I remember the day I decided I was a true swimmer. It was a cold day in the middle of winter, one where my hair would probably freeze against my neck after I left the pool. I had practiced with the Woodland Hills Aquatic Team (aka WHAT) all summer, swimming the first long-course practices of my life and finding, to my surprise, that I actually preferred the long, uninterrupted 50-meter laps to the shorter, more customary 25-yard ones. Initially, that humongous pool had intimidated me; in my mind, only real swimmers swam in long-course pools. Still, I survived the summer and actually found myself reluctant to return to the indoor 25-yard pool when fall returned.
On this particular winter day, I went through the usual routine with WHAT: abs for half an hour, and then two-and-a-half-hours of swimming. What ended up being particularly unusual was the distance we swam: 6,500 yards. Climbing out of the pool at the end of that practice, my sense of accomplishment was unparalleled. I had completed a “real” swimmer’s practice, alongside other swimmers who had been training this way since they were eight years old. I had been at the exhausting 5,000-yard IM practice yesterday, and I would return for the 5,500 yard sprint practice tomorrow. I finally identified myself as a true swimmer.
By that same measure, it could be assumed that I would deem myself a “real” runner on the day I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon. After all, if swimming 6,500 yards makes someone a “real swimmer,” wouldn’t running 13.5 miles make someone a real runner? However, I was sure that any reasonably fit athlete would be capable of running 13.5 miles, even they paid dearly for it afterward. (One woman who came on the trip did exactly that and only finished about fifteen minutes behind me.) Plus, I didn’t feel any self-identity with the sport. If someone had asked me, I never would have termed myself a “runner.”
Today, I woke up at 8:30 a.m. Snow—leftover from the storm two days ago—still blanketed the roofs outside my window. The shiny globules and matching tap-tap-tap against my windowpanes, however, did fit with that wintry image. Rain? Tap tap tap. It was raining on top of all that snow. Fabulous. I hadn’t gone running for two days, and already yesterday I was getting antsy. (Picture me, in the Times Square Virgin Records store, doing everything in my power to keep from breaking out and dancing along with the tunes the DJ was blasting from the speakers. And yes, there is a DJ in the Virgin Records store.)
My entire plan had consisted of waking up early, putting on my running gear, and going out for an extra-long run in order to satisfy my cranky dormant muscles. However, this rain was the consistent kind that gets you thoroughly soaked, starting with your feet the minute you step out onto the snowy slushy sidewalk. I hesitated at the door, but only for a second. I was going to run, darn it. I removed my sneakers and ran back up to my room to retrieve my raincoat. I might sweat a little, but it would be better than being soaked to the bone and ill within the first five minutes.
Keys tied into my shoelaces, mp3 clipped into my ears, watch set, and I was off, dodging puddles. Yes, it was unpleasant, but shockingly I wasn’t miserable. I was just happy to be out and moving. My muscles felt ready to go, and were bit annoyed at the fact that I kept them restrained, purely so I didn’t slip on all the ice and slush and break my neck. It was slow-going, and there was wind and icy rain in my face the whole way, but I felt purely happy to be moving. No one in their right mind would even want to be outside right now, and you’re running through slush puddles in a hat and a raincoat, I thought to myself. And that was when I knew: I am a runner.