If you run, you are a runner.
That's a quote you see in the running world, but, boy, it took me awhile to believe that it was true for me, and a little longer to identify myself as such. But I do now. I am a runner.
Being an athlete is a state of mind which is not bound by age, performance or place in the running pack.
The next step was athlete. That one is still a little hard to grasp. But, yes: I am also fairly certain I am an athlete.
I didn't assign those identities initially, my coach did--and it shocked me to hear him say it. Did I earn those from the work I did? Or were they always inside of me? I think it must be both, but what I do know for sure is that I treasure these labels. I make sense to myself inside of these labels, in spite of my age and performance and place in the pack, just like the quote says.
Which leads me to the pack...
Not only did I not anticipate these new identities, or how badly I needed to know myself this way, I also did not anticipate all of the community that would come with them. And how I kind of need that, too. I tend to do things alone, and that includes running and working out. And I like that, for a lot of reasons. However, I've opened up and softened to the idea that I also need community in this experience, and the community that is available has to be just about the best humanity has to offer, and it comes in all different forms.
There is community with my daughter in running. From all of the start lines where we've stood side by side and all of the miles she ran (and walked) with me to get me firmly planted in this new world; from the encouraging, the cheering, and the pep talks, a new bond grew between us.
There is community with my pull -up partner, who met me weekly at the crack of dawn while we each worked towards the goal of our first pull-up.
There's my gym community--the very place I was determined not to step foot in at the start of all this, and, now, the place I can't wait to get to; where I'm greeted warmly, and known.
There is the online community of runners, and the people at every start line of every race. There are the people in the running stores, asking the questions only runners ask, and me actually having the answers, and experiences, to talk about. And there are the "pops" of community when you pass another runner on a path--the knowing nod we give (especially if it's early, or cold). There is community I find in the running books I read and in the podcasts I listen to. There is the reconnection, through running, with an old neighbor turned dear friend. When I had a nagging injury that kept me from running for a number of months, I had a generous offer of help from my coach's girlfriend--she didn't know me then, but offered to help--a symbol of the kindness found in this community.
One of the most profound connections in building community happened during the pandemic, after the death of George Floyd. A running organization on Instagram began pairing black women and white women from all across the country to run together virtually. You would work together to reach a shared goal and to learn about each other through running, in a challenge called eRACE Racism. I was partnered with Glea, and we chose the biggest goal option of running 200 miles. We crushed it with time to spare, getting to know one another and encouraging one another through texts. We continue to slowly build our friendship and plan to meet and run a race together as soon as races resume.
And last, but most certainly not least, is the life changing community I've built with my coach. The kind of transformation that I have experienced can only come when you are in community that is based on trust, goodwill, integrity, compassion, care, and respect. In both directions. Throw in complete honesty, the occasional tough conversation, and 100% wanting the best for someone, and you have the model of what the best of community can be.
Knowing who I am, and being surrounded by a community to support and cheer, and push and uphold me---How much more lucky can someone get?