The first time I ran, like really ran, was during middle school gym class. It took me 11 minutes and 47 seconds to finish a mile. I've been running ever since, but for all my 6 a.m. alarms and 0-degree jogs, my mile time has not improved much.
Running is the kind of thing where you put in the time and expect to see results, and let me be the first to tell you: It is supremely discouraging when you don't. It's discouraging when you run a five-mile race with your entire family and come in a solid 15 minutes behind everyone else, and it's discouraging when that time is no faster or slower than your five-mile time five years ago.
And yet (and yet!), my alarm is already set for 6 a.m. tomorrow, even though it's probably going to be rainy and definitely going to be cold and even though most of the time, I really hate running.
Don't ask me why. All I know is this: As much as I hate running, I love being a runner.
There's some kind of camaraderie between people who spend more money each year on running shoes than on all their other shoes combined, and there's some fundamental similarity between people who can cross 10 miles without pausing or looking back.
On days that I run, I exert myself purely for exertion's sake. If you run too, you get why.
When you're a runner, your people are the girls with hair elastics on their wrists and the boys with shorts shorter than yours. They might be better, faster or stronger than you, but you belong with them.
It took me almost 10 years of plodding along at an 11-minute mile before I realized that I could call myself a runner, no matter how slow I go or how many races I lose.
I've laced up my shoes at least once a week since the first day I stepped foot on a track in middle school. Some weeks it's every day, some weeks it's not. Some days, I'll barely go more than a mile, and some days, I'll walk more than I jog. I may not have medals, but I have fresh air, time alone, and creaky knees and tight quads.
For me, that's enough. I run, so I am a runner.