I have never, ever, ONCE pictured myself as an athlete. It all went downhill after my parents accidentally put me on an all-boys soccer team when I was a wee little Lizzy. I didn't like sports. Or really any kind of athletic thing. Ever. It also fostered a complete hatred of competition among my peers. I hated feeling like others relied on me for athletic prowess in gym class. I dreaded the days where we played sports instead of just messing around on those super cool little scooters. I hated letting people down.
So, naturally, when the opportunity presented itself to start running a few years ago, I laughed. "No way." "I hate running." "Remember how much you hated running the mile in middle school? Lolz." But I was at a turning point in my life--either I let an illness I didn't want to have win, or I tell it where to shove it and do something I never thought I could do. Run a half marathon.
Running is hard. It's also a highly unpleasant experience about 50% of the time, maybe more, in my opinion. I still feel like I'm going to die on my long runs sometimes. But what I like about it is it shows me I'm still capable of achieving something many people don't even consider doing--despite a significant physical obstacle in my way. Because of this, it's been harder for me to find time to train, to up my mileage, and to gain speed. I have to be so, so careful not to overdue it--or else I'm stuck with fatigue, or struggling with illness, or pain that lasts longer than an average runner.
On top of struggling with my illness, I manage an INSANE schedule. I work a full-time, busy job, am rehearsing every night for a musical I'm in, balance several friend groups, make sure I'm taking care of Winnie and giving her the exercise she needs, while also managing my self-care and a steady relationship. And I just signed up for my first marathon?! Am I crazy?!
Despite my schedule and my illness telling me to take it easy, I'm a big fan of a challenge. I do my best, but I don't put pressure on myself to run fast. I put pressure on myself to GET OUT THERE and FINISH, not be the best. The running community is so, so supportive about 95% of the time (it is one of the only sports you do 100% on your own, after all), but sometimes I get a lot of grief for my times.
I was at coffee with a friend a few weeks ago and we were talking about going for runs together. I told her "I'm definitely a slower runner, so if you run ahead of me, that's totally fine!" On a good day, I'm running around a 13:50 minute mile. Normally, I'm somewhere around 14 minutes. When I told her this, she seemed a little shocked and said "Wow, youare slow." Haha. Yep. I'm not really into self-deprecating humor, so when I say I'm a bit slow, I mean it.
A lot of people ask me if I want to get faster. Yeah, maybe someday. I hope that while training and running drills for my marathon that happens a bit naturally. But I'm not ashamed of my times, or the fact that I walk parts of my races, or that I'm not "keeping up" with other runners in my age group. When the voices from middle school say "you're letting people down!" I have to remember: This is an individual sport. The only person I have to hold myself accountable to is me, myself and I. Two years ago I would have never even DREAMED of running as long as I can now without dying, or finishing a half marathon. I would have literally fell on the floor laughing if you told me I'd be training for a marathon. But here I am.
What I'm proud of is that face that I do this. I'm glad that I get out three days a week and lace up my shoes and feel the wind in my face and decompress, despite my insane schedule or all of the other obstacles that would make it very easy for me to not exercise at all. I may see many other runners sprinting past me as I go, but they always wave and I wave back. There's a sense of camaraderie surrounding this sport that I love. It's one of the reasons I keep getting out there. When you're done, you all have the same medal, no matter how long it took you to get to the finish. I still struggle with calling myself a "runner" because I still walk some of my races, but at least I get out there and crush it to the best of my ability.
Yes, I'm a slow runner. I mean that quite literally, and to all my fellow slow runners out there who don't feel legitimized: know that you ARE a runner AND an athlete AND a badass. You are completing something that many people only can dream of. You are crushing it. Keep it up.
P.S. If we're being completely honest: the only time I don't really like being a slower runner is when I get to the finish line and all you fast little rabbits have drank all the beer or eaten all of the bagels before I get to the finish. So please, think of the little turtles like me in the back and spare me one, will ya? :)