July 7, 2017

A Real Runner Never Wears Cotton

Good Luck!

Three medals hang off a six-foot wooden giraffe standing in my hallway. I got the medals from running and it makes me a little sad to see them with no purpose. I'd wear them, daily, if it weren’t for all the envy–the reason people point, stare, and whisper, “Oh my God, look!”

Despite having read only one book on running, the medals make me feel like an expert. I can’t help but scrutinize anything running in my vicinity: over dressed, clutching Gatorade, gasping for breath and sporting cotton. A true runner never wears cotton. But I still get days, especially at the end of training, where I need moral support. I need to talk out the doubts that creep in while training six days a week.

 “You should meet my friend Aleisha,” said my friend Mattie. “She runs every day. She’s a real runner.”

Real?  Oh.

The word real comes up a lot in my life (Where are you really from?) and the adjective is a sticky point for wannabe artists: musicians, painters, and authors. For unpublished writers real is being published. For published writers, real means a book. Real is an award, a best-seller list, a sale of 50,000 copies. But real is also ambiguous: it depends on who is saying it.

For me running is not easy but satisfying, like solving a problem. I do it alone and with no formal coaching,  so I accepted Mattie's suggestion that I was still inadequate and made arrangements to meet Aleisha, excited about advice and inspiration–on the quest to be real.

“Oh, I don’t have a sports watch,” she says as I hold up my Garmin. Then she tells me she's never monitored her speed, tracked her distance or even gotten a blister. “I ran a half marathon once," she concludes, “but I’m not doing that again.” 

Obviously, she wasn’t what I expected, and I was back wondering what it meant to be a real runner and how to get there. Some people have tied the word to a natural inclination­–how young you are when you start–or by longevity, meaning how often you do it. But I've also noticed excellence is not always achieved with passion and putting in the hours does not guarantee talent. Society still might not see you as real, even if you identify yourself that way.

So it was by chance, on a run, that the definition of real came to me. Wet, cold, hobbling and tired, I started asking myself why I was doing this. I didn't have an answer. Real seems to be any activity I’ll continue doing when the enthusiasm has fizzled out. Hey world, I'm a runner. Because I have to do it, even when I don't. 

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