I am not an athlete.
I wasn’t particularly active as a kid. I mean, I played outside. I rode a bike in loops around my grandparents’ house. I trekked through the woods with my dad and brother. But I didn’t play sports. The closest I got was trying out for tennis one year. I was at best average in physical fitness tests, and I never loved phys ed.
At a few points, I tried to pick up running. I even bought a “Running for Dummies” book in high school or early college. It didn’t stick.
In grad school, I became a reluctant marathoner-in-training. My spouse at the time decided to take on the marathon (with Team in Training) as a way to get in shape, and I was, at first, dragged along. The first mile loop around the subdivision was awful. I hated it. But I kept at it. I wasn’t fast. My adherence to the training plan was far from perfect. But in 2007, exhausted and in pain, I crossed the finish line and completed my first marathon. (My then-spouse, nursing an injury, finished the half.)
From that point, I was an on-again, off-again runner. I went through phases throughout grad school and postdoc. But something had begun to shift. I was more ready to get back to it when I’d been off again. I began to recognize that fitness was an important foundation for me. It helped me deal with stress, clear my head, keep on going.
The off-again periods got shorter—and more active. In the past 4 years, I’ve finished ~15 half marathons and 2 full marathons, hand in hand with Gene, plus a handful of shorter races. I bike on occasion and hit the gym regularly. But “athlete” doesn’t feel quite right. I’m just someone who keeps going out, one foot in front of the other.
Now we’re working toward our biggest goal yet, a 50K race with almost 1.5 mi of gain and an 8 hour time limit. We’re pushing outside our comfort zones as we hit the trails. It’s intimidating, and I worry that I won’t make the cutoff. But we have months to train, and I’m putting in the work.
Maybe, if I make that goal, then I’ll feel more like an athlete. Maybe not.
I am not an athlete. But I am a runner. And, at least for now, that’s enough for me.