Letting something that feels foreign become a part of who you are, it's one of the hardest parts about running. I don't think anyone would argue that going from feeling like you're going to die trying to run down your street to building the endurance to run your first 5K is hard. But being able to call yourself a runner? Or an athlete? It's really, really f*ckin hard.
For every person who admits that they don't think they're a runner, they're inundated with comments and passionate cries of, "IF YOU RUN, YOU'RE A RUNNER." And I wholeheartedly agree. It's incredibly important that whenever we see someone in our community struggle, to remind them that they belong. But it's important to remember that everyone's journey is different.
It's not about how fast or slow you are, how far you can go, or whether or not you cling to the protective labels of "jogger" or "run walker".
It's all irrelevant. Being a runner is an identity and there's no prerequisite required.
But being able to embrace the identity of a runner or an athlete? That takes time.
The truth is, the hardest part of the entire journey is giving yourself permission to see yourself for what you are. For me, every time someone calls me an athlete, I still fight the urge to explain myself or make myself small. The same thing happened when I struggled to call myself a runner. I remember how uncomfortable I'd feel whenever anyone wanted to talk about my first marathon. They'd exclaim. "I can't believe you're a runner now!", and uncomfortable and insecure, I would respond with, "(awkward and uncomfortable laugh) Oh, I'm not a real runner though. I walked!"
I decided that I needed to prove to myself that I was a runner before I could call myself one. The only problem was that I never specified what that looked like. So I ran and I ran and eventually, over time, I came to terms with the fact that I was, in fact, invited to the "I'm a runner" party.
The only reason I struggled was that I let my own insecurities make me feel like the other. It's the reason why whenever I'm lumped in with a bunch of athletes, I still feel like I need to explain myself. I'm always afraid that someone will voice the cruel things I say to myself when I'm feeling down. That I'm not good enough, strong enough, or fast enough to be an athlete.
That's why it's important that you spend the same amount of time that you do working towards a goal or a finish line to work on your self-confidence. "I'm not good enough" is a knife that we pull on ourselves whenever we're not feeling worthy and it hurts a hell of a lot more when we don't feel confident or strong.
Change happens when you let go of expectations and you give yourself permission to succeed.
The way we see and talk to ourselves is a huge piece of the puzzle. Every day, we're out there pounding the pavement and working towards putting our strongest foot forward. Yet despite the fact that we spend all this time building fitness and strength, we don't put the same amount of time into building our self-confidence. Imagine what would happen if we said to ourselves, "I'm doing this" instead of, "I don't think I can do this"? We'd be unstoppable!
I know what it's like to wait until nightfall to run or show up to a starting line and wish you had an invisibility cloak. But you have to know that you have nothing to prove. The best way to work towards being able to confidently proclaim that you're a runner or an athlete is to give yourself time. Remind yourself that you deserve to be out there and that even though it feels like you're struggling a hell of a lot more than everyone else, everyone struggles.
Start telling yourself that you're strong, you're capable, and that you're a badass. Whenever you catch yourself looking in the mirror drawing a circle around a "flaw", name three things you love or that make you proud. Remind yourself that you aren't just enough, but that you're more than enough. And then remember to tell yourself that you're a runner.
I know it feels weird, but give it a try for four weeks. If you don't notice a change after a month, feel free to let me know that I was wrong. What do you have to lose?
Do not give up.
You can do this.
Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.