When I lived in the Midwest I drove most places, worked out erratically, and weighed 25 pounds more than I do now. I was focused on other things; fitness was not one of them.
After moving to Washington, D.C., life changed. My job had more of a regular schedule. Driving a car in the city was a hassle. I started to use Metro and walk most places.
Walking made me more observant of my surroundings and whenever I stepped outside I saw people running. On the National Mall, through Rock Creek Park, and down city streets. Morning, afternoon, day, and night. There was always someone running!
The runners’ energy was infectious, and I found myself joining them. At first I could only run a mile or two interspersed with lots of walking, but over time my body acclimated and I ran longer. It was a great feeling. Gradually, I began to consider myself a runner, too.
After steadily building my base mileage and finishing a couple of marathons, an injury halted my running progress. I hurt my plantar fascia, which meant weeks of no running. It was all I could do to walk to all of the places I needed. I reluctantly took up bicycling, since I did not want to lose the fitness I’d gained and bike riding did not pain my foot.
I thought I would only ride for as long as it took my foot to heal, but that ended up not being the case for various reasons (meeting my future randonneur- and real-life spouse Felkerino was one of the main ones, by the way).
In the process of picking up cycling, I lost my identity as a runner. From late 2004 through 2008, I barely ran at all. I was busy discovering randonneuring and bike touring.
Eventually, though, I missed running. Cycling was another good way to stay active, but its buzz was different. I missed running’s meditative benefits, and the way I looked at and experienced my surroundings when I ran.
I started to run again, steadily built my running base, and participated in a few marathons. Yet I still did not consider myself a runner. With cycling still dominating my leisure time, I defined myself as a cyclist who sometimes ran.
This past year I changed jobs. My new office abuts the National Mall. A few times a week I slip out of my office and knock out a few miles on that beautiful stretch of green space amid landmarks that people travel from all parts of the world to see.
When I first started doing my Mall runs I felt like a fake, as though everyone knew that I was a cyclist and didn’t belong. My running shoes were too new. I lacked the “been there, done that” t-shirts that others wore with pride. Of course, no one was thinking about me at all, but it’s all in how we see and define ourselves.
Despite feeling like a misfit, I kept throwing on my shoes, dialed in my route, and stuck with it. My path took on a pleasant familiarity. I watched the metal scaffolding on the Washington Monument go up and up and up and became an expert at dodging tourists without breaking stride. I saw the regular lunchtime Ultimate and soccer pickup games and the occasionally familiar faces of other runners.
Sometimes I tested how fast my legs could take me on my little loop. Other days I ran to just be out in the city and relax. Those simple runs through the bustle of downtown D.C. crept into my bones, and over the past six months of steady footsteps and changing seasons I sensed a change in how I saw myself.
I don’t run fast and my runs don’t take me very far. My form isn’t great. I don’t own many running event t-shirts. But none of that matters. I’m part of the D.C. running community. I’m a runner again.