Running can be a bit of an enigma. And I get it; it's so simple -- lace up, head out the door -- yet so... complicated. From finding properly-fitting shoes and figuring out nutrition on long runs to way too much information about bodily functions and finding motivation for mile after mile, I can see how there may be a few barriers to entry when comes to joining the ranks of the fleet of feet.
But when did the world's most accessible sport become something with which people are apprehensive about owning their affiliation?
Case in point: Each Monday night I coach a group of fantastic ladies through Team LUNA Chix. Our local teams in the program include women of all levels, from beginners to casual competitors. The goal is to bring women together to learn a new sport, stay active and encourage other women in their communities to participate in the fun. We train, compete and support each other, while fundraising for our non-profit partner, the Breast Cancer Fund.
Since we're in our first year in a new city (Portland!), we've been actively recruiting. There's always a lot of interest as we chat about the need for women to get out, get active and set an example for others. We talk about how they'll meet new people, break a sweat, share some laughs and, heck, even end each of our workouts with snacks.
I get enthusiastic nods and smiles. Yet, when the rubber running shoe hits the road, those grins fade and are replaced by words I've heard countless times now:
But I'm not a runner.
Every time I hear that phrase, it feels like a punch in the gut. I love running, and I so badly want others to experience how empowering it can be. Granted, not everyone wants to run... but if you do want to learn, you should never feel the need to downplay your status until (you think) you're fast/thin/athletic/whatever enough to be able to engage in it with others.
Do you want to know the secret to being able to call yourself a 'real' runner?
Get your butt out there and RUN.
There's no pill to pop, credential to earn or magic formula to decipher in order to become a "real" runner. You don't have to hit certain milestones in pace, mileage, events completed or years under your belt to qualify. Also, each runner's body is unique and will react so differently to running that only YOU can be your own expert -- finding the shoes that feel good on your feet, the fuel that won't upset your gut, which distances are your sweet spots, etc.
The process itself is a simple one: Start at Point A and run to Point B. Even if the distance between the two is a few blocks and you take three walk breaks (true story; that's how I began). Congratulations; you are now -- officially, I might add -- a runner.
Why? Because running -- and being a runner -- is as much a state of mind and an attitude as it is putting one foot in front of the other and moving quickly. It transcends time and space and distance and pace.
Yes, it will downright suck sometimes when you miss your goals, get random injuries or just have an "off" day. You'll have bad workouts that come out of nowhere, you'll deal with odd aches and pains and and you'll be disappointed in yourself every so often.
But you know what sucks even more? Robbing yourself of the opportunity to try it on for size because you're worried about being judged by others (we're all up in our own heads anyway).
And as you learn to connect with your body in new ways and become more self-aware and appreciative of the feedback you get from this beautiful machine you're operating, you'll also realize that running becomes less about the act and more about your approach towards it. Fast or slow, gracefully or awkwardly, long or short, alone or together -- it all counts, as long as you've got a good attitude and are willing to give it a go.
Yes, there's a certain level of comfort that comes only with time, patience and practice. But in the meantime, you should never feel as though you aren't seasoned enough to be able to embrace the sport and call it your own. That's the absolute best part about it -- the community.
So before you start going down the path of reasons why you shouldn't do it (starting from scratch never feels great) or can't do it (there's so much to learn), just stop. Caving in to the voice in your head only feeds into a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
But if you're genuinely curious about running and open to a world of new -- and rewarding -- experiences, there are two things to do immediately: First, recognize that any pain is manageable, fear is irrational and pledge to yourself that neither will stand in your way. Second, lace up those shoes, head out the door and repeat after me:
I'm not a runner... yet.