“No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch,”–Unknown
I try to be careful about how I write/talk/post about my so-called running practice. When doing so, I typically attempt to lower the expectations of the readers/listener with some sort of self-deprecating humor. Why? Beside the fact, that I can’t take myself too seriously, I’ve also had too many encounters with those competitive souls who immediately insist on knowing my stats/pace/race times in order to determine, it seems to me, how to best classify me: Real competitive runner or the oh-aren’t-you-so-cute-in-your-attempts-to-jog?
Personally, I am not ashamed of my snail-like pace when I run, but I have allowed myself, at times, to feel less-than, especially in conversations with those runners who throw around finishing times and running paces like bodybuilders flexing their muscles in a gym mirror. If running paces were bicep bulges, then mine would be that proverbial image of a skinny kid with biceps drooping down like a lowercase u. Okay, maybe not the best illustration, but the point is this: I still cover the same distance and cross the same finish line as any other runner, and I have finally decided to no longer feel like a less-than runner because I am not as fast.
“We are all runners, some are just faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”–Bart Yasso
Since the week following Thanksgiving 2021, I followed a training plan for the 2022 Shamrock half marathon/marathon weekend in Virginia Beach. I had previously trained for and ran this virtual event last year, which was highly restricted due to COVID. Training, at that time, was challenging, not only because I was returning to running after several years of a hiatus, but also due to the snow, ice storms, flooding, and other winter events that seemed to plague last winter. Therefore, most of my training, including those all important weekly long runs, were mostly completed on a treadmill.
This year, however, I committed to completing as many of my long Saturday runs as possible, outside, despite winter weather with the goal of running in Virginia Beach. I also made changes to my weekday training, moving my workouts to early morning, before my workday began, as well as incorporating more strength training, stretching, and a weekly yoga session. Since this was the 50th anniversary of the Shamrock, it was sure to be a big event for the town, especially with many of the COVID restrictions of last year lifted. Nonetheless, runners still had the option to run it virtually.
Therefore, traveling to Virginia Beach this year, I knew I was ready to give it my best–nothing record breaking, but it was my best, and I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my consistent winter efforts! Upon Thursday’s arrival, John, my husband, and I could sense the town’s atmosphere–full of anticipation, joy, and celebration. Signs welcoming visitors were posted throughout, and we met numerous people in the service industry expressing their genuine excitement for the “first event of the season,” especially after the challenges of the past two years.
On Friday, John and I interacted with an abundance of the participants while attending the Shamrock Sports and Fitness Expo. Like me, they were there to not only pick up their race day bib and shirt, but also to browse the vendors’ displays and soak up the levity leading up to the event. Walking around the large arena, what surprised me the most was that there were so many other runners who, like me, did not fit the so-called mental construct that is often associated with what it means to be a runner. All ages, shapes, shades, sizes, and any other manner of differentiation–it seemed–were represented as if every possible background category box was checked. Oh, to-be-sure, there were plenty of competitive runners who obsessively talked to anyone who would listen about finish time, pacing, and other stats, but the majority of runners seemed to be there in order to have fun and relish the experience.
Perhaps, I always knew this about running, and had not allowed myself to see this, but surrounded by the high spirited energy of all those different types of runners made me rethink my own feelings—so much that I recall telling John, over dinner that night, that I was no longer going to choose to feel less-than because I am not a fast or competitive runner.
I run, and therefore I am a runner.
Bottom line, I find joy in any movement, but especially running. Running is what I do to reduce stress, increase my sense of energy and positivity, it provides me the ability to sleep soundly, and other countless benefits. Furthermore, after years of experiencing the captivity of an injury, I feel grateful for having the ability to recover and move my body freely.
Ultimately, this year, I decided to virtually run the half-marathon on Saturday, instead of Sunday, when the actual Shamrock was scheduled. I made this choice in order to have the rest of Saturday, after my 13.1 mile run, to enjoy beach and relax before making the seven-hour drive home on Sunday. This meant I would have to slightly modify the route, due to the fact the actual Shamrock course looped through Fort Story, and that section of the course would remain closed to runners the day before the event. Nonetheless, if I ran the course as an out and back route, I would still cover 13.1 miles.
Saturday morning, I began my personal half-marathon at the starting line area at 7:30, the official start time of the following day. The roads were not closed, as they would have been during the actual event, so I had to carefully navigate the sidewalks through town and run the bike path section of the isolated, four-lane stretch of Shore Drive. Fortunately, it was not a work day, so traffic wasn’t as busy as it might have otherwise been. Still, there were a few times in which I had to hop off the lane to make way for curb-hugging cars and/or bikes.
All the while, John kept driving in a loop, repeatedly checking on me, and shouting out encouragement through the car window. As part of the plan, John met up with me at the halfway point. This allowed me to pause for a quick drink break before turning around and heading back into town.
Reaching the halfway point, I felt strong. However, since I had trained through winter, I was acclimated to cold temperatures. It had been months since I had run in the 70 degree temperatures for which I found myself running. Therefore, my pace began to slow the closer to the end I came. Still, I finished. I. Ran. In fact, I ran slightly over 13.1 miles.
“Running slow isn’t a character flaw: Quitting is.”–Unknown
Dear Reader, I am a runner, and I will never allow myself to again feel slighted by my pace, my age, my stature, or any of those supercilious definitions–AND neither should you–no matter what your endeavors. God designed our bodies for movement, and we should celebrate and enjoy that ability. One day, Dear Reader, I may not be able to move freely, but that is not today . . . and so, I will continue to walk, hike, move, stretch, and, yes, even run.