Today, somewhere around mile six and half-way up a long hill in the drizzle, it hit me.
"I am a runner again."
I haven't been a runner for a long time. Probably the last time I considered myself a "runner" was in high school. I ran cross country — slowly. But I was inclined to spurts of two-a-days during the summer; cut out caffeine and watched my diet, all in the name of improved training; obsessed over running shoes and running shorts and running singlets. I was a runner.
But it was a love/hate relationship. I loved the training, but I hated the pressure. Running a five kilometer race hurt. I would start stressing out the night before a race, and didn't stop until the damn thing was over. Then I would stress that I hadn't performed well enough. I hated the starting-line stampede. I hated how my gut turned to jello and my mouth went dry. How girls would elbow me going up a hill for no good reason other than to be mean.
It didn't take very long for me to start associating running with that negativity, and when I went to college I found that birding was a much more pleasant source of challenge and relaxation. So for the next 12 years I spent almost every free moment focusing on learning everything I could about bird identification and searching for that next avian rarity in the field.
In 2004, Rick discovered ultrarunning, and over time I developed a new way of looking at running and racing. Running didn't need to be about beating that skinny little elbowing bratty girl up the next hill—it could be simply about trying to get through the next mile... or the next 49 miles. I have tried perennially to get myself back in running form, usually after the spring bird migration passed, just in time to muddle through a race like the Psycho Night Trail Run 10K. Then I would slip back out of shape during the fall bird migration.
During that time, while standing at aid stations waiting for Rick, people would casually ask me, "Are you a runner?" Those innocent people had no idea what a difficult question they were asking. Do I run? Yes. Do I run consistently? No. Do I like to run? Well... maybe.
Late this past winter, for one reason or another, birding became less appealing to me. I still love it, but the last two years since Adrian has been around, birding has become a struggle. It is difficult to get out and spend the amount of time that is needed to find "good" birds. I miss being able to get into the rhythm of migration. I also grew overwhelmingly bored with birding in the same few locations that were convenient, the ones that worked into my mommy schedule. Often I only had an hour or two to myself. That's just not enough for a good birding trip.
But two hours is plenty of time to run a few miles. Or ten.
So my focus shifted. Recognizing that I was finally on board with running, Rick started working extra hard to make sure I had that precious hour or two a few times a week to get out for a run. Slow miles on the treadmill in late winter turned into slow miles on roads in the tentative spring, and over time the miles have increased and the time required for each mile has decreased... And I find myself enjoying the burn in my legs and the rhythm of that long stretch of road out ahead of me. And I find myself plotting my next escape to a trail. And obsessing over running shoes and running shorts.
Coming back down the long hill in the drizzle, a cool breeze hit my face, and I held out my arms, tilted my head toward the gray sky—and I smiled.
I am a runner again.