by Karen Daiss
“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” - Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer, Runner’s World Magazine.
It seems that Mr. Yasso has tapped into the collective psyche of most novice runners – “I’m not a real runner.” That phrase kept replaying in my head after I accepted Fleet Feet’s offer to share my thoughts on running and my journey towards fitness; and I had a hard time putting those thoughts on paper because, well, “I’m not really a runner.”
Perhaps it’s an issue of self-identity. I don’t identify myself as a runner but I do, in fact, run. I’ve completed six half-marathons in two-and-a-half years; run over the beast that is the Talmadge Bridge just for fun, travelled outside of the city to participate in races, and even gone for runs while vacationing recently in San Francisco.
I run; therefore, I am a runner.
My running journey started in the summer of 2010 when I completed my first 5k. After living the couch potato lifestyle for an embarrassing number of years, I finally pried my seat from the sofa cushions and started paying attention to my health, nutrition, and exercise habits (or lack thereof).
I decided to give running a try. Miraculously I found an old pair of running shoes hidden behind the rows of stilettos in my closet. I called up my Aunt Kiz – an avid runner (and the only runner I knew at the time) – on a Tuesday and asked her if she would run a 5k with me that Saturday. Kiz was delighted that someone in our family had taken up physical exercise and that she might have a new running buddy. Little did she know that I had been running only since Monday of that same week.
I finished my first 5k just five days after I ran my first mile. And so my running adventures began. Aunt Kiz coaxed me into signing up for the Tybee Half Marathon in February of 2011. She outlined a training program for my first half-marathon. I didn’t stick to it. I suffered injuries and bouts of laziness. My longest run leading up to the Tybee Half was only five miles, yet when February rolled around, anxious and riddled with self-doubt, I decided to go for it. At the age of 28, I ran my first half marathon and I finished with a newfound sense of pride and a tendonitis flare-up in my knee (note to self: training is, in fact, a good idea). Despite the knee pain, the sense of accomplishment I felt when I completed 13.1 miles for the first time was enough to make me hooked on the sport.
Admittedly, I run for fun and not to break records or win awards. Running is an accessible sport for me. I’m not a machine; I don’t have a training routine. I run when it fits into my schedule. There are days when I really have to push myself to get out the door and hit the pavement. And there are days when I need to go for a run to keep my sanity. I run three to four times a week at various distances, usually between three and five miles with longer runs on the weekends.
I run to stay active (and to justify my chocolate addiction), but I also like to try new things. I’ve had great experiences with TRX classes at Custom Fit using my own “suspended” body weight to tone and firm muscle groups. I enjoy taking Jivamukti yoga classes at Savannah Yoga Center, and have recently discovered a new challenge in the form of indoor rock climbing at the Savannah Climbing Co-op.
My latest fitness addiction is Pure Barre, a low-impact workout that uses isometric holds and small, concentrated movements to target specific muscle groups. Attending Pure Barre classes four to five times a week has supplemented my running habit and I’ve noticed a difference in my performance. I have less knee pain; I have more lean muscle and am more aware of my body and positioning (thanks to emphasis on perfect posture in class); I am more flexible; and I’m able to regulate my breathing more effectively. (And Pure Barre helped me discover abs that had been hiding all these years!)
Even with my love of trying new fitness classes, running is my constant. I may stray from the pavement from time to time, but I always come back. The road is there for me when I need to clear my head, burn off some steam, or simply stretch my legs. Running has brought me closer to my friends - our weekly runs often serve as therapy sessions for the mind and the body. And I have found a confidant in my Aunt Kiz who has been there, literally, every step of the way during my running journey. She has travelled the 550 miles round-trip from Athens, Georgia, to participate in almost every single race I’ve completed over the past three years and we have shared so many great memories together. (An indecent exposure incident during the JCB Mud Run might just top the list.)
I’ve met so many amazing people over the course of my running journey – there is an unspoken camaraderie in the running community and I feel that runners may truly be the most giving people I’ve ever met. Three years ago I started planning the Miles for Meals 5k Run/Walk – an event that raises funds for the Meals on Wheels program of Senior Citizens, Inc. (and the organization where I am currently employed). Participating in a race from a planning standpoint opened my eyes to an entirely new aspect of the running community.
Planning a race for charity has allowed me to interact with people just like me – those who run for the love of the sport and to give back to the community in which they live and those who volunteer their time to support important causes and cheer on their neighbors. I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know the folks at Fleet Feet – who give of their time and resources to help organize local races. Robert and his staff exemplify the meaning selflessness. The impact they have on the City of Savannah and its residents, charitable organizations, runners, and walkers is unmatched. The staff truly understands the importance of “giving back” to help organizations such as Senior Citizens, Inc. and the Meals on Wheels program.
As Yasso stated, “We are all runners.” Being a runner means being part of a group of encouraging people, whether they are fellow runners, volunteers or spectators at a race. I am privileged to finally call myself a runner.