By Amy L. Marxkors, author of The Lola Papers (coming April 2012)
I don’t remember the first time I ran just to run. But at some point, I did, and what I thought was a harmless fling quickly snowballed into a full-fledged romance.
Ever since I was a kid, I ran simply to stay in shape for other sports. I carried on a dozen athletic dalliances, in each one harboring grandiose dreams of reaching the elite level. I imagined gracing the lawns of Wimbledon and skating with the US Olympic women’s ice hockey team. I was convinced I had the arm to quarterback an NFL team. A major league fastball was a summer camp (or two) away. And I was fairly certain I could represent the United States in the luge, if only I could gain access to some luging facilities. I was a soccer player. A tennis player. A hockey player. Potentially the greatest luger of all time. Sure, I ran. But I was not a runner. Real runners were fast. Real runners ran far. Real runners ran competitively. Real runners wore really short shorts. Real runners were always throwing up or something. I did none of the above. To me, running was simply a means to an end.
Years passed. Sports came and went. My fickle infatuations jumped from one discipline to the next, and I was convinced at every introduction that I had found the one of my dreams, or at least the one that would get me to the Olympics. And yet, as one sport after another fell by the wayside (I never did get a real shot at the luge), I realized there was only one constant in my series of love affairs. Throughout all the breakups and make-ups, I ran. We won games and we lost games, and I ran. I made teams and didn’t make teams, and I ran. Seasons started and seasons ended, and I ran. I celebrated, and I ran. I cried, and I ran.
And somewhere along the way, I discovered the difference between having a schoolgirl crush on a sport and being deeply, madly in love with it.
The truth was, I loved running. I loved the feeling of exertion. I loved the smooth, rhythmic power of my feet against the pavement, my legs propelling my body forward, my arms keeping tempo, my breathing steady and even and strong. I craved the mind-clearing serenity hidden in the miles. When I ran, time stopped, and it was just me and the road and the soft but unshakeable feeling that I was flying. I loved it so much I began running more. I began running longer. I ran marathons even. I ran when I felt like running. I ran when I didn’t feel like running. Even if no one else was looking (and they weren’t), even if there was no reason for it, I ran. I didn’t just want to. I needed to.
And so, as I chased the glitz and glory of flashier sports, I dragged my running along for the ride. It was the friend that I turned to when other sports broke my heart. Or when life broke my heart. Or when people broke my heart. It was a shoulder to cry on. It was a listening ear. With it there was no affectation or pretense. No formality. I shared with it my greatest joys and my deepest sorrows and my humdrum everyday. It saw me happy and sad, confused and angry, motivated as all get-out and utterly pooped. I turned to it when it rained, when it shined, when it was hot, when it was cold. Sometimes it felt great. Other times it hurt. It saw my triumphs. It saw my failures. It saw my fears, my weaknesses, my shortcomings. For better or for worse, it knew everything about me, and it was always there. I didn’t have to drive to it, buy a membership, join a club, or wait my turn. All I had to do was step out my front door. No, I wasn’t going to set any world records. No, I wasn’t going to make the Olympic team. But there was something about it, an easy familiarity. When I ran, I was myself. When I ran, I was home.
And that was it. My true love. It had been there with me all along.
All my life, sports were inextricably tangled up in the future and potential success. That’s partly why I never considered myself a runner. I didn’t fit the stereotypical runner mold. And I definitely wasn’t going anywhere in the sport. But being a runner isn’t about pace. Being a runner isn’t about distance. Being a runner isn’t about boasting the lean, sinewy body of an elite or possessing the effortless stride of a gazelle. It’s not about mileage or time or experience or lack thereof. Being a runner is simply about being while you run. It is an uncomplicated relationship. Understated. Transparent. Pure. It is a romance. It is love. When you run, you simply are. That is what makes a runner.
I am a runner.