On (Still) Being a Beginning Runner

A couple Sundays ago I drove an hour and a half to run a 10K in 23-degree weather. It was the morning after we hosted 16 people for Friendsgiving at our house, during which get-together I had drunk two generous glasses of wine and eaten four desserts. I had a painful twinge in my ankle; I’d wrapped it and avoided running for several days prior. I was moderately anxious on the drive there, mostly because I hate driving. All of this is to say that conditions for the race were less than ideal.

I arrived at the high school where the race was to begin, picked up my race packet (devoid of interesting swag, save a tech shirt, which I threw on over the two I was already wearing), and pinned on my bib. I sat in my car with the heat on and listened to an audiobook, When Dimple Met Rishi (cute) until the race was about to begin. All at once, people streamed to the start line, hopping up and down and jogging in place to stave off the cold. I joined them, pulling on my gloves and headband.

Despite everything, I was happy to be there. Races are exciting. The crowds and the starting line music, the adrenaline.

I am not a good runner. I have been running consistently for less than a year (although I did run a half-marathon about two years ago after a few months of training). I am slow and still, after what seems like so long, learning about pacing and fueling. But I like running. As long as I finish the races I run, I don’t really care how long it takes me. I like being alone and turning on an audiobook and feeling my breath go in and out and my body warm up in the winter air. I like thinking about how much better I am than I was when I started, even if I am still not good. I like recording miles on my calendar and my running app and my Garmin watch. I like that I always think about how glad I am to be alive and to have a body that can run.

Recently I finished Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Now that I’ve been running for a while I could relate to a lot of what he said (although he is lightyears ahead of me, skill- and experience-wise). Mostly, listening to his book made me want to head out for a run.

I found this quote particularly salient: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore.’ The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.” I think about this a lot while I run, as a new runner who often hurts, especially after, say, mile four. And of course I’m not talking about running through injury (which is a bad idea), but rather running through less-than-ideal conditions. And I can do that. And I will continue to do that, until I no longer feel like a beginning runner.

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