This story begins with a night in my 20s.
I was living just outside of Boston. I was fresh out of college, struggling with insecurities and my first exposures to the pains of adulthood, like paying rent and underestimated bar tabs.
I was out in the city with a small group of friends – my adopted family, whom I met through my short stints working at the New England Aquarium. They were wonderful people; free spirited, comfortable with themselves and their clever yet nerdy personalities. They were also mostly men, and mostly older than me. In their midst, I was young, pretty, and full of life. The role felt natural to me. I was spunky, fun, and energetic. To be fair, I was more than a little self-conscious. I hid that with my silliness.
Whenever this group and I would get together, a crazed energy would take over my body and mind. I became more purely myself; a bit wilder, a bit sillier, a bit more mischievous.
We were pursuing through downtown Boston, slipping in and out of bars and soaking up the unseasonably warm fall evening. In situations like this, surrounded by people I loved and stimulated by laughter and fun, I had a habit of bolting away from the group in a manic episode of life-loving spirit.
After one of these moments of wild energy a friend of mine, laughing, looked at me and said “I feel like you just need to run. Like a toddler.”
I had a lightbulb moment.
A life of sports, creative exploration, fitness endeavors, emotional distress, and drunken nit hits all blazed through my mind.
I ran through the playground as a child, darting under wooden structures and leaping over rocks and fences.
I ran around the bases after parents’ softball games, and during my years of playing softball on my own.
I ran up and down field hockey and soccer fields with warrior-like determination.
I ran on the treadmill when I was insecure about my weight.
I ran through the streets of Vermont, Miami, and Boston when I needed to relieve stress or cope with emotional loss.
I ran through crosswalks when the blinking walk signs read “5…4….3….”
For much of my life, I’ve wanted to be a runner. I’ve toiled away on treadmills and back roads. I’ve researched training programs. I have spent hundreds of dollars on proper running shoes.
And I’ve always, always felt inferior about the fact that I’ve never been able to break the 4 mile mark.
I believed I couldn’t really be a runner until I could run five miles. Or 10. Or a half marathon.
But I still run. All the time. In my highest highs, and my lowest lows, I’ve found that running always centers me, keeps me grounded, and allows me to feel good about myself.
I guess that makes me a runner.