Monday, July 21, 2008

Real Runners Take Ice Baths

What does it take to be a "real runner"? In the beginning, little things made me feel like a real runner. I purchased running-specific shoes. I ran while on vacation. I had a training program. Then, I thought I had to run a race to be a runner. So I ran the Salem Lake 10k. Was a 10k far enough to count myself as a runner? I wasn't sure, so I ran the Charlotte RaceFest Half Marathon. But, I only ran/walked those races, and I wondered if I had to run without walking to be a real runner. So I worked up to running continuously for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour...

I know that I'm a runner. I know it from my accessories--when I strap on a heart rate monitor or my Nike Plus iPod. I know it from my complicated fixation with hydration--when I mix my own Gatorade, buckle my hydration belt, or reach for an eGel on a long run. I know it from my shoes--I own several pairs of running shoes and log their miles on a spreadsheet so I never get injured running in shoes past their prime. I know it at that moment, about two or three miles into my run, when my breathing evens out and it seems somehow less of an effort to run than it would be to stand still. But sometimes I still forget, and I catch myself thinking that, even though I run, I'm not really a runner.

If I ever again doubt that I am a runner, hopefully I will think back to yesterday, when I ran 11 miles in the steamy southern summer heat. When I kept going, even if at a very slow pace, even when my fingers swelled and sweat. (Seriously, who knew that fingers could sweat?) And I knew I was a real runner after dragging my body back inside, when I took my very first ice bath. The shocking cold, goose bumps, and blessed numbness. Who would do that to themselves? Who would run in the humid stillness of a summer morning? Who would dump ice into an already tepid tub? Who would take their body to extreme heat and exertion and then to extreme cold and stillness? A real runner would.