I proudly wear the word “runner”; over the seasons and years I’ve reveled in the nuances of the meaning. I love that my closet contains gear for each season and that I possess intimate knowledge of how to use each and every piece.
I love my toned legs that and can run for miles and hours on end. I love the companionship of training runs and witnessing sunrises more days than not.
Lately I’ve seen more sunsets than sunrises, and my gear remains tucked away. The fabric of daily life has changed. I run sporadically. I miss my trails in Louisville. I miss the little loops I knew intimately that could get me to 60, 70, 80 minutes with a simple turn down known roads.
I miss the structure of my old life.
Yesterday I awoke to a most unwelcome feeling. The thought “I’m not a runner anymore” floated in the darkness of my room and bumped my chilly arms and disheveled hair. I had promised to meet three of my favorite runners for a 6:30 start time, a final run before one of our own travels to Sacramento to attempt a sub-3hr marathon. We were only running 12-13 miles. Only 12-13 miles… on legs that run no more than 20 per week anymore.
I fumbled with my clothing. Should I wear shorts or leggings? What hat to wear? Where’s my Garmin? Oh… I should take water. I wonder if I have any gels?
I’m out of practice. Running is a practice in mediation, skill and consistency. The thought “I’m not a runner anymore” brought painful sadness and shrouded my heart in a blanket of gray. I stopped consistently doing the thing that brings joy, balance and warmth to my life.
I’m off balance.
I met my friends and their smiles warmed my cold hands and legs. They set the pace and I fell in line. Conversation and laughter ensued. Blood pumped. The words “I’m not a runner anymore” sat on my lips, poised to explode shrapnel around the people I trust and respect. I bit my tongue and held the words silent in my cheek pocket.
Chilly air engulfed my bare legs. I pulled the fabric of my shirt over my balled hands and listened to marathon plans and pre-race anxiety as we ran an easy warm-up out Bobolink to Marshall Mesa.
We hit the trail and the brain fog parted. Instantly I became more aware of my surroundings, each foot lifted higher and my pulse dropped into its endurance zone; the place where I can hold pace for hours.
We bounded uphill and I heard the labored breath of a runner-friend behind me. No matter; I could talk up this hill and down. At the flat section we settled into an easy pace and joked about who would be next to take a digger. General consensus is that it’s my turn; everyone else has fallen over the past few months.
My tall trail runner friend led the way on the descent and I flew after him. Each footfall was preplanned and I set up for the next one before the shoe left the ground. Twisting and jumping, gliding over rocks; this is what I’m trained for. This is what I do.
Back on the straight-away our two faster runners settled into a pace and easily pulled away. My friend and I ran steadily along at an 8:10/mile pace and marveled at their fitness. We talked about running form and our lack of training, and how we’re going to juggle marathon training with family and work commitments. We decided on doubles for mid-week long runs, as neither of us has large chunks of time during the week. We’ll train in stolen moments – lunch breaks, planning periods, and early mornings before lunch boxes are packed and lovingly set out for small hands to retrieve.
And finally I confided my secret. “I’m not a runner anymore,” I said, never daring to look his way lest he see the rawness of emotion etched on my face.
“You’ll always be a runner. It’s in your body. You have the most perfect running form of all of us; shoulders relaxed, an easy stride. All you have to do is make up another 20 miles to get your base back. The 16-week training plan begins mid-January. It’ll be easy to ramp up to 55-60 miles/week then. You’ll be ready. You know how to do this.”
Poof. The secret demon that taunted me vanished in the chilly air. I wasn’t lost; I was just hibernating. I’m a runner.