[Editor’s Note: This Community Voices column is authored by Sara Weiss, a runner, writer, and mother whose work has appeared in places like Lilith, Brain Child, Nyack News, and more. Weiss holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Teaching from Tufts University, and a Master of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. She also teaches yoga and creative writing, and lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her husband and two beautiful daughters.]
I realized this year, after running about five miles a day, six days a week, I’m a runner. It seems obvious, but the realization actually hit me one day — this is not just something I do, this is also who I am.
Though I’ve always had a running routine, these past two years, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become a necessity. My kids were home with me for the 2020-21 school year, doing remote learning on their computers. Running was my little escape.
I’d pack their water bottles, snacks, and computers, and drive them to their friends’ houses so they could do squats and lunges for gym class on the back patio, or play if they had a break. (Thank you to Betsy, the grandmother who knitted and watched the kids from her window while I did laps around town. A former runner herself, she would tell me to “Go, go, go.”) I sometimes circled back when it was below freezing to make sure they could feel their fingers, and to see if I could maybe steal another few minutes on the road.
I bundled up to weather all the elements, and invested in a good fanny pack, gloves, a fleece headband. I came to love the sound of my feet on the pavement, the sun on my face, the fresh air, and the feeling of release. I started a timer on my phone, but I didn’t monitor my pace and I went in one direction and turned around when I felt like it or when I needed to get back.
I started a routine of going through a list of people I love in my head, praying for their health and well-being. If I missed a day of running, I felt jittery and anxious and would have trouble falling asleep at night.
Now that the kids are back in school, I lay out my running clothes the night before so I can be ready to go the second I drop them off, before I start work for the day. I might catch up with my friends on the phone while they walk or run. I sometimes join two friends to run a loop around the neighborhood.
Other times, I run alone. I park at the top of the hill and run down toward the river, stopping to take pictures of leaves in the fall or the reflection of the sun on the water. I focus on speedwork, or hills, or distance. I rock out to music, or don’t, if I don’t feel like it. I air my thoughts, release anger. Sometimes, I’ll even cry. This routine is a part of my religion. It’s what I do and it’s a part of who I am.
But I’d never called myself a runner before. It’s not like I ran track or cross-country in school, or won any races, or qualified for a marathon.
Why does it matter?
I think women sometimes shy away from asserting who we are and what we offer to the world. I see my friends accomplishing so many great things, writing beautiful books that have yet to be published, fighting for social justice, leading programs for the community, taking their children to storytime, or making gorgeous art.
But many of us get stuck in a cycle of self-doubt as we compare ourselves to others, focus on what we’re not accomplishing, or get frustrated when we’re not seeing the results we’d like to see. I’d love to see these amazing women celebrating who they are and what they do.
Claire Margerison says, “With running, you compete against yourself and not others. So no matter what pace you run, you can always feel a sense of accomplishment.”
She’s an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics with a focus on women’s health, and has also run since she was 13 years old, completing eight marathons and nine half marathons. But running for her is not just about these milestones. “Running has always been there for me, even when life was hard and I felt otherwise alone.”
I’m a runner just because it’s a thing I do. I’m also a writer, even on the days when I’m stuck and it feels like I have nothing to say. These are habits and practices, and even when we’re not seeing the results we want, I think there’s value in consistently showing up.
“Anyone can be a runner,” Claire says. “Even if you just run a few steps a day.”
I’m training for a half marathon this spring, increasing my mileage through the winter. I’ll work toward a time and a goal and try to achieve it. But even if I don’t reach those goals, I want to make sure to be proud of myself. I feel grateful to have found a practice that brings me joy and helps me in so many ways, and I hope that it’s something I’ll be able to continue doing for the rest of my life.
Call for Comments
- Do you feel like you have to accomplish a certain time, distance, or number of years to be considered a “runner?”
- Does identity precede or follow action for you in your profession, hobbies, or other life interests?