I can still vividly remember the first time I ever went "for a run".
Of course I had run before--on the playground playing chase, when I was late for the school bus, when I was forced to participate in a sportsball game--but I had never run just for the sake of running. I remember going to a sleepover in middle school and my friend's father came in early in the morning to wake her up so she could go run with him. This was just mind blowingly crazy to me.
So then I get to high school, join Army JROTC and become laser focused on earning every uniform ribbon I could possibly get my greedy, over-achieving little fingers on. I was determined that my ribbon rack would rival that of any South American military dictator. One of those ribbons could be earned by running a mile in something like 10 minutes or less. Ten minutes. One mile. This seemed achievable and I figured I could devote ten minutes of my day to running around the block if it meant I could add another feather to my cap. Or ribbon to my rack. It's sort of embarrassing the things that excited me when I was sixteen.
My best friend and I decided to run together every day after school and would reward ourselves with a Backstreet Boys listening party following each run. I earned my ribbon and there ended any relationship with my running shoes. I may even have been running in Keds. This is how seriously I took it.
Then I ended up stumbling onto a path that led me to Air Force ROTC in college and running became the stumbling block that threatened my full scholarship for four solid years. I hated it with a passion. I had no idea how to train. I would just try to run for as long as I could and as fast as I could for a month prior to my physical fitness test and then hope I would pass it by the skin of my teeth. I was always one of the slowest runners and I never seemed to get any faster. It was embarrassing and exhausting and defeating.
What followed was another two years of military service where I just did the best I could to pass my fitness tests and my relationship with running became more and more soured.
Then one day, I heard about this program that was created to train a non runner for a 5K in two months. Starting from walking and going to running 3 miles in just two months when I felt like I had spent my entire adult life just battling to finish 2 measly miles seemed like a long shot, but it was one I decided to take when I embarked on my first Couch to 5K run. And after a couple of months, I was indeed able to run 3 miles. Not fast. But nobody was counting. My running was finally my own.
When we moved to Charleston, we kept hearing about this Bridge Run that it seemed like all of the locals participated in. It was a 10K which seemed pretty daunting, but I found another training program similar to the C25K and decided to give it another long shot. And I did it. Six miles. And that's when it occurred to me that maybe a half marathon would be another crazy, ridiculous long shot that I could take. And so I did it. Then I did it again.
There is nothing like spending your whole life thinking one thing about yourself and discovering something entirely different. Realizing that the limits you've felt were entirely self-imposed. That you've spent your life viewing yourself through the wrong lens. Like you've been looking in a fun house mirror and are finally seeing the truth.
I always demurred and insisted that I wasn't a runner. If anything, I was a jogger. A turtle. Just barely managing to put one foot in front of another.
But do you know how I know that I am a runner?
Because I run.
I'm still not fast. I don't run to win races. I don't run to be faster than anyone else. I don't run to pass a test or earn a ribbon or maintain a scholarship. I run for me. If I'm being completely honest, I don't even run to keep myself healthy, or in shape, or to get out of the house.
I RUN BECAUSE I NEVER THOUGHT I COULD.
And I can.