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Take ownership of the awesomeness within you—no matter where you are.
Well, I’m not really a runner,” I told the teeny, clearly-a-runner girl at the gym. We were in the locker room. My towel was wrapped tightly around my body, making me look like a giant, white sausage. Her towel, loosely draped around her fit frame, seemed to wrap around her twice. “Yeah, not really a runner,” I said again. “I just try really hard.” I figured that sabotaging qualification bought me some sort of pass for my big butt and woeful treadmill pace.
I have muttered that line—I just try really hard—with my head hanging down, more times than I can count. Five words that completely disqualify my running and are completely ridiculous, considering all the running races I have completed. I started running in 2010, and since then, have crossed finish lines in dozens of 5Ks and 10Ks, and handfuls of half-marathons. Oh, and four half-Ironman triathlons, which include, ahem, a 13.1-mile run.
Most ridiculous of all, I am fairly certain these laughable words escaped my mouth during the throes of training for an Ironman, which culminates in a marathon. Although it’s likely I was probably feeling compromised in a napkin-sized towel at the gym, I still couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth.
About eight weeks into Ironman training, this realization finally penetrated my skin: No matter how ploddy I was plodding along on any given day, if I laced up my shoes and went for a run, I was a runner. A real runner. There wasn’t a certain mile or ding ding, light bulb! moment: just the acknowledgement that I worked just as hard—if not harder—than the teeny girls, and my miles were exactly as long as the ones they covered. I began to recognize the good things that made me a runner. My sports bras and shoes were stinky, like every other runner I knew. I was chafing everywhere! Yay! Chafe! I thought about running all the time. I was ticking off 8-, 9-, 11-, and 14-mile runs. Hard, long runs. And I wasn’t doing myself any favors by discrediting the hard work I was putting in.
So I began to say things like, “Yes, I am training for an Ironman” and “I ran 9 miles before work this morning.” I started stretching my hamstrings, unabashedly, in the checkout line at the grocery store. I spent time with a chiropractor and physical therapist for my aches—because suddenly, I was worth it, and so was my running. I took ownership of my inner athlete—specifically, my inner runner—and I began to appreciate her.
But when people would ask about my Ironman finish time, I would start to mumble. I had a new qualifier: the Ironman edition of I just try really hard.
“Well, I barely finished,” I would say, even though I came in 16 minutes under the 17-hour limit, which feels like an eternity. I’d come back to the evil cycle. The cycle of not being a real athlete. How did that happen again?
This had to stop.
So I started doing yoga.
On one special day, I went to the 6 a.m. class. I spread out my mat, took to shavasana. The room was dark (and hot), and the instructor’s voice filled the air. “Meet yourself where you are, with no judgments, no expectations. Feel where you are, and be here in the moment.”
What? I thought to myself. Love myself? Today? Where I sit, 40 pounds overweight and stressed out and tired and full of issues?
“Meet yourself where you are,” the instructor repeated.
Her words made me understand what I was missing. For so long, I’d focused on the races and the numbers and forgot who was doing the races and producing the numbers. Me. My body.
I’d ignored the critical component of finding grace and peace in my current athletic state. Historically, I accepted myself only with caveats. I will get better. I will get faster. I will be thinner. When I am an Ironman, I will be a real athlete. When I am (fill in the blank), I will be happy.
When I was lying on the yoga mat, I decided to buy—and own—all of me: my athleticism, my successes, my failures, my femaleness, my strengths, my weaknesses, my thighs, my calves, my issues, all of it. I met my current self there and greeted her with loving arms. I did my best to hug her regularly on that day, and in the following days. I was more patient and compassionate with her. I didn’t put added pressure on her. I just was.
Six weeks after that transformative yoga class, I had one of the most powerful races of my life. The distance? Not an Ironman, but a 5K.
In January, I showed up at the race in the freezing cold with about 500 other runners. I wore my signature, never-leave-home-without-it visor. My favorite shoes. I was the same ol’ girl I’ve always been, but I felt more like me than ever. I told myself I was going to own this race, because I was in the perfect shape to do just that.
From the sound of the starting buzzer, I was gone. My feet turned over fast and lightly. My form was strong. My quads were burning but powerful. Eminem was loud in my ears, my breathing like a freight train. At the turnaround, my pace slowed significantly, and I didn’t think I would be able to finish with the pace I had hoped. But for some reason, I came back—and I found myself again. The rhythm returned, and I powered through. Left. Right. Power. Strength. Life. Breath. Left. Right. Left. Right. I. Am. A. Runner.
As I crossed the finish line with a solid new PR, I felt alive. I felt whole. I felt like me.
Meredith Atwood is a wife, mother, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta and blogs at Swimbikemom.com. Adapted from Tales From Another Mother Runner ($11, Andrews McMeel Publishing).