I've recently struggled with what makes someone a "runner" and I know my friends and family have certainly wondered what would ever motivate someone to willingly put themselves through so much pain, but I think I'm starting to find some answers. I started running seriously about three years go, mostly as a great stress reliever and way to stay in shape for the other sports I enjoy. Over these three years I've slowly acquired some nice running gear (thank you South Boston Running Emporium and REI) and began to talk the runner's lingo, but was still hesitant to ever call myself a "runner". I have generally stayed away from races because in my mind they took something that was peaceful and relaxing (an evening run down by the beach after a stressful day at work) and turned it into something that consisted of a lot of pain during and after the race. So why mix something relaxing with a race that will only bring out my strong competitive tendencies and result in lots of pain?
This weekend I participated in the NH Reach the Beach team running relay race. Essentially, teams of 4-12 runners run 200 miles from the mountains of NH to the Atlantic Ocean in around 24 hours of non-stop running, a pretty crazy idea if you ask me. My team of 12 had a great time running and did far better than anticipated (17th out of 138 teams in our division!), but for me this race was meaningful because of what I learned: what it means to be a "runner" and that I now am willing to consider myself one.
Unlike other sports I enjoy that have periods of rest and those with max exertion, running a race requires constant physical and mental exertion and in most cases lots of pain. Somewhere in my 2nd leg (~7 miles long), as I struggled through the pain of an injury I've been battling lately, I found myself finding even more from within to keep pushing myself harder to get that next "kill" (passing another runner). This strength didn't come from my teammates, the scoreboard, or the desire to impress anybody, but rather from the sick enjoyment I get from pushing my body to new extremes to see what it is capable of doing. Our bodies are unbelievable machines and I'm slowly realizing that if I take care of it I can push myself harder than I would have ever thought possible. The rush I get from fulfilling this inner desire is what makes races enjoyable and the pain tolerable. In my eyes it is what turns someone who simply enjoys running into a "runner". It also makes me aware of the fact that every runner (myself now included) is a little bit crazy.
Here's a shot I took from the race, just as the sun was rising after a long night of running and barely sleeping. Definitely, this moment was one of the highlights of the race and summer 2011: