Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Real" Runners

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

This unofficial creed of the United States Post Office might as well apply to many runners too; simply substitute "runners" for "couriers" and "run" for "rounds" and you've got a motto that many of my brethren live by. Heat, humidity, cold, rain, snow - nothing stops them from going out and getting in their miles.

As for myself, once I discovered that I was in fact not  invincible after all, I have limits to what I am willing to run through outdoors. This became apparent last week, when it rained for not one, not two, not three, but FOUR days in a row. And on the fourth day, that rain turned to a lovely mix of snow and sleet, creating a disgusting, slippery mess. 

On Thursday, the fourth day, constant running-buddy Greg tried to convince me to join him and few others for a run at 5 pm. My response: "Have you LOOKED outside recently?" The past 3 and a half days of incessant rain had rendered all of Richmond a soggy, swampy mess. Giant puddles, squishy slippery mud, and bogs that used to be grassy areas abounded. 

There was no way I was venturing out in that mess - and to make matters worse, the forecast was calling for the switch from rain to snow to occur in the 5-6 pm time frame. 

"You guys are nuts - go right ahead without me!" was my final answer.

Later on, while I was enjoying a glass of wine and splitting a delicious pork roast entree with Marcey at Cafe Rustica and watching the snow from the safety of our comfortable booth, I saw Greg check in at the run meet up. I jokingly posted, "You all are cray cray!" on his check in. Later, a response from another member of the group: "Runners run in all weather" to which I replied, "Yep, on the treadmill!"

Hrumph. So I take this to mean that because I have no intention of running in the dark, cold, rain and snow, I am therefore somehow not a real runner?

This inference was still in the back of my mind when I planted myself on the treadmill this morning for this week's "long" run (a designation I use loosely, seeing as how I am limited to a 4 mile "long" run this week). I had brought along the February issue of Runner's World, which I had been saving for a session on the dreadmill. 

When I got to Ellen Hunter Gans' "Running on Ice" column, I felt comforted in my decision to not risk my recovery by running in less-than-favorable conditions. Ms. Gans describes a 20 mile training run that she attempted in snowy weather... during which she slipped on black ice and broke her fibula. She had been training for Boston and instead spent 6 months unable to run. 

But it's not that part of the column that really spoke to me - it was her description of how she felt about running once she was finally cleared to go back to it. "Running felt less like something to check off my to-do list, and more like a privilege." 

Her closing line: "And this winter? I'll see you on the treadmill."

Yes. YES YES YES. That is exactly what my own injury and recovery has done for me. Running is a privilege that I want to continue to enjoy - and to do that, I have to drop the invincible act. I can no longer assume that the worst won't happen to me. It could... and it did.

When you haven't been injured, it is so easy to think that you never will be. No one will ever convince you otherwise, either - see "Things I Believe Thursday X". 

Until it happens to you, it will never happen to you. It's a lovely frame of mind to have - enjoy it while it lasts. I know that I did, and even though it can be a foolhardy way of thinking, I miss it. I hope that all of you get to retain that state of mind for the entirely of your running career, and not have it dashed by an injury. 

And you know what? The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of anyone defining what a runner does or does not do. 

I am not any less of a runner than anyone else just because I opted to run my 10 miles on a treadmill this week instead of in the cold rain. Trust me, I hate the dreadmill as much as anyone, but I hated having a broken foot much more. I'm not willing to risk slipping and potentially injuring myself again for the right to proclaim that I am a "real runner." And to be honest, I just don't like being both cold AND wet. I'm cool with cold, I'm alright with hot, I'm even ok with warm weather rain or a good pure snow. But my line is drawn at cold rain. 

Likewise, one person is not any less of a runner because they run 11 minute miles instead of 8 minute miles, or because their longest race is a 5k and not a marathon. Or because they only run 3 days a week instead of 6.

Am I not a "real" runner because I still love to eat McDonald's every now and then and sleep in on Saturdays? NO. 

A "real" runner is anyone who, well, runs! 1 mile or 26; morning, noon, or night; fueled by a cheeseburger or a protein shake; in the rain or on a treadmill; decked out in Brooks gear or an old t-shirt rescued from the bottom of a drawer; at an 11 minute pace or a 6 minute pace - we are all runners. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

For the record, I don't begrudge my friends for their rainy, snowy run last Thursday. I heard it was crazy fun and included thunder snow and lightening. I wish I could have been carefree and joined in. A tiny part of me wanted to (the tiny part that isn't afraid of broken bones or cold rain). As it is, I'm just glad that I am running at all right now and - knock on wood - completely pain free for the past 10 days.

I hope for a snow day in the future because while I am hesitant to go in dark cold rain, I am 100% in for a morning snow run with you all - as long as it includes a snow ball fight at the end (or on route!).

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