The Day I Finally Felt Like A Runner

A few weeks ago, I was at a photo shoot for work. We were shooting our July cover girl, who is the super-successful daughter of two beyond-successful parents — both Broadway superstars and Tony Award-winners.

I sat at the shoot being totally charmed by this effervescent young woman. She seemed to have everything going for her: She’s a true triple threat who can sing and dance circles around most people I know. She’s also a knockout with killer style.

But she caught me off guard when she said that although she had been dancing since she was little, it took her until college to truly consider herself a dancer.

“That’s crazy! You’ve been dancing your entire life,” I told her. “Why wouldn’t you call yourself a dancer?”

“Uhh, do you know who my parents are?” she asked me. “They are dancers. When I was growing up I saw what they did and compared it to what I was doing. I wasn’t even close to their level, so I didn’t think I was a real dancer.”

I’ve written before about how I never really feel like a real runner, and I have a hard time identifying myself as one. Usually when people ask me what I do I’ll say I’m a former dancer or I’ll say “I like to run.” I rarely say “I’m a runner.”

I can really relate to what our cover girl said that day at the shoot. I look at superstars like Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan [insert girl crush comment here] and I obviously don’t compare to them. They are competitive, serious runners.

There are also people like Megan and Kelly. These NYC running superstars are tough-as-nails and awesome. They are super speedy, they actually place at local races and I sincerely look up to them.

This morning, I woke up at 5 am. I followed my morning routine (bathroom, abs, dynamic stretching), and then, per Coach Cane’s plan for the day, I headed up to Central Park for a few loops around the Bridle Path (covering 5 miles total).

As I finished my run — which was a little rough due to the exhaustion I’ve been feeling lately — I saw Megan, Kelly and Maria at Engineer’s Gate.

“Want to come run with us?!” Megan asked.

My verbal response was, “Aw, I just finished my run, thank you though!”

And in my head I was thinking, “Is this chick crazy? I can’t keep up with these speed demons.”

But I also felt like the new girl at school who gets invited to sit with the cool kids at lunch. These women, ones I admire for their dedication and badassery, wanted me to run with them.

As I ran back to my apartment, I realized something: I’m a runner now.

I wake up at 5 am to put on sneakers and run while many people are still out drinking from the night before (and power to them). My apartment is littered with sweaty workout clothes that have been laid out to dry (and that I will definitely wear 2–12 more times before washing them). I spend my days thinking about my latest splits, my next race and when I get to run again.

I know I’m not the only one going through life that way.

I finally feel like I’m really a part of the amazing running community, both in NYC and beyond. I’m not the fastest runner and I’m certainly not the most stylish…

…but I’m a runner now, and I accept it. I’ve run five half marathons and a handful of shorter races. I’m also training for my first full marathon. It’s an exciting time to be a runner!

I follow runners like Emily and Lauren, who are so fast and make running seem so effortless. I have no problem putting the Runner label on them — and I’m sure they call themselves runners, too.

So now, in addition to the other labels I’ve given myself — Gym Rat, Neat Freak, Overachiever, Grammar Nerd — I’ll add one more.

I am a runner.

Thanks to the Central Park morning runners for helping me come to terms with that.

I suppose part of being a runner means being smarter and not doing dumb things, like two-a-day workouts every single day. Turns out, that doesn’t impress Coach Cane, and my body doesn’t really appreciate it.

I’m so glad I took yesterday off from work. It was amazing being able to relax, run some errands and even take in a spin class at night with my favorite teacher. Miraculously, once I left the gym I felt a million times better. I walked all the way home while catching up with my mom on the phone. It was a great day and I feel a bit more human today than I did on Monday.

Maybe I should also add Rule Breaker to my list, because yet again I’m wearing white today and Memorial Day is still a few days away.

I hope my sweet, traditional grandmother doesn’t mind my rule breaking. I swear I never break any other rules.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you call yourself a Runner? Or have you ever had a hard time putting a label on yourself?



0 Responses

  1. Love this. I definitely had a hard time calling myself a runner for a long time, but I do believe that I am a runner. It’s not who I am, but it’s big part and I’m really proud of it. The word that I struggle with now is “athlete.” Someone called me an athlete recently and my response was “No! I’m not an athlete. I just run.” But running is a sport…so…I guess…someday…

    You are one heck of a runner, Ali! Embrace it.

  2. I am so happy you have come to terms with your runner status!
    I, however, don’t even like to say I’m going for a run. I usually call it a jog, because the speed I move at is not what I would consider running.

  3. You are definitely a runner girl! I, too, have a hard time considering myself a runner…when people ask me if I’m a runner, I just say, “I’m trying to be one!” YOU are one of my inspirations that helps me believe that I CAN be a runner!

  4. anyone who gets up every day to run is definitely a runner in my book ! i think as long as someone makes running a part of their life (clearly you have!) then they are definitely a runner.
    also, i also don’t wash clothes all the time in between workouts.. but running shorts i do just because of the built ins.. haha !

  5. You are most definitely a runner!! Being injured, once again working on my running form and only running 3 miles at a time makes it hard for me to say the same thing. Sometimes I think it’s about where your heart is. A part of your heart clearly belongs to running and so does mine, even it’s hard to claim the title of runner we both are.

  6. Your comment about wearing something 2-12 times before washing had me laughing

    I think you are most definitely a runner. It’s hard to define the threshold. I still don’t feel comfortable telling people I am a runner, since I go through phases with running. But you, with your dedication and discipline, have no such issue. You are a runner and an inspiring one at that!

  7. That is so awesome, good for you. I’ve totally been thinking of you as a runner since I first found your blog. I want to be a runner one day. I’m still struggling with running tho.

  8. I do the exact same thing. I tell people “I run” rather than “I’m a runner” and typing that was somewhat difficult. And when anyone comments on my running, I always add, “but its really slow!!!” So, I totally feel you on this one. I think after doing something seriously for so many years (tennis), I know what I do in running isn’t that “serious” (in comparison to collegiate tennis) so I have a hard time labeling myself as a runner. Or at least thats what I tell myself.

  9. Wear white year-round! It’s a wonderful thing!

    You are absolutely a runner, duh. I knew it from the moment I stumbled across your blog the day after the National Half Marathon when I was googling something akin to “marathon music.”

  10. I call myself a runner, but I always included the disclaimer that I’m slow. I don’t know why, I guess I just don’t want people to think that I think I’m really fast. But that’s stupid!!

    p.s. I’m glad that you said you wear your workout clothes over and over before washing. I do that too and some people seem to think i’m nasty 🙂

    1. Haha I’m almost always sarcastic about most things. I do definitely wear things more than once, though. Never socks, never underwear, but everything else is fair game.

  11. I started dancing when I was three and stopped only a few years ago, yet I’ve always had a hard time calling myself “a dancer.” I was even on the dance team in college. I guess I knew people who were so much more competitive (and better) than I was, that I felt embarrassed to label myself.

  12. I consider myself a runner, but I have a hard time saying to people, “I’m a runner.” I feel silly labeling myself as “a runner.” I usually say, “I run.” Then i don’t feel like I’m labeling myself. Does that even make sense?

  13. I’m so happy that you finally feel comfortable with the runner-label. It can take awhile to really feel like it’s really a part of who you are. I remember that when I first started running (8th grade), I would get embarrassed whenever a car would go by or a person would come out on the porch. Sometimes I would actually stop running and slow down to a walk – I felt like I wasn’t wearing the right type of clothes, that I didn’t have the right body type, etc. Looking back that seems so silly to me now, but it was a good number of years before I identified as a “real” runner.

    And as for being hardcore and badass, DUDE!! I am inspired everyday by your 5am wakeups and early morning runs. Most days I can barely get my butt out bed before 8am – that’s why I make Kelly run with me in the mornings. Having someone waiting for me prevents me from hitting snooze 😉 And I promise, we run 8:45/9:00 pace for our everyday runs – no faster!

  14. Forget the white before memorial day rule. You look amazing!

    Do I consider myself a runner? Sometimes. These days, since I’ve had this little nagging injury, my training is very slacking. All of a sudden, my runs have become very difficult. This makes me NOT consider myself a runner. I miss the days of waking up at 5:30 AM to go be a “Runner.” I’m going to try to get back to it..just with shorter distances 😉

  15. This post put such a smile on my face. I’ve always felt kind of sad when awesome people like you say they don’t feel like they can call themselves a “runner” for whatever reason (not fast enough, never ran a marathon, etc.) My mom always taught my brother and I that simply being out there and doing your best makes you a runner. Self discipline and improvement, and perhaps most of all just enjoyment, were instilled in me as the most important parts of running. It’s a bit ironic that right now I’m struggling with this, but I am getting ready to take a step back and reevaluate some things, because speed and miles are not what define me as a runner. In the same way that your pace, miles, and stomach issues don’t define you as a runner! You run to feel alive and because you love it. You race to be a part of a community. You are a runner 🙂

  16. I love this dress! I said to someone once ” i try to be a runner.” she said “then you are a runner”…that really stuck with me!!!

    Running with faster people is an awesome way to improve your time, go for it!

  17. I understand completely! I still struggle to call myself a runner. I’ve only ran one 1/2 marathon ( I run my second next Saturday… woah!) and only a handful of 5K and 10K’s and one 15K. I’m also training for my first marathon. I’ve really only been running for almost a year and while others may consider me to be fast, I know that I am compared to other runners in my community.

    One day I’ll consider myself a runner. 😉

  18. I love this post! You are definitely a runner, Ali! You race, you train, you get out there when sometimes you don’t really want to, and most importantly, you love running. I’d say this more than qualifies you.

    And you are a huge rockstar for being done with your run when we were just starting ours!! I’m so happy we ran into you this morning – you must run with us sometime soon!! As Megan can attest, all of our runs together are easy, conversationally paced and fun 🙂

  19. Aw, you are totally a runner! You rock the early morning wakeups, bridle path miles, sweaty clothes, half-marathons and soon to be marathons. Hardcore! 🙂

  20. Good job finally accepting yourself as a runner.

    I did the exact same thing. When I trained for my first half marathon my brother in law was training for a marathon and knew so much more about training that I did so I thought I just liked to run…not a runner though. Especially because I’m not incredibly fast. Two years into running I finally decided that this running thing was gonna stick and accepted myself as a runner. By no means elite, but a runner none the less!

  21. This has been such a big debate lately. Bottom line, it’s about lifestyle for me, not speed. Running is definitely part of your lifestyle and you live running every day (even days you don’t actually run). That makes you a runner.

  22. I just want to say that I share your laundry habits. I wear and re-wear running clothes (and non-running clothes) a dozen times before I wash them, even as sweat-soaked as they are after a run in South Carolina humidity. Honestly, my biggest motivators for washing most things are either excessive wrinkles from being on the closet floor or under a pile of other clothes for too long, or having a musty smell if I’ve worn them to a bar that allows smoking. Infrequent laundry ftw.

    And yes, I do call myself a runner even though I am slow and only have one race (half marathon) to show for my efforts thus far. Two more halves and a full marathon on the docket for this year; I’m out there logging the miles each week, putting in the time and training…yep, I’m a runner.

  23. I can totally relate to this post on SO many levels! from all the sweatly workout clothes hanging on my door to dry (and will absolutely be worn 2-12 more times before washing), to being in absolute awe of speed demons like Meghan, to coming to terms with the fact that you are, infact, a runner. I think when you start to call yourself a runner, thats when running has become much more than just a hobby. It’s now a major part of your identity. Go Ali!

    PS- the only part I can’t relate to is waking up at 5am to run… sadly I’ve always preferred sleeping, so I really admire your dedication!!

  24. Hi Ali! I’ve always considered you a runner since I came across your blog. In fact, you actually inspire me. I’ve been contemplating getting a running coach and I enjoy everything you share with your readers.

  25. I do call myself a runner.. but never used to. I used to HATE running… when I would be at practice and it would be time to run.. I probably said every single swear word in the book under my breath.
    Now, that I do if for fun.. it is amazing. I run. I love it. I do it almost daily. I am a runner.

  26. Of course you’re a runner! Glad you finally realized that! 🙂
    I’m finally considering myself a runner, too, after finishing my first race and getting a shiny medal. Ha! I’m still very slow, but I’m out there, running, 2-3 times a week. I’d say that counts.

  27. Yes, you ARE a runner. Through and through. I think we all have a hard time “labeling” ourselves since it’s so easy to start comparing how you run with how your best bloggy friends run and then you wonder, “Am I really a runner??” But instead of comparing, we should be proud of a shared love of something as intense as running and wear that “runner” name proudly. I totally do, no matter how fast or slow I am. I’m a runner. Always.

  28. Ali! I love this!! Of course you are a runner – I’ve been thinking of you as one since I first saw your blog! But I understand that it can take awhile before you actually see yourself as one. I’ve run for the better part of my life and yet it still took awhile for me to consider myself a “real” runner – because I didn’t run as fast or as much as the runners I looked up to. I had to realize that the beauty of running is that it’s so individual. We all might have different speeds and goals, but the common bond we share from just loving running is what makes us all runners. 🙂

    This quote by John Bigham is one of my favorites: “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for 20 years. There’s no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”

    And that’s my cheesiness for the day haha

  29. Cute post!!! I always considered myself a sprinter… I’m trying now to consider myself a runner now that I’ve run 3 marathons but I still see myself as that High School Sprinter! hehe

    Great job on your run and I’m glad you are feeling better. Oh and wicked cute dress. And I’m wearing white today too! Wicked rule breakers!

  30. I have big shoes to fill in my family – my dad is PT specializing in running injuries/running store owner/26-time marathon/4-time Ironman/certified running coach….just all around, awesome. It took me a long time to consider myself a runner in my own right…but I’m finally starting to believe it.

  31. I think the dark belt offsets the white dress so you’re all good.

    Congratulations, runner. How incredibly awesome. What a great feeling to be invited to join some of the runners you look up to. I hope you get to join them soon!

  32. I know people who run marathons but won’t call themselves a runner. I have no problem calling myself one. Also, I don’t think you realize how fast you are. Of course they’d want you to run with them, you run 8 minute miles like it’s nothing.

    You took a sick day and then worked out twice?! Ali! Rest!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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