Becoming a Runner

Blog post submitted by Aaron Nelson, ZAP Fitness runner.

When does one become a runner? Is it the moment we finish our first race, or the first time we lace up the shoes and head out the door for a run?

I have been running and training competitively for nine years now. During my time as a collegiate athlete I won conference titles, earned All-American honors at National Championships and even set a school record at my Alma-matter. However, long before I even realized any of those accomplishments could even be possible I considered myself a runner.

In a sport defined by metrics there is no metric that determines one’s identity as a runner. No number of races, miles, or times one must attain in order to wear the title proudly. In fact, anybody that runs to any degree could consider themselves a runner, whether you’re chasing the bus to school or work every morning or you participate in gut wrenching 100-mile races. Conversely, just simply running doesn’t necessarily make one a runner either. Being a runner is a matter of identity. Personally, I had been a member of my high school’s Track and Cross-country teams for over two years before I ever truly considered myself a runner.

Throughout my time in middle school I participated in nearly every sport that was offered. I tried my hand at soccer, baseball, basketball, and yes, even football. As a prepubescent undersized middle school boy I faced significant physical disadvantages in these sports, leaving me uninspired and often times sidelined. Reflecting on these memories, I know now that it was not my size or athletic ability that kept me from finding success on the field. While those factors may have worked against me, what I was really missing was what I consider to be the fundamental core element to success; passion. The first sport I ever truly found any passion for was wrestling, a sport founded on principles and athletic challenges not all that different than running. My passion for the sport laid the foundation and indirectly led to my success and passion for distance running.

In the fall of my freshman year of high school I begrudgingly attended my first cross-country practice. For many, cross country was viewed as an excellent supplemental sport and coaches from other sports would encourage their athletes to turn out in order to stay in shape during the off season. When I first began I did not care much for running, training was a means to an end. Although, I occasionally brought some of that passion I had for my other sport to practice… sometimes. It wasn’t much at first, but I had developed some habits through grueling wrestling workouts that, coupled with some natural running talent, translated to a fast progression to the top of our distance team. After a couple of years my progression as a distance runner had slowed drastically, I was understandably frustrated. At about this time I recognized that I had grown more passionate about running than I was about wrestling. A few weeks before the wrestling season I approached my teammates, coaches and Dad to explain that I would no longer be wrestling and instead would focus on running. At the time the decision was incredibly difficult to make and I was pressured to reconsider, it would be a big loss to my team. I held strong, confident in my decision and trusting my intuition; I had found a new passion. I am a runner. No longer a wrestler. No longer hiding, willing to risk it all.

For me, running is more than just a sport. It’s a lifestyle, it’s community, and it has become a way of life. Lessons I have learned from running seep out into every facet of my life. This is the sport for everyone. You do not have to win or be the fastest in order to be successful. I have lost many more times than I have won over the years, yet I am thankful for those challenges. Without them I doubt I would have even come close to accomplishing what I have so far. When I lose or fall short of a goal I’ve set I do not fail. Instead I reevaluate and get back to the drawing board; oftentimes those failures have immediately preceded the best races and blocks of training I have ever run. I take the lessons I’ve learned through running with me everywhere I go and work tirelessly to refine the process.

The true beauty of the sport is that there are no right or wrong ways to be a runner, whether your goals are like mine in a tenacious pursuit to test your physical and emotional limits, you run for good health, you run as a loose form of meditation, you run for the community and friendship, or you run for any other number of reasons. There is no wrong way to be a runner. If you run and embody everything running means to you, you are doing it right.

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