Belief is not given, it is earned. Through hard work, discipline, failures, and countless repetitions, the work comes before the belief. No one is born “lucky”, luck is simply when preparation meets opportunity. No one is born a runner, they put in the mileage day after day to become one.
I have not always known these statements to be true. A child of the “victim mentality” era, I used to believe that genetics were against me and I would never be an athlete. My older sister was a runner in high school. She would wake up before the sunrise to get in a few miles, coming back sweaty and happy before I even found my way out from under the blankets. I was inspired and wished I could be like her but I was not a runner.
I joined lacrosse in my freshman year of high school to get out of taking gym class – not because I had any skill in lacrosse but because the team was too small to hold tryouts so they had to take me. I showed up to practice, gave minimal effort, and found excuses as to why I was not a good player instead of taking responsibility to put in the work. I wished I could be a starter and dominate the fields but I was not an athlete.
When I started college, many things changed. I moved away from my hometown in Tennessee to attend The University of Alabama studying Mechanical Engineering and German. As someone who gets lost on a one-way street, I began walking around my large new home as often as possible, trying to remember where the engineering buildings were so I could go there and where the business buildings were so I could avoid them (too many people in dresses and suits).
I walked around alone so much that my roommates began to be concerned that I would make no friends and get lost someday. They encouraged me to join sports but I just wanted to walk and absorb the sunlight, I was not an athlete. More than anything, I did not want to run. Having tried to run a few times with my sister, I held a firm belief that I was not a runner.
Then came the club fair – a week of big tents on campus promoting all the ways to get involved in the UA community. They offered everything from coding to climbing, biking to designing hot air balloons. If you had a passion for it, there was a club on campus for it. Walking around all the booths with my roommates, we stopped suddenly at RunUA – the club running team for the university, and before I could stop it, my roommates put in my contact information on the sign up sheet. I protested that I was not a runner but they told me I needed to go wander with other people instead of wandering alone. Half-joking, half-honest. Later that day, I received an email with the club meeting schedule and decided I had nothing to lose from showing up to just one run. Might as well see what this club was all about.
I showed up and immediately felt out of place – imagine fifty or so previous XC and track stars who didn’t want to commit to D1 schedules and then me, someone who has never run before. They were doing warm up strides, leg stretches, discussing off-season races and I was trying to figure out what half of the things people were saying meant. The president of the club got everyone’s attention and announced it would be an easy three mile shakeout. He gave directions that made no sense to me and then we took off. My legs said no, my lungs said no, my feet said no, even my arms said no as I began to flail my body in an unfamiliar motion similar to a bird trying to fly in water – feathers soaking wet and body clearly not adapted to this at all. By about a third of a mile, I was crying and had to walk. What was I thinking? I could never be like these athletes, so nimble and graceful, hardly sweating as they glided around campus. I was not a runner, not an athlete, and did not belong here. Tears rolling down my face, I looked up to realize there was someone stopped on the sidewalk ahead, waiting for me. I recognized him as one of the officers of the club and felt embarrassed that I was slowing him down to wait for me. He introduced himself and asked me what was going on.
“I cannot run,” I explained. “I don’t even know why I showed up. Everyone here makes it look so easy.”
He considered this for a minute, then replied, “Well, you at least ran a little bit to get out here and you are still going faster than anyone who did not show up.” I was a bit shocked by his words. “Let me ask you something, why did you come today? Do you want to be a runner?”
Everything in me said yes. I thought back to my sister going out on morning runs, to the girls on the lacrosse team who could sprint up and down the field, to the overall running aesthetic and idea of being able to be fast and free and make it look easy. I hated running because I was jealous that I was not a part of it.
“Yes,” I replied softly, almost like a prayer. “I wish I was a runner but I am not a runner.”
He shook his head. “You ran today, you showed up – that makes you a runner. Congratulations! It does not matter your speed or pace or experience, anyone who shows up and runs is a runner.” He continued, “In fact, I’ll make you a deal. If you continue to show up to practices every day, you’ll be ready to travel with the team in February to New Orleans for the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon. I guarantee it. Put in the work and you’ll easily be up there with the rest of the runners in no time.”
I was shocked. Was it really that simple? I could become a runner just by running consistently? I did not have to be born a runner, I could choose to put in the work and become one? It was a split second that revolutionized my life – I could make the decision to not be a victim and blame the world for not making me an athlete, and instead put in the work to become exactly who I always wanted to be. I could be a runner if I wanted to.
So I bet on myself and began showing up to practice every day. I lagged in the back, running/walking through the training runs as I built up endurance. I layered up through the winter months, dragging through the snow. I pushed through long runs and did my best to add to conversations even when I had no breath left. Slowly, it got easier and easier. I started to love it. I was a runner.
By that February, not only did I compete in the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon as my first ever race, I finished far faster than I had ever anticipated at 1:49:00. I remember vividly passing through the finish line with my hands in double peace signs and the biggest smile of victory on my face. I am a runner.
Five years later and this is still a part of me I hold closely. While much has changed since my first half marathon, I still hold tight to the principles I learned during that first year with RunUA. If you show up every day and put in the work, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams. Just this year, I qualified and competed in the XTERRA World Trail Running Championships! The only limits in life are those you set for yourself and for me and running, I am just getting started!