While I have briefly felt like an impostor in both my career and in parenthood (you should have seen me freaking out on the drive home from the hospital with newborn Silas! "What if we accidentally kill him? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing?!?!"), the main place in life where I feel like an impostor is in my running. As you likely well know, I sign up frequently for races, and at every race I feel like it's me and them. They're the real runners, and I'm the joker who has no idea what she has gotten herself into. I find myself at starting lines waiting for the gun and scanning the runners around me, wondering which ones will beat me and if there are any that I think I can finish in front of. The latter group is much smaller comparably, at least in my mind. The judgments that I make are generally based on foolish nonsense, such as how nice their shoes are, what their postures are, and how close they position themselves to the starting line. If they have nice gear or awesome legs or a water bottle strapped to their backs, I think, "Oh, crap on a stick." Anxiety kicks in and I often begin questioning myself; I think, 'These people are real runners, and I'm still just not cutting it." I may look the part, but my true folly will be exposed once the gun sounds. I've told myself things like "When I can run a 5K in 30 minutes," or "When I can run four miles," then I'll call myself a runner. Then I'll really be one of them.
It's perfectly ridiculous when I say it aloud and type it out. Of course I'm one of 'them.' As I've grown over the last six months and become a stronger and faster runner, I have cheated myself out of a really cool identity, one that I earned the first moment I ever decided to strap on my shoes.
I cheated myself out of letting myself think I was a runner.
What I've learned in only the past two weeks is the ridiculously simple truth that you're a runner when you run. Get this: when you run at all--even a little bit--you're a runner. You don't have to earn membership into that crowd with prescribed times, distances, or training. Most of those runners never thought I didn't belong. If they thought of me at all, they probably saw me as a fellow runner. What I've even learned is that probably many of them looked around at the rest of us with the same sense of anxiety as I did, feeling like an impostor at the race.
Recently I have hit a lot of those prescribed marks that I burdened myself with as an entry into the supposedly-elite class of runners: now I can run a 5K in 30 minutes. Now I can run four miles. Now I consistently finish in the top half of all racers and in the top quarter of all females in my age group. I'm a stronger runner than I was when I first started, but I'm no more of a runner now than I was then. I still want my goals just as badly, and I still get side stitches sometimes trying to get to them. Why in the world did I ever think I had to earn my way in? I already belonged.
Here's what I say. You run well on the elliptical? Great! You're a runner. You like the treadmill better, or the outside hills, or the trail, or the neighborhood sidewalks? Fantastic! You're a runner! You run in cotton t-shirts instead of techy gear? Awesome. You're a runner. You run half a mile each time you go out? Yup, you're a runner. Sign up for a 5K, and ask me to run with you, and I will join you. Why? Because we're both runners, and that's what runners do. There is no "us" and "them." When you strap on your shoes (which I really shouldn't say because some people run barefoot and we can't exclude them!) and start putting one foot in front of the other, there is only "us."
|That's totally you and me, happy because we're runners!|
|Yup, we kicked butt, because we're runners!|