Do you ever have goals set for yourself that seem completely unreachable? Like they’re so out there that they’re just a dream? It’s not meant to happen, and you really don’t think that it will, but you go for it anyways? For me, that was running. At first it was running a mile. Then a 5k. Then a 10k. Then a half marathon. It seemed so unimaginable that I could run for more than 5 minutes. Honestly.
When I was in high school, I remember going to my swim practices after school and absolutely hating the running and weights portion. We’d have to do intervals where we’d swim a set, then walk down to the track and run 4 laps (a mile), before going back up to swim more. I never told my coach, but I always cheated. I was the slowest one out there because I couldn’t run a mile straight and didn’t want to show up back at the pool late. So I would jog/walk as best I could, then run across the field – cutting it down to at least .75 miles or less – to make it back along with the other kids. I hated being last. I hated feeling slow and fat. I hated feeling like the other kids were all looking at me weird.
That feeling has followed me through college and to the course of every race I’ve done in the past two years. The funny part is it only happens on the running portions. I feel like I do well in the swimming part of the race because I’m confident in the sport. I feel okay about the bike, even if I’m in the back of the pack, because biking makes me happy. Running has never given me the sense of accomplishment that other sports do.
I thought that if I did a half marathon and checked it off my list, I’d finally prove to the world that I was a runner. Screw those kids who watched me walk across the finish line of the middle school mile because I was too out of shape to run. I was there to prove them wrong. One medal, down. I reached the unthinkable.
I thought that if I did two half marathons, I’d finally feel like a runner. After all, don’t you run for you? Throughout my half-assed attempts at training, I learned that you spend a lot of time alone, pushing yourself to your limits and getting lost in your thoughts, questioning your motivation, drive and capabilities. Even after that second half, I didn’t feel like a runner.
So I went out for a third attempt. I was lucky enough to have my brother running the race too, someone to suffer through the pain with. While I was happy to see him and my family at the finish line, I couldn’t help but compare my 13:30 average to his 7-minute mile. Was I considered a runner, even if I was in the back of the pack? Doing something this significant with my family changed my perspective about road races, but it still didn’t make me feel like a runner. It just made me question that goal even more.
Lying here, the day after my fourth half marathon, unable to walk, stand, sit or move with ease, I still don’t feel like a runner. Yes, I’ve completed the equivalent of two marathons. Yes, I have the four medals to prove it, but I don’t feel like I’m a runner just because I have those hanging on my walls. To be a runner, I have to truly love the sport, which I don’t.
I’ve met runners from around the world who absolutely love what they do. Going out for 4, 8, or even 10 miles makes them happy. They’re in complete bliss when they finish a big race. For me, it’s the opposite. To this day, I struggle through a 2 mile run. I get bored, sore and caught up in negative thoughts about my time, form and training. If I run a half marathon, those feelings multiply by about 10. No joke.
Luckily, I was able to do this last race with one of my best friends in a stunning environment (Yosemite, CA). It was a life-changing event. I’ve never put my body through so much – except for Alcatraz, maybe. Throughout the race, every single part of my body hurt. It’s honestly even worse today. I can’t move without something hurting. It was a trek trying to make it up to our third-story apartment tonight.
As I started to realize I had just finished four half marathons (well exceeding my original goal of running a mile), I took a step back and asked myself why I’m doing this. Is it really for me, or is it to prove to myself and the world that I’m a runner? Was one half not enough? Wouldn’t have running one mile simply been enough? Honestly, I do it because I think runners are amazing and inspirational, and I want to be on their level. I want to be accepted by the fitness community and be able to say that I can do it too. I started running to lose the weight because that’s what I was “supposed” to do, but it’s just not for me. It never has been.
I’m learning to listen to my heart, to my intuition, and not follow the masses. I’m learning it’s okay not to be a runner just because that’s what I thought I had to do to lose weight, to be healthy, or to calm my nerves. I’m learning that you have to do what works for you. I have to do what’s best for me. My body hates running. My knees, feet and ankles hurt for weeks after a long run. I feel tired and weak for days. Even though I’m proud of myself for doing my impossible time and time again, I feel that I’m not doing what’s best for me.
So I decided today that this weekend was my last half marathon. I’m going to focus on the things that do make me excited to be competing, like swimming and biking. I haven’t even started to plan, but just thinking about it brings a smile to my face. That’s what should happen when you think about reaching your dreams and doing the impossible, not pain and disappointment.
It took me a long two years to learn this, but I’m not a runner. And it’s okay not to be.
*For more from Lauren, be sure to visit Lauren Lives Healthy.