Once upon a time, there was a woman who was a couple of years into her fourth decade. She wasn't very athletic, although in her late twenties, she was a somewhat decent rock climber and enjoyed caving. But cardio was not her forte, although she did play a couple of seasons of soccer (very badly; something about cardio not being her forte). Anyway, this woman had a coworker who regularly ran marathons, which amazed her. How could anyone run that far? The people who ran marathons had to be superhumans! But the more the woman talked to her coworker, the more she thought that maybe, just maybe, she could run a marathon.
So she talked to some people at the gym she belonged to, bought a book (Marathon! by Jeff Galloway) and commenced the To Finish marathon training program. She found a running partner and 6 months later, she ran (and finished) her first marathon. Admittedly, it was at a very slow pace (5 hours, 10 minutes, if she remembers correctly; there was a lot of walking involved).
With that success under her belt, she decided to run a different marathon the next year. She trained with her running partner again, and she ran (and finished) her second marathon in November (this time was faster: 4 hours, 44 minutes). Her husband ran his first marathon that year, too.
Buoyed by her success with running two marathons, she decided to run another marathon the following year. But alas, there was a problem. Her running partner decided to go to nursing school while continuing to work full-time, so there was no running partner. And this woman's husband was much faster than she was, so she found herself "training" by herself. When marathon time rolled around, her taper (the period of time when runners start cutting back on the mileage) was more like a plunge (she also had an undiagnosed thyroid deficiency, but that's a story that's already been told). So on marathon day, the woman runs, knowing that it's going to be a difficult run. Unbeknownst to her, the organizers had changed the sports drink and she hadn't trained with it. It did not agree with her digestive system. And around mile 15, her knee started hurting, so much so that she kept thinking that she'd quit "after one more mile." She finished the marathon (in 5 hours, 36 minutes) and wept tears of exhaustion and relief after stopping.
She would occasionally run after that last marathon, but her knee still hurt (iliotibial band syndrome) so she eventually gave up running entirely. Her husband kept running, though, and started running with a running club. He finished a couple more marathons and then decided that he would try a 50-mile run (if you can run a marathon, you can run a 50-miler, he was told).
Four years pass and the woman decided to try running again (the thyroid problem was under control, gluten was removed from her diet, and all other deficiencies were being corrected). When she started running, she ran with the running club. But they were fast, so she and a friend would run a shorter distance and run slow (about a 13 min/mile pace). She was happy to run and talk to her friend. But one day her friend wasn't there and she didn't know the route. She had to run faster to keep from getting left behind. She was surprised that she could keep the fast runners in sight and that she didn't expire from the effort. Shortly thereafter, her husband challenged her to run 50 miles when she turned 50. 11 months later, she did just that (it wasn't pretty, but she finished).
With that success under her belt, the woman (who still didn't think that she was a runner, but she might be getting there) decided to set a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon the following year. She didn't think she was fast enough to come close to qualifying, but after a couple of long runs that were faster than a snail's pace, she thought that maybe she had a chance. So she ran and ran and ran and kept thinking that she would run intervals (she did so only once). The fast runners kept getting faster and she still couldn't keep up with them, but she saw her times decrease. When she thought she had a reasonable chance (if worse came to worse, she'd at least run a PR for the distance), she signed up for a marathon that had a downhill course profile (notice that the woman was beginning to at least sound like runner) because she loves running downhill (it makes her feel fast).
So, race day rolls around and with seven other running club members, the woman lines up at the start and starts running when the starting gun fires. The going is slow at first (the runners were bunched up), but eventually everyone spreads out. She picks up her pace and runs with a couple of people, asking about their running stories. Even though the day is cold, the running feels easy and the woman runs comfortably and strong for a long time, taking time to walk through the water stops and take both Gatorade and water. The trees were wearing their best fall colors, the church bells in the town were ringing blessings upon the runners, and the townspeople were cheering everyone on. A glance at her watch told the woman that she was running faster than her qualifying pace (the watch lied, but she didn't know that at the time) and she felt good. At mile 20, her legs were beginning to feel tired and heavy, but she pushed onward, knowing that she had to run only 6.2 miles more. She relished each mile marker after that, counting down the miles, but she was beginning to want more water stops so she could have an excuse to walk more. Finally, a mile or so from the finish line, she encountered a rather large hill and gave up and walked the whole thing. At this point, her left heel was hurting and so was her right hip and she wanted to just stop running! However, she remembered everyone at home who had encouraged her and believed in her ability to run, so she dug deep and kept running (and amazingly enough, kept passing a lot of people). It was downhill to the finish (literally) and she picked up the pace. With the crowd cheering wildly, she crossed the finish line in 4:05:35, setting both a PR and qualifying for Boston!
The moral of the story, dear readers, is that if you have the courage and belief in yourself (and you find some good partners), you can do pretty much anything. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would someday be running marathons and ultramarathons and qualifying for Boston, I would have looked at you like you had three heads. I'm not a runner, I would have said.
I realized this weekend that I am a runner. I was always a runner, even when I was running slow. It took qualifying for Boston to make me believe in myself.