When I was in law school, one random night, I had the unsolicited thought that it was unacceptable that I could neither whistle nor do a full split – because both were skills that I could practice and master with absolutely no people or equipment to help me. Both were skills that I should be able to ace all on my own with just some time and effort. A few months later I could do both. At the same damned time.
Running is kind of the same thing for me. I was never an athlete growing up. I hated running the mile in gym in grade school and would usually spend several minutes after it was over feeling like I might throw up. I worked out for health (and vanity-related) reasons in my teens and twenties and might spend a few minutes on the treadmill to warm up before hitting the weights, but that was enough.
Then my dad got sick. And when I say he got sick, I don’t mean we sat peacefully by his bedside as he quietly wasted away. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia on May 31, 2013 and for 10 months he screamed and yelled and went through 5 rounds of horrific chemo and called me from the hospital in the middle of the night hallucinating and accusing me of abandoning him and slowly, violently, died. I had a 2 year old and a newborn and a corporate law job and a suffering mother and…him. I started to run because I didn’t know how else to get out of my own mind. I was used to controlling everything. When I needed quiet and focus and calm I was used to doing things like meditating. This was not the sort of pain that I could sit still with. So I ran. I ran to get out of my own head and tiptoe back into it at the same time.
On February 21, 2014, the day after my 36th birthday, we made the decision to terminate life support. And I kept running. And when I found out that there was a half marathon in Disney on the two year anniversary of his death, I thought some version of the same thing that I thought about whistling and doing a split. I thought, “there’s a hard thing that there’s no reason I can’t do.” And what a lovely f-you to the universe it would be to do it on the second anniversary of having my dad taken from me.
So I started working toward it. Hard. I put one foot in front of another over and over again until my body could handle 13.1 miles. I didn’t do it because I was a “runner” and others weren’t. I did it because I wasn’t a runner but nothing would stop me from going out there and doing it anyway. I did it because it was hard. And I wanted to do something hard to honor my dad and test my own strength. And it also wasn’t such a bad thing that the race benefited the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The weekend that I ran that half marathon I realized that other people were running it as a part of a challenge and that included a 10K too. And that there was also a 5K that same weekend. So I started registering for the other runDisney race weekends and running all three races – the 5K, the 10K, and the half.
And then I found out about the Dopey Challenge. Same three races, but add a full marathon to the end for a total of 48.6 miles. So I trained for that. Because it was the hardest thing that they offered. I trained for it to push my personal limits to their fullest. For myself and for my dad.
I’ve now completed two Dopey Challenges. After the 2018 Dopey I couldn’t walk for 3 days. After the 2019 Dopey Challenge – which I finished 2 days ago – I felt amazing. And I took a full hour off my marathon time.
So while I try to approach the world with a humble spirit, it’s not out of that humility that I say that I am not a runner. I say it because I want you to *know* that this is hard for me. And because I want you to know that you can do it too if you so choose. I do not run marathons because they are a part of my identity. I do not somehow soar through the courses without effort or pain. I do them because they are hard and because doing hard things is satisfying. Sometimes I run with friends and sometimes I run alone – both outside of and inside of my own head like I was when I started while my dad was sick 6 years ago. All that ever matters is that I know I’m giving it my all and getting stronger and showing the universe that I’m still kicking and that I can do anything I set my mind to. The training runs are often the last thing that I feel like doing. I rarely want to go out at the crack of dawn and pound my poor feet on asphalt and concrete for hours at a time. Sometimes my legs feel like lead. Sometimes the first few miles feel like they might never end. But then I hit a rhythm and lose myself in it and it is worth it again.
But at the end of the day I still don’t identify as a runner. I just identify has a person that has worked hard enough to do it anyway. And maybe that’s how it is for all of us. Maybe the people that make anything look easy are just the people who took the time to train and practice and fight through the desire to do something easier instead. Maybe a runner is just as literal as it sounds. A person who performs the action of running.
And so while I joke all of the time about never PRing a Disney race. While I never leave the course without character stops and hugs and lots of fun behind me. While I love me some race PhotoPass and bling. It will always be about honoring the run and leaving it all on the course.
Not because I am a runner.
But because I am a person who has become strong enough to run.