Not Part of the Club

Today’s Runner’s World “Quote of the Day” was:

Running is essentially private and, if you like, selfish, and all the more valuable for being so.
– Roger Robinson

I signed up for those quotes on a whim. I usually don’t like feel-good stuff like quotes of the day, and I resolved to delete the subscription as soon as I got something so saccharine it made me gag. But to my surprise, despite a lot of ‘inspirational’ quotes, I haven’t been gagging. Instead, I am building a feeling of envy, a desire to really run, to cross the magic line.

I say magic line, because runners have a fraternity/sorority. They have shared experiences, that agonizing injury in the middle of a training season, that race they almost PR’d but tweaked something or screwed up food/water/pee break at the last minute. They have runs in the rain, runs in the blazing heat, mutual fear of cars, t-shirts for their races, t-shirts for their running clubs, an uncanny ability to name every muscle and tendon in the leg. A runner has enough bibs that they’re making them into coasters. A runner has more than their share of nausea-inducing race photos.

Running books, and feel-good types will say “If you say you’re a runner, you’re a runner.” I don’t think I say that I’m a runner yet. I want to earn that title, though I don’t know what I need to prove it to myself. Maybe it’s pushing myself. Maybe that’s why I’m doing the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon, and not just running a few miles a few days a week.

But, you know what? One entrance into the fraternity/sorority isn’t a secret. It’s the marathon. Sure, many runners will never do a marathon; I am not seeking to define runner for the world in this post. But that distance has gained a mythos all its own. And crossing that distance seems to me, to be the hazing required to join The Club.

A few weeks ago, I promised myself I won’t do a marathon for 3 years after I started running. That means the first time I would consider doing a marathon was when I’m 33.  I did this because of two things; I originally swore I wouldn’t do a marathon, ever, so I used this new statement to soften that stance without throwing it out the window. Also, because the more I run, the more I believe people shouldn’t rush into the commitment that distance running requires. Someone can drop a few hundred bucks, dress up like the fall Under Armour catalog puked all over them, and sign up for a marathon 8 months away, train hard, and run it. That is an accomplishment, and it is nothing less than amazing. But it’s not for me. See, I’ve been trolling my way through WordPress running blogs, and I find a lot of them where the last post is a marathon race report. Maybe those people are out there, still running, still chasing something. But maybe they aren’t. They checked the marathon off the bucket list, and that was it, they went back to their lives, enriched by the experience. But that’s not what I want, not least because I can’t afford to just go back to my life, to go back to high blood pressure, borderline cholesterol, creeping higher weight. I need to keep chasing. I want to be a runner.

So I’m going to wait. I look back at that quote and I realize that even if I never join The Club, I’m in the club, because it’s a solitary thing, a private thing that I do. I won’t let the feel-good books tell me I’m a runner. I won’t let whether I’ve done a marathon tell me when I’m a runner. I will tell myself. I will decide.

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