Identifying myself as a runner, as an adult, has been decidedly more difficult than it was as a student-athlete.
When I was running competitively, I trained for very specific events – cross country in the fall (the longest race distance for women being 6 kilometers, or about 3.8 miles) and a variety of track events in the spring, ranging from sprint distances to around two miles. I could say “I run cross country” or “I run track,” and people got it.
Apparently, to much of the adult non-running community, there is only one distance worth running: the almighty marathon. I can not tell you how many conversations I engaged in after graduation that began with a bright, confident (read: horribly arrogant) reference to my past as a collegiate runner, followed immediately by utter dismay as I sheepishly admitted that no, in fact, I did not run marathons. While I’d been an incredibly dedicated runner, I was best suited for shorter distances. I rarely hit double digit mileage on long runs in college, and I was more than OK with that.
There came a point where I decided I might as well suck it up and just run one already, so that I could say that I did it and therefore fit this skewed and inaccurate profile of an adult runner. I joined up with Team in Training in the spring of 2009, providing a great cause and additional motivation to do run a distance that even, as a runner, I found ridiculously long. I trained VERY conservatively, at my natural easy pace, with one long run each week and sporadic midweek recovery runs when I felt like it. My goal was to finish faster than 4:30, and the closer to 4:00, the better I’d feel about it.
I wound up running 4:03.23 at the 2009 San Diego Marathon. My body didn’t fall apart – my chronically injured back didn’t even give me trouble – and I was even able to sprint around the track at the Corporate Challenge track meet the next week upon returning to Kansas City. Coming that close to breaking 4 hours with zero speedwork pretty much guaranteed I’d need to run another one.
Seven months later: I’ve picked my next destination, and in four short months I’ll be trekking back to my homeland to run the Illinois Marathon on May 1.
So I guess that makes me a marathoner now. I have mixed feelings about it.
The events I loved most in college – the 400 and 800m – require such a level of fitness that it’s basically impossible to even attempt them at this point. The 5K, on the other hand, is a manageable distance. It doesn’t require an all-out spew-inducing sprint, and by the time it starts to hurt, there’s only a mile or so left. Additionally, 5K events are incredibly popular, relatively affordable, and easy to find on any given weekend in any given city.
BUT. I ran quite a few 5Ks back in my glory days, and turned in some decent times…times that, as an adult, I will not get anywhere near – especially without regular speed workouts. And since that is simply not going to happen at this point, I have to come to terms with the fact that a PR is not in the cards at 3.1 miles.
Sure, there is enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from a run, but that’s never my reason for running. I’m a competitor. I run to compete, not only against the field in a race, but against myself. If I’m not able to be competitive on both levels, I start to question why I’m out there in the first place.
And since I have an inherent need to be out there…
Marathoner it is!