Once I was a runner. For two non-consecutive summers I went out on 3 weekly runs- short runs, long runs, beach runs. Most of the time I had to force myself (or more often someone else had to force me) to go out and most of the time I didn’t even like the actual running. But once I was a runner.
I’ve never been particularly athletic. I am uncoordinated, awkward, and certainly don’t have the natural build of an athlete. And while I dislike the fact that I make an ass of myself in any organized event (memories of missing the ball entirely in junior high games of soccer spring to mind), mostly I just don’t enjoy the feeling that sports gives me. So why then did I run? I realized recently that I liked the feeling of being part of the “runners’ club”.
The runners’ club is unlike any other thing I’ve been a part of. The membership is simple: You have to run. You don’t have to be a particularly good runner, you just have to run. Obviously there is a difference between marathon runners and 5k runners, but there is a sense of camaraderie with runners that encompasses compassion, understanding and encouragement unlike any other sport I’ve been a part of. It is as if you have an instant bond with complete strangers. Runners wave to other runners as they pass on the street and they give words of encouragement when they pass you in a race.
One’s status as a runner often provides conversation at a party (because there is inevitably at least one other runner anywhere you go) in circumstances where you may have nothing else to talk about. Last summer I went to the beach with 2 friends and several other people whom I had met but didn’t really know. When I had to turn down an invitation to a dinner party because “I do my long runs on Wednesdays”, it was if the magnetic force of the “runners club” was turned on and I had instant friends:
“You do your long runs on Wednesday? I never have the energy after work”, “You should try eating x or drinking x”.
I was training for a 10k, they were training for a 10k, half marathon, or a marathon. It didn’t actually matter that they had been runners for years, or that they were faster or better at it than I was. It was the first time that I had felt that I could enter a club without having to fulfill all sorts of criteria and it was the first time in my life that I felt like I could be an athlete.
Shortly before completing my first (and likely only) 10k run last year I injured my knee. Even though I know that so many people injure their knees running, I was furious that it had happened to me. I had worked so hard to get to this goal. And it was an enormous goal for me – I was the kid who played organized soccer for 7 seasons and only got worse. I managed to complete my run, but then stopped running completely for nearly 8 months.
This past spring, I started to run again. My knee no longer hurt, it was warm enough at times in March to start running outside without special gear, and I felt motivated (and maybe even excited). This year I was going to run a half marathon! But a month and a half into training, the pain came back. At first it was only occasional, but it quickly turned into constant pain bad enough to make me limp. My time as a runner was over.
There are all sorts of feelings that surface when you lose control and your body stars making the decisions. I’m angry because it was the one sport that didn’t require me to have special skills – to catch a ball or score a goal. I could just go out and do it. But I’m also sad because just as it was easy to join the runners’ club, it was easy to get kicked out.