I started running when I was 17 or 18. It was in 1979 between high school and my first semester at college. I was trying to remember how I stayed so thin as a child, and I just remembered being very active. So, I thought I’d start running. It was cheap and easy. I could go right out my front door. At that time, running shoes were just being invented. I think I owned the very first style that Nike made. They were horrible. But, they were better than the Converse high tops that I started running in. My feet stayed messed up. I would get these deep blood blisters on the soles of my feet from running in those early model shoes. But, I loved the feeling of running. I’d get up and run and sometimes run again at night. With my addictive personality, running was the perfect high. It wasn’t unusual for me to run two 10 milers in one day. Yes, I was crazy. I ended up getting hurt after I graduated from college. I’m sure it was from all the abuse my body took.
In college, my favorite cure for a hangover was a 5 mile run. I also smoked when I drank, so I’d drag myself out of bed with only a few hours of sleep, lace up my running shoes and run. Ugh… I felt horrible while I was running. But, afterwards, I felt so much better. It was a ritual. I was fast, too. When I ran in my running class, I’d run with the male athletes. I was much faster than the girls, and I was much more hard core. And, I loved it. I loved the natural high, the feeling I got afterwards and the social aspect of the running groups.
I took a 20 year hiatus from running after my post-college injury. I just decided to stop running. I always missed it, but I could never get back in shape again. I couldn’t stand the pain. I finally figured out that I was trying to up my mileage too fast, and I got back into running in my early 40s. Once again, I loved it. But, I was no longer fast. There are several thresholds I passed when I thought, “Ok, I’m a real runner now.”
The first threshold was when I finally was able to run straight through for 30 minutes. I did it in Maui on a vacation with my second husband. I felt like a rock star. I felt like a runner again. And, what a beautiful run it was along the ocean in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The next time I felt like a real runner was when I lived in Chesterton. I ran the trails in the Indiana Dunes State Park religiously. One winter day, I decked out in my ice cages for my shoes, my 3 layers on the bottom and 4 layers on top, my hat, my neck gaiter and my sunglasses. Nothing was showing but my eyes. My eyelashes froze over because of the water in my eyes. It was a beautiful, sunny day with lots and lots of snow on the ground. I remember thinking that it felt a little colder than normal. I got home and turned on the radio. The announcer said it was 12 below zero and cautioned everybody to stay inside unless absolutely necessary. Well, this Southern gal felt like a real runner then. I threw caution to the wind and ran in temperatures below zero! Woohoo!!
I crossed another threshold when I ran my first marathon. Of course, running a marathon is a threshold in itself, but it paled in comparison to what I did that day. I got to the starting line of the Chicago Marathon with 47,000 other marathoners 1 1/2 hours early in freezing temperatures so that I could check clothes, find my running buddy Ashley and get situated in my corral. By the time we got started, many of the male marathoners were stopping to pee up against the walls in the tunnel we ran through. Ashley and I were dying laughing at how many of them were doing that in front of all those runners. By the time I got to Mile 8, we were in Lincoln Park. As we entered the park, many runners were running behind trees and finding things to hide behind to pee. I had to go, too. When we got to the porta potties, the line was about 25 deep. We were early in the marathon and making good time. Ashley looked at me, and I’ll never forget the begging look on her face. “Please don’t get in that line. It’ll kill our time,” she said. I looked at her and said okay. So, I ran over to a flower garden in the middle of Lincoln Park and watered the mums. I was out in the wide open park with the skyscrapers of Chicago rising above me. I giggled all the way back over to Ashley, and said, “Let’s go. I’m a real runner now!”
The last threshold that I crossed is not nearly so glamorous as public urination. In the winter my nose runs really bad. I usually carry Kleenex to blow my nose, but I often forget. I end up wiping my nose all over my gloves and my shirt, but it makes it hard to breath. One day, I got really frustrated and decided to do what I’ve seen guys do a million times. I closed off one nostril and blew all the snot out of the other side. Holy cow, that felt good! So, I did the other side. Now, I don’t even think about it. In fact, I did it tonight when I was running, and I had to laugh at how I used to think that was so gross. I’m a real runner now!
What I know now is that there all kinds of weird things runners do. We have to deal with bodily fluids, blisters, pain and, well, stomach contents. We just deal with it the best we can. Sometimes we have no choice at what to do. But, I know that I was a real runner when I first laced up my Converse tennis shoes for that initial run. Running isn’t about crossing some hard core threshold. If you want to be a runner, you are a runner. If you are beginning to run, you are a runner. If you love running, you are a runner. If you run really slow, you are a runner. There are no requirements.
My friend Cheryl has MS, and her days of running are long over. When I started training for my marathon, we saw each other ever other week. She was sometimes on a walker by then and often had difficulty navigating stairs. But, she was a runner. When I would talk about my runs, she’d tell me that she could still feel how it felt to run. She’s a runner. She’ll always be a runner. Running is in the heart and soul not in the legs or the doing. And, if you are a runner, you’ve just got to run regardless of whether or not you have to pee, blow your nose or dress like you’re in Antarctica. If you can’t just run, you can run in your mind like Cheryl does. It’s the same thing. Keep on running.