No misleading title, no fancy quote to start with it. Just owning it.
Valentine’s Day morning:
“Are you going running today?” my husband asked when he saw how I was dressed.
“Yes,” I answered.
“You just ran a half-marathon two days ago.” (The one with my 13 year-old son – his first.)
“So?” I was surprised that he was surprised that I was going running. It wasn’t until I came downstairs and checked my social media and Facebook “on this day” reminder that I remembered that it was also the one year anniversary of becoming a marathoner. While I was out on my 6 mile run, I made myself reflect back over the last year. Running a marathon was so f*cking hard! It was harder than being a pregnant resident with the worst “morning” sickness on call for nursery deliveries. I would go to an emergency delivery, then go throw up, then go back to another emergency delivery, and repeat that for about 32 hours in a row, hoping for just a couple of hours of sleep somewhere in that cycle. It’s not just that running a marathon was hard; for this never an athlete, becoming a runner was hard.
So then I thought back about when my fascination with runners began. I already told you about my runner neighbor that I used to babysit for around the age of 12, but at that time, I wasn’t really fascinated with runners. I just thought that she and her running friends were crazy. If you’re going to pay a babysitter, why go running with your friends? Why not go shopping or to a restaurant or a movie. I don’t know when exactly I started looking at runners as intriguing rather than weird, but I remember the first woman runner I had a girl crush on. I was in my first year of residency, and she, we’ll call her Jessica, was a year ahead of me in training. Jessica always arrived in the morning at the last minute, with no makeup, and damp hair in a ponytail. I don’t remember a particular incident of her telling me she’s a runner, but I knew that she was running before she came in. She never really went to any of the social events that I went to with the other residents; she had her own separate life. Was she never going out because she was getting up early for long runs? I don’t know. I just know that I found her so odd and yet so intriguing. I always had makeup on, no matter how early I had to get to work. I never came to work with wet or damp hair that was pulled back. Hair, makeup, clothes… these were the security blankets of my college and later years that made up for the years of not fitting in that stemmed from immigrating to the U.S. in the 5th grade. They were/are my way of announcing to the white mid-Westerners around me that this brown-skinned girl was not really any different. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t run, and I certainly couldn’t show up to work every day with wet hair. I guess that my fascination was with her confidence and the independent mystery running life she seemed to have, and I somehow had this sense that her overwhelming confidence was tied in with being a runner.
Anyway, I’m out running on Valentine’s day this year, and remembering her, and the subsequent intrigue that I had with runners after her, and I realize that in a way, I’m now her. I still go to work with makeup on, but I often arrive there with wet hair. “You were running, weren’t you?” my medical assistant asks me every time I rush in just a few minutes before my first patient with wet hair. If it’s my day off, then you’ll definitely see me running from errand to errand with my workout clothes and no make up on. And here’s the thing about becoming a runner: I didn’t put my shoes on and fall in love with it. When I first started, if I hadn’t signed up for a half-marathon six months later and announced it to everyone on Facebook and recruited a friend to run the half with me, I would have quit 1000 times over. It took months for me to start to not hate it… then a few more months to start to like it…. and probably over a year before it became something I had to do… and maybe another year after that before it changed my life…..that’s practically a 3-year residency program right there…giving yourself entirely over to something to become it….
When I just ran this half with my son, I have to tell you that after about 9 miles of pushing the pace a little, I kept being grateful that it was only a half. I kept questioning the decision to train for the Chicago Marathon in the fall and whether I can do it again, but then I have to remind myself that when the time comes, I just need to follow the set training schedule again, that becoming a runner was harder than becoming a marathoner…. Becoming a runner was a complete reinvention of myself…. A letting go of a picture in my head of what I thought I could never be….and that once I finally became a runner, then becoming a marathoner was actually just following a set training plan step by step.
I don’t know what happened to Jessica. Although I am in touch with many of my girlfriends from residency, Jessica and I are not in touch. As I thought about her on that run, I thought about coming home and looking her up, seeing if I could find her and see what she’s up to after almost 20 years. But then I didn’t… I sort of really forgot about it until I sat down to write this. I’m not really in awe of her anymore… I’m pretty sure that she was sporty her whole life… She wasn’t the girl who was picked last in PE every time… I was. I’m the one I’m in awe of. Becoming a true runner…someone who needs to run for herself…is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and now I’m going to own it.