I was visiting and chatting with my friend Dano yesterday and the topic of defining oneself as a runner popped up. His comment was why did speed come to be a definer, and why is longer distance seen as more special? We talked about that for a bit and of course, the topic turned more personal and I got to talking about what defined me as a runner.
The conversation was kind of bittersweet because at the time, I said that being a runner was defined by the simple act of doing. Bittersweet because my friend can’t run anymore, and this contrast made me thankful for what I can do but aware of how much I take for granted. And of course it made me reflect even more.
There was a time when I defined myself by how fast I went (or didn’t go). I raced obsessively, knew all my competition, and never did a workout without time goals, tracking splits, and the desire to be faster. Each race, every run, was simply a building block toward something better. But a string of bad races made me shift and try something different; if I couldn’t be the fastest, I wanted to be the toughest…and that led me in a round-about way to the love of trails. So I began to see myself as defined by how long/far I could go.
After my mountain races, that definition morphed into being an endurance runner. It didn’t really matter how fast, just that I was out there completing the course, doing, as my friend Marty called it, that “all day shit.” And it’s funny; doing that stuff led me to Ironman, when I really didn’t/don’t consider myself much of a triathlete at all. I went because I was an endurance athlete and that was something endurance athletes do.
And now that I’ve done an Ironman, I’m back on the trails with my eyes on bigger, longer distances. But I’m not sure that’s about defining myself by distance so much as defining myself by the people I spend my running time with. I like these folks. I like their outlook on life, the way they treat time on their feet, the love for nature, the camaraderie on the trail. And I think that’s why it doesn’t seem to faze me that I may not finish a 100-miler...it’s not the end goal that I’m in love with, it’s the process.
So after I tackle my 100-miler, I may not “do anything” for a long time but have fun. I don’t really know where that will lead me and I don’t really care. Just so long as I’m out there, running around with friends.
And even if I could never run a step again, I would still be a runner. Because it’s in my soul.