Am I an athlete? I run for a multitude of different reasons but fun and personal satisfaction are the two reasons I push myself to get faster and stronger. In the three years that I've been running, I've never entered a race to win. Every single time I toe the starting line of a race, my goal is always to have the best time possible. Does that make me less of an athlete?
I ran my first marathon in 4 hours and 40 minutes (and change) and I ran my fifth marathon, 1 and a half years later, in 3 hours 59 minutes (and change). Why does that matter? Because the only reason I kicked my ass to shave off 40 minutes to get my time under 4 hours was because I was competing with myself. I wanted to see if I could do it and honestly, I didn't believe I could. Is it my times that make me an athlete?
I want to show you something that I find really disappointing.
First of all, I'm confused. Who are these people who are slapping "I'm an athlete" bumper stickers on their car's or adding "Athlete" to their twitter bios and LinkedIn profile's, "robbing" actual athlete's of their pride, work, and identities? (Insert eye roll here.)
Second of all, who the f*ck cares? Since I started running, I haven't seriously competed against anyone but myself. I run for me. I'm not an impressive distance runner in the grand scheme of things. But I push myself to put my strongest, happiest and most confident foot forward because I'm invested and I'm passionate about running and my health. I was equally impressed with my 4 hour 40 minute marathon as I was with my 3 hour 59 minute one because they both felt impossible. And that, to me, is what being an athlete is about. It's about pushing yourself to places that don't seem possible. It's not about winning or losing, it's about showing up and giving it everything you have.
No, having a body doesn't make you an athlete. A body is a canvas, full of opportunities. It's ads like what you read above that make running feel unattainable to people like me. I used to read or see an ad like the one above and think, "You're right. I don't belong. I'm so slow. This is hard. Why bother?" And it's bull sh*t! Do you want to know the athletes who inspire me most are? They're the one's who overcome adversity. They're the back of the pack runners and walkers who finish hours after the official cut off time. An athlete is someone who is determined and practices a willingness to succeed, whatever that means to them.
My favorite part about the running community is it's fierce supportive and inclusive nature. Kathrine Switzer said it best, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” There you will see 2 hour 30 minute marathoners or 5 hour 50 minute marathoners who have spent months, sometimes years, pushing themselves, their bodies, and their minds to places that they believe are impossible. And you will see people show up to support them, celebrate them, and help make their goals a reality. For most runners, there isn't a title or prize money at stake, they're doing it because they feel compelled to. That's what being an athlete is all about, putting your strongest foot forward and supporting one another as we do it. It doesn't matter if you run a 30 minute mile or a 5 minute mile, if you show up and give it your best, that is my definition of an athlete.
I know that isn't how everyone sees it. Of course there are people in the running community who don't like the influx of people running half marathons or marathons for fun. They don't understand why anyone would want to run solely to finish. They don't understand the selfies or the walking breaks. To those people I say, cool bro! You do you! We're going to go over here and enjoy the journey. I'll still happily give you a hug and a high five when I cross the finish line.
Running isn't unattainable. It isn't a club for only the fastest runners, its for anyone who loves to run and wants to see what they're capable of. Personally, I don't like seeing how fast or how far my friends are running. If I want motivation to run faster or further, I join them at the track or on a run. I let their actions, not their stats, motivate me. That's what works for me.
Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.