I Am a Runner

For too many years, I didn’t consider myself a runner. I saw people who ran and since I didn’t look like them or run like them, I wasn’t really a runner. When I joined the track team as a senior, my cross-country friend Sarah was finishing an 800-meter warm-up (two laps around the track) only seconds after I finished my 400-meter sprint. I wasn’t fast, so I wasn’t a real runner. One of my roommates in college, Meghann, would leave for a run and reappear drenched in sweat over an hour later. I didn’t run long, so I wasn’t a real runner. Working in Washington, D.C., I ran to manage stress and achieve some sort of work/life balance, but I had never even run a 5K. I didn’t run races, so I wasn’t a real runner. Who I was didn’t measure up to my definition of a real runner.

Ironically, in the seasons of my life when my sense of self has been most challenged, I’ve come to realize I AM a runner. I am my own runner, just as I have my own name, and my own identity. Calling myself a runner doesn’t mean I need to run like Sarah or Meghann or any other runner I know. Identifying myself as a runner merely owns that I am someone who finds strength in lacing up her shoes, putting one foot in front of the other, and allowing the cadence of my feet to match my heartbeat. I feel alive when I run.

Nearly 20 years after first lacing up my shoes, I’ve run through many seasons of life. Running as an Air Force wife and mother looks different than it did when I was a single professional working in D.C.: Run on your lunch break vs. run before dawn. With the changes come new rewards: finish a 5K pushing your very own cheering section. And even when change dictates a season of rest, I’ve started over, working my way back to running just one mile at a time, remembering that it’s not about running fast, or running long. It’s about proving to myself that I am alive, I am exactly who God created me to be.


My Most Important Mile

Leaves crunched under my feet as I jogged hesitantly from the parking lot to the paved running trail. It was a brilliant Virginia fall, and although some trees still boasted vibrant red-orange leaves, many had yellowed and more than a few had fallen. Judging from the number of brown leaves lining the path, winter was closer than summer – and the realization surprised me.

Summer had slipped by, ending quietly as I grieved. The shock of Richard’s death stopped me in my tracks, and as the immediate questions of how to un-plan a wedding were answered, I’d spent the remainder of the summer in a blur of busy nothing-ness. One day at a time, weeks had become three months, and as I picked up my pace, I realized that I’d reached a milestone.

This was my first run since June. I hadn’t been able to even consider running – I kept thinking about how running was his thing – he ran in college, he ran marathons, ultramarathons, he proposed after the JFK50. And whenever that small voice reminded me that I had been a runner for years before we began dating, I couldn’t get past the memory of our last run together. So my running shoes had lain buried in my closet.

I don’t remember why I finally laced my shoes up that night, but I remember the fog of grief cleared as I put one foot in front of the other.

Even as the fall leaves reminded me of the canal during the JFK50, his run, I realized I’d never be able to run in the fall without remembering this run, my run. Somewhere along the last mile the cadence of my feet had settled into a heartbeat, and I felt alive again. The grief was still there, but it didn’t define me anymore. And I knew that whatever lay ahead of me, I’d run through it.


Ten years later, I’ve run through more than I ever imagined on that fall day including two pregnancies, four military moves, and a deployment. I’ve taken out my grief, loneliness, anger, and fear on the road in nearly a dozen states. I’ve celebrated love and rejoiced over answered prayers while running on four continents. More than one treadmill has kept me from over-thinking, over-analyzing, or worrying in circles.

Last week as I put on my shoes to run, the tears I’d (mostly) held in check for two days nearly overwhelmed me. I purposefully double-knotted the laces to keep from taking my shoes off, throwing them in the closet, and crawling into bed. As I left my house, “what if” scenarios plagued my thoughts and I fought to tamp down my overactive imagination.

Slowly the cadence of my feet quieted my mind. Don’t think. Just run. Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble today. Pray. Believe. Remember. As I turned at the first mile, I saw leaves on the ground and realized fall has arrived in Missouri. It’s less vibrant than Virginia so it sneaks up on you. And as I considered the handful of brown leaves beginning to line the road, I remembered my run ten years ago and breathed deeply. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and this latest challenge was no different. I could run through this too – one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

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