Sunday, June 22, 2008

No qualifiers allowed

As Amy said, yesterday we ran the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K to cure ALS. The weather was beautiful, I shaved about 30 seconds off my previous 5K best and we got to see Red Sox pitcher David Aardsma play with a bulldog puppy. All before 11am.

Plus, Amy and I raised some money for ALS research - always a good time. Like Amy, I still sometimes have a problem calling myself a runner.

"It makes me angry when you add qualifiers," she told me once. "When you say, I'm a runner - sort of."

It's kind of like Greta tells me all the time about my writing and self-promotion. The fact is, I suck at it. And most of the times my friends serve as my PR firm. "This is Kristen. She's a writer. And a runner." They don't give me the chance to say, "sort of." But eventually, I realized, I'm going to have to do that on my own. No more qualifiers. No more sort ofs.

I was looking at the race schedule I have planned for the next few months and that's when it made sense to me. No one plans 5-10 races - ranging in distance from 5K to 13.1 miles - if they're not really serious about it. No one does something like that for fun. You do that because you mean it. You do that because you have every intention of finishing the races and getting stronger and faster. You do that if you're a runner.

Katherine says that, if you're lucky, you learn something about yourself with every run. What I learned during this particular 5K - aside from the fact that it is, in fact possible to run 3.1 miles while having to pee really, really badly - was that the way I perceive myself and my determination is light years away from the way other people perceive me. I doubt myself constantly, in many things but not least of which with running. Every day I wonder if I can actually complete the distance I have set for myself or whether or not my own personal goals are going to be enough to push me through. Every day I feel like I'm faking it.

My friends know better.

"You have always been the most determined person I know," Colleen said to me once. "And if you say you're going to run a half marathon, no one who knows you would question that."

That's a valuable thing, having that many people know with absolute certainty that you're going to do something. Trite as it may seem.

After I watched Abby run the Boston Marathon this year, I was telling Greta about the people who were stumbling around on jelly legs by the time they'd reached us - about 23 miles in. "Those poor people," I said, "I just wanted to offer them my chair."

"I was watching something about what the marathon is really like for people," Greta added, "about all these people who heard pops or felt something snap and they just kept going."

I shook my head. "Those people are insane," I said.

Greta looked at me in this special appraising "I am so not buying what you're selling" way she has.

"That," she said, "is exactly what you would do."

"No way," I said.

"Yes. You would hear a pop three miles after the start of the race and your foot would fall off ten miles in and you'd have to crawl across the finish line but you're so goddamn stubborn and determined you would finish the damn race by whatever means necessary."

I looked at her for a second, prepared to argue. But then I reconsidered. "That," I said, "is the nicest thing you've ever said to me."