I'm proud to be a runner because to me, it means that I've learned to slow down, enjoy my own company, remain steady under pressure and keep going no matter the mental exhaustion.
The first race I ever ran was a 5K. It was a Turkey Trot, it was absolutely freezing, and it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I sprinted out of the gate, somehow under the careless illusion that I'd be able to stay sprinting for the entire 3.16 miles, and I was winded before the first quarter mile mark. My lungs burned, I wasn't dressed for the weather and my legs throbbed. I swore it'd be the last time I paid money to be tortured.
It was not so long ago that running three miles felt like a lot. My legs would cramp up, I'd get frustrated and convince myself that I just simply wasn't a runner. Runners must have some kind of superhuman endurance that somewhere along line, I did not acquire.
When a friend of mine, an accomplished marathon runner who ran for fun (like some kind of masochist) approached me about running with her, I shot the idea down immediately.
"I would totally hold you back. I'm really slow and I can't go that long. Must be from all of the cycling I do. My legs are too tired. I'm just not meant to run."
I thought it was the perfect excuse (keyword: excuse. I knew I was full of it), but she saw right through me.
"I know you do a lot of cycling, but what about Robin Arzon?"
I froze. She hit me right where it hurt.
Robin Arzon is a lawyer-turned-athlete. She is a celebrity cycling instructor and the Vice President of Fitness Programming for Peloton; a New York Times best-selling author; and a decorated triathlete and ultramarathoner. She leads a NYC-based running group called the Bridgerunners and has competed in races across the globe. She is an athlete, a warrior, a badass and a pioneer. She is my idol, and guess what? She can cycle and run. Daily. Without issue.
So guess what I started doing?
It was still painful as hell. I pushed through because I was determined, but it never got any easier. I increased my distance to four miles, and one day I managed to even squeeze out a painful six. After that six, I signed up for my first half marathon.
It felt incredible to fill out the form, get my registration papers and officially be a "runner." However, that didn't ease the pain of lacing up and actually running. I was still running between 4 and 6 miles and wondering how I could ever do more than twice that, surrounded by hundreds of other people.
Eventually, my friend who got me started down this path was able to help me out in a big way.
"Just go slower", she said.
Within weeks, I was running 10 miles. 12 miles. 14 miles.
Did it take a while? Yes. 11 minute miles are slow and tiring, but there are no words to express how incredible it feels to run for that long without stopping. Without getting tired. Without quitting.
People who can run are not born with any kind of gift. They are not superhuman, they simply learned the right way: you need to go slow before you can go fast.
This weekend, I am running a half marathon through the Hamptons. Admittedly, I wish I had signed up for the the full marathon, because I have already run more than 13.1 miles at a time, but I am looking forward to the experience nonetheless. More importantly, I am looking forward to scratching something off of a list of things I thought I could never do. I am excited to cross the finish line and be able to say "I did it," even though I once told myself that I was incapable.
I'm proud to be a runner. Not because I feel part of some elite group of super-athletes - that's only how it appears to people who still don't think they can participate. I'm proud to be a runner because to me, it means that I've learned to slow down, enjoy my own company, remain steady under pressure and keep going no matter the mental exhaustion.