It took me a really long time to consider myself a "runner." I think the first time I even called myself a runner was after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in 2010. That was more than a year after I had started running regularly, and after already completing two half marathons. Sometimes, though I called myself a runner, I would still get discouraged when I compared myself to "real" runners who had faster times than me.
In 2013, trail running saved me from the self-imposed pressures of road racing. All of a sudden, I wasn't running for time, I was running to experience nature and training to run farther than ever before. The "real" versus "fake" runner idea was buried along with my lost Garmin (still yet to be found.) In many ways, trail running completely revived my sense of self and gave me more confidence than ever before, though I was running slower.
After two years of hard training for marathons and ultras, I stepped down to shorter and faster distances in 2014. I've been running whenever I felt like it, without really following a plan. I've been listening to my body with every run, and taking it easy when necessary.
As a result, I've turned a corner in the way I think about running this spring racing season. I've finally realized that running should be whatever I wanted it to be, whether it was a leisurely trail run or a fast road 5k. I do not need to put myself in a trail runner box or road runner box, or define myself by distances. I am a runner, and that's all that matters.
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Which leads me to the future. Over the past few months, I've had a real chance to examine my goals. This year, I have truly enjoyed running faster, shorter races and pushing myself to the limit physically. I've got a strong idea of my long-term running goals for the next couple of years, involving both the trail and the road. They are somewhat conflicting goals, which has caused me to prioritize:
1) Qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon
I mentioned this in a previous post, and it was very difficult for me to admit at the time. This goal became much more significant and real to me as I watched Shalane lead the women for 20 miles and cheered on Meb as he broke the tape on Marathon Monday. I do not want to qualify for Boston just to say that I BQ'ed, I want to share the vibrant energy on Boylston Street, hear people cheer for me as I run the hills, and cross that finish line like so many thousands before me. It is a rite of passage that I truly want to be a part of.
Sure, I have a mere 35 minutes to cut off my marathon PR time, and I DO NOT expect that to happen easily or quickly by any means. That's over a minute per mile! But, if I never set steps in motion to achieve this goal, I never will. Working towards this goal will be my main focus from now until September 2015, when registration opens for Boston 2016. I will re-examine this goal along the way, especially if I feel resentful towards running at any point.
2) Run a 100k (62.1 miles) trail race
After completing the Stone Mill 50 last year, I felt like I still had gas in the tank. I wholeheartedly believe I can take the next step in ultrarunning, and I believe someday I will. However, this is not my priority for the next year.
I have to listen to my heart right now, which is challenging me to run a 3:35 marathon and BQ. As crazy as it may sound, I do not believe a 100k will challenge me as much as qualifying for Boston will. Of course, trail running will still be a part of my life, but I will not be exclusively training for a trail ultramarathon anytime soon.
UNLESS, I change my mind. One thing I've learned over years of running is that I'm always changing and evolving as a runner. The beauty of this sport is that there are so many different avenues to take. Right now, I really want Boston, but I won't let it control me. If, for any reason, I feel this goal impeding on my relationship with running, I will step back and re-examine my priorities. The only way to stay healthy and happy in running is to remain flexible, which is my intention as I work towards achieving any long-term goals.