Monday night, April 22, running stores all over the country organized runs for Boston. It was a way for runners to come together for those whose lives were lost, who were wounded in the bombing, who were denied the finish line and whose city was defiled the previous week. I headed to my favorite running store to be part of it.
They were running a 5K - 3.1 miles - for Boston, and virtually every running store I know of was doing the same or similar. The run was supposed to start at 6:30, and I got to the store around 10 after. I walked in the door and felt like the walls were closing in. I am not prone to panic or anxiety attacks, and it wasn't anything quite that dramatic. I describe it this way:
I got stuck in my head.
It happens sometimes. Usually, I'm with friends and they are able to squeeze me out of it. But last night, I was going solo, and it was more than I could handle. I walked around the store and found myself surrounded by real runners. Muscular legs without any discernible jiggle. Marathon t-shirts. Faces that seemed to say "Three miles is nothing". It tore me up inside. I did not belong here. The horrible feeling - no, knowledge; it felt like knowledge - that if I stayed, all these people would discover that I am a fraud just washed over me. I could not overcome it.
As quickly as I walked in, I walked out.
I know that I'm a runner. As sure as I breathe, I am a runner. I'm just so much slower than everyone else that it plagues on my every insecurity. In tears, I drove toward home. I had pep-talked my way into going to the run, but I could not pep-talk my way into staying. I could not handle the public humiliation that was sure to come.
Runners are a special group of people. The support and encouragement you get from a running group is beyond anything I've experienced before. But when you're the one who is different - when they are all head and shoulders beyond your ability - it can feel isolating and shameful. No one I know can understand what this is like, because none of them fight for a 13-minute mile. No one I know fears the finish line quite the way I do, knowing the number isn't going to show you what you really want to see. They think they do, but they don't; it isn't the same.
I've been told over and over that it isn't about the time. And I know that it really isn't. But when you're with a big group of people, and you are a good three minutes per mile slower than most of them, it becomes about the time. I've said it before: I honestly don't know of a single other person in the world who is willing to work this hard at something and still suck at it. Most of the time, I don't care. I'm secure enough in my quirkiness that I consider my running suckitude to just be another facet to the awesomeness that is Maggie. But last night was not one of those times.
So back to last night. I cried on the drive home, and then ... I didn't drive home. Instead, I drove to the trail, laced up my shoes, and ran 3.1 miles. It wasn't what I set out to do, but it was what I needed to do. (And, for the record, my first mile took "only" 12:15.) It felt good to realize that as stuck-in-my-head as I was, I didn't need to stay there. I could acknowledge it, and then run right past it.