Every since I started running a few years ago I have struggled with calling myself a runner. I have always felt so unworthy of that title. I do not run fast. I do not run far. I shuffle along. I break. I try again.
I can call myself a swimmer. I started swimming at around age 5. It was easy for me. I was at home in the water. It's effortless for me. I don't suck at it.
I cannot say the same for running. It's hard. Really hard for me. I suck at it.
However, as soon as I started running, I noticed something right away. The people around me. Not literally around me, as I ran alone. But, the running community. They were, well, different. Different in a good way.
They were welcoming. Encouraging. Friendly. Not to mention funny. Inappropriate. Weird. Most importantly they were accepting of little ole me. The swimmer suddenly out of the water, struggling to stand on her feet instead of her mermaid fins.
It's because of these people that I finally went to watch my first Chicago Marathon in 2010. This was before I was the Do Epic Shit chick. I was just another spectator amongst the million plus cheering the runners on. Immediately I was in awe. Immediately I felt a connect with these people. I wanted to BE these people. I wanted to BE a runner. I wanted to run a marathon.
It was thrilling to watch this race. We watched at several spots along the course, ending at the finish line. It was such a thrill to cheer in complete strangers as they ran that final 100 feet into the finish. Amazing.
I had tears in my eyes for people I didn't know. I was so happy for them.
Suddenly, an older gentlemen started to weave a bit as he came running toward the finish. Then he collapsed. We gasped. He crawled on his hands and knees a bit and got back up. We cheered. He ran a few steps and collapsed again. We gasped again. He was SO close. He HAD to finish! Then, one woman ran by him, stopped, turned back and went to pick him up. She stopped HER race to help him. She grabbed him under the arm and carried him those final feet to the finish. Together. Because that's what runners do. That's who runners are.
Watching what happened yesterday in Boston I was reminded of all this. About the spectators. How they are so important to the runners. How they stand and cheer and encourage total strangers. How they help every racer get to that finish line. How runners support each other just as much. How they will sacrifice themselves to help another runner. It's what they do. It's who they are.
Yesterday as I was united in grief, support and love with my running friends I finally realized that yes, I, too am a runner.
I may not run crazy miles. I may not be super speedy. But, I run.
I. Am. A. Runner.
They are my people. They are my tribe. YOU are my people. YOU are my tribe.
I will always be a swimmer, because that's what I was born to do. However, I've worked pretty damn hard to become a runner. I aint giving that one up.
It's who I am.
Now, can we all have a group hug please?