic, and empathetic. When I injured myself in February, the day before I was supposed to start training for a half marathon that I convinced her to run with me, she did not let me give up. Even before I got the actual diagnosis and recovery plan from my doctor, Serena was supportive. She was equal parts cheerleader and nurse: counting down the days until I could get back on my feet and start running and also violently demanding I do not cheat on my recovery plan and start trying to run just because my pain wasn’t excruciating. I took two very boring, very sedentary weeks off, and I got an update every day from her of how many more days until I could run again. Honestly, that unwavering belief in my recovery really aided me in believing in it myself.
And so we went to Louisville. I had trained as much as I could: Serena dragged my slow, corpse body all over Logan Square in one 10 mile run in the rain. In Milwaukee the weekend before the race, we crushed a 5 miler along the lakefront and River Walk. And come race day, I was nervous, but undeniably supported. I do not generally like running with people. I make some strange faces and noises and I really despise looking weak. And yet, having Serena run every step of the way with me, assuring me my pace wasn’t too slow, promising me we were almost done and there were beers at the finish line, allowing me a weak moment when I got a charlie horse in my calf from dehydration, allowed me to keep going, and ultimately pull of a PR on a half marathon.
I have run seven half marathons now, and the only time I have even come close to this pace was when I was 23 and followed a professional training and diet plan to a T. I feel incredibly fortunate to have pulled off this time, injury or no. It is also just different. The last time I ran a half marathon, my house had burned down three weeks prior, and I was homeless, wearing borrowed shoes, and running with something to prove (survival?). The last time I ran the Derby Festival Mini, I was miserably stuck in a relationship, had no friends I was allowed to see, trusted no one, and was at odds with my family. I think I crossed the finish line and made me way through to the after party by myself. So, despite feeling terrible for the last third of the race this time, running with someone who supported me, meeting my amazing parents and the love of my life at the finish line, it just reemphasized what I have thought of so much lately:
I am so lucky and happily surrounded by good people at this time.
The best part of this PR? I was not all that sore after! I got an amazing bath and nap in, and managed to hit up the best parts of Louisville with my friends! We even went to the bar where my parents met: Gerstle’s. It was…it was a shit show. But we still had fun.
And so, flash forward to the week after this momentous weekend for this “non”- runner: I got in three training runs and ran a 5k in Wrigleyville back here in Chicago. I learned some valuable tidbits at the Race to Wrigley:
1.) Courses with more turns are far more interesting and go by faster. This course was boring.
2.) Do NOT think that just because you ran a half marathon a week before that you can enjoy libations at the Derby party you chose to throw the night before. A mile and a half in, I had to wave Serena on so she didn’t see the unseeable: me tossing my cookies out on Irving Park. (I ended up only dry heaving…still embarrassing. How old am I? Be responsible, Julia.)
3.) If you are physically miserable, however, you WILL run faster to get it over with. And so, I finished with my best split miles ever recorded in a race, despite being a little, well, hungover.
And so, I guess I am a runner. And though it is a painful, exhausting, challenging sport, I love it. In fact, I love it more than ever. I don’t want to stop anytime soon.