It can be easy to forget that not everyone knew me before I was a runner. It’s easy to forget that about other people too. I am so immersed in the running community that that’s how I see everyone.
Talking to a couple of women who I run with recently I was reminded that a) we all have perceptions of ourselves that can differ from how other people see us. They’re not often positive, and b) that means that many people have no idea of what my journey to call myself a runner was.
I started trail running about six years ago. Growing up, I was not athletic. I was artsy (went to art school for college), a band nerd, and an academic. I loved being outside, hiking and camping. It never even occurred to me that I could run on hiking trails. I wasn’t in terrible shape or particularly unhealthy, but I never viewed myself as strong. Certainly not physically. I had tried to run for fitness some in high school, some in college, a little as an adult, but I never really clicked into it. It was an odd relationship that I kept going back to. I felt like running had a special place in my life, but because I didn’t really click with it and never particularly felt successful with it I didn’t know why I kept returning to these uncomfortable attempts. Somehow the idea of trail running was presented to me. I remember it being explained that it was hard. As in, you may not like it, it’s really hard. I was drawn to the idea of running in the trees and started looking for a way to get into it. It didn’t feel the same kind of approachable that just heading out from my door did.
I looked online and found the running group the Mud Babes. I decided to do something completely outside of my comfort zone. I picked a Monday that I was going to go. I was going to go run (something I had a small base for and was therefor worried I couldn’t keep up), with a group of people that probably knew way more about what they were doing. When that Monday rolled around it was raining and dark. I showed up in road shoes (not great for mud), a crappy light (I mean horrible), and something that vaguely resembled running clothes. I slid around in the dark through the dog park trails in Shawnee Mission Park with three other girls. One of the girls was super pregnant. That was a level of amazing to me that I still think about. She has no idea how much that influenced me to continue trail running through my pregnancy a couple of years ago. It was a ridiculous run for a first trail run. I was immediately hooked. Pretty much every Monday the past six years I’ve run in that park now. I’ve taken a leadership role in that group of amazing people that if you’d told me I’d be doing six years ago I would have never believed you. I run on a team, I coach people. I lead workshops and retreats, I’ll occasionally teach a strength class. Running is a huge part of my identity. That being said, I still carry a lot of pre-runner me around.
When I started running it took me years to refer to myself as a runner(n.). I would say that I run, not I am a runner. The term athletic or word athlete came much later than that. I had run two marathons and a 50k, and still struggled with those terms. I couldn’t break old self talk and self identify as athletic. I am a long distance runner. I love running ultras. They are so mental as well as physical that I feel a strength in those distances. I think that those short distances are incredibly challenging and do not play well to my strengths. When I started running trails I truly felt like there was an ultrarunner buried in me somewhere just patiently waiting for me to build up enough strength and base to run those distances. Years into running, finally identifying with the term runner I started checking ultramarathons off. Though I still didn’t feel like I could self identify as an ultrarunner. Each race felt like a fluke. I’m six years into running trails and I finally identify as an ultrarunner (kind of). This year has really been the first year I’ve been willing to say that out loud. I’ve got two 100 milers under my belt now and I’m still struggling saying I’m a 100 mile runner. It’ll probably take at least one more before I feel situated in that identity a little more fully.
Last night I was talking with a fellow runner who I’ve known for the last couple of years and mentioned something that was anecdotal to me. I am in by far the best shape of my life, and though it’s not a huge weight loss story, I still picture myself in my head as a much softer person. I was shopping at Lululemon, where I am fortunate enough to know the girls at this point handing me clothes. This is key, because they are goofy and kind when taking away what I pick out and bringing everything back in smaller sizes. When I mentioned this I got one of those looks, the oh I didn’t realize that was a struggle for you look. I could of course be entirely reading into this but I’m sure that was the look. Last year was the first time that I ran in public in a sportsbra, and this year is the first time I’ve done so consistently. This is less a yay I’m rockin a runner bod and more of a it is so freaking hot I’m going to manage this how I want and screw what other people think.
In general I lead with an air of confidence. I lead our Mud Babe runs (6 years ago me is still shocked and excited) and can’t stand up there as people continue to join and grow without that. The same for clients that I coach and workshops that I teach. A lot of it is true confidence that I have worked to build. A lot of it is fake it till you make it. Either way it’s there. I hang out with badass women, which is quite the understatement. When you surround yourself with amazing people it can be easy to see yourself as a piece of that group. It can be easy to see yourself as an outsider surrounded by people who are much more qualified to be in a space or a sport than you. My confidence in both my running and my ability to be a leader or voice in this sport has taken time. I’ve put in a lot of work reading, studying, learning through running, talking to runners, and building relationships; yet that perception of self as a leader or runner still comes and goes.
Part of what I strive to maintain is not just positive self talk, but positive and encouraging talk with other runners. I run with amazing people, and some of them hold so closely some of the mean and negative things that they’ve heard from in the past. Things that aren’t true and hang with them. Strong runners who shouldn’t feel that way. People that I see and think of as amazing members of our community whose self perception can differ from reality. There’s a difference between meeting yourself where you’re at and not acknowledging your strength. It’s ok to need to continue to build a base before running longer, or to want to get faster, and it’s amazing to have goals. Those goals should not discount the work that you’ve already put in; all the work that makes you strong now.
A friend mentioned having been given help with a mantra: The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement. Well I’m a freaking flower, and so are you.
***ok really I’m a freaking magical unicorn birthed from sparkles and glitter, but today I’ll go with a flower (don’t think there hasn’t been some glitter knocked on that flower either)