Myths and Realities of Running

What is a runner?

sasha cox marathon number blog.jpg

Last week's post brought up some interesting discussion questions for me and the runners I know. I am particularly struck by the varying opinions on what makes someone a "real" runner. So what does?

First, some myths and realities:

Myth: A "real" athlete does not quit.

At the end of a season, a pro-sports team that sees the writing on the wall (ie., knows there is no playoff spot for them) chooses to put their lesser players on the field – not the best ones. Why? Because why risk injury to the best players for a pointless result?

When you have a single time goal in mind, just "finishing" means nothing. In my case, I could have gutted it out, sweated, been miserable and probably vomited at least once or twice, maybe even ended up in the ICU like the three people who ran the NJ marathon on the same day last week. My time would have probably been better than most. I could have pushed and probably run a 3:55 or 3:59 even with my pee break. But why should I risk injury when I could just call it a training run and pick another marathon next week?

And by the way, that is the (tentative) plan.

All of the training books I have read (and I have read many) indicate that when a person has a goal in mind they should register for two marathons instead of one. That way, if conditions are not good, they should make an attempt, run to 21 (which is what I did) and call it a training run for another marathon they have always registered for.

Myth: Heat does not affect "real" athletes.

In this article from Let's Run (brought to my attention by "Grimace's Mom" in my last post – nice name by the way), it says: "72 degrees at the start and 88% humidity is not good marathoning conditions. In most marathons, it would be considered to be nearly brutal conditions." And that was at the start of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Would we rather those real athletes run, push themselves for the times they want, still lose and then end up in the ICU?

Last week, in my marathon, it around 75 at the start with some light cloud cover. By the time I stopped running (at Mile 21, around the 3:15 hour mark – on track to run about a 3:55) it was 88 degrees, beside the ocean with high humidity. Brutal, indeed.

Next week, there is a marathon in the Poconos. Had I finished last week, pushed myself to the point of illness, continued running with poor form due to the heat and risked injury I still would have not met my goal and I would not have been capable of running another one two weeks later.

Myth: I have been "passive aggressive" about slower marathoners

I am not a passive aggressive person. If I mean something I say it, nothing passive about it.

So here it is: I am not interested in completing a five-hour marathon.

If that is your goal, I respect that. But it is not mine. If I finished in less than 4:10, I would beat myself up for days.

A lot of people cannot take a competitive woman. I have learned that lesson in many different ways, in real-life and online, been called "intimidating" and "aggressive" and blah, blah. I don't care. I am more interested in being honest than in being nice.

I would never be ok with running a slow marathon. I would find that a pointless taxing of my body and it is not worth it to me. Others are free to run however they wish, but for me, if I can't run it sub-4 when I am under 35-years-old, then I probably should not be running it at all.

Myth: I have a fit when I do not get what I want

I do. I want what I want and I will keep trying until I get it. Period.

Myth: One cannot qualify for the Boston Marathon on their first or second attempt

This is just incorrect. I know many runners who qualified their first attempt with time to spare.

As for me, I am a cusp runner. Very close, but I knew it would be hard, which is why variables – hills, heat, etc. – affect me much more than someone who is going out to run a 3-hour marathon. Even with a 20-minute time fail, they still are getting a BQ.

But the fact is, I ran my first marathon in 3:48. Had it been flat, I am 100 percent certain I would have qualified. Most cusp runners like me pick a nice, flat marathon. I did not. And I paid a price for that. But it certainly is possible. I know dozens of marathoners who qualified their first time out of the gate. Bottom line:

I said I was "humbled," but that is not really true. I know I am faster than I was last Sunday, which is why I am strongly considering running another one in the Poconos this Sunday. I have a lot on my plate work-wise and it is probably not the most responsible decision, but hey, I am the kind of woman who bags cleaning for a good party and healthy dinners for a package of Sprees. Responsible behavior is not my thing anyway.

I do not expect everyone to like me. I don't need everyone to like me. I can't please everyone and I am going to say things that offend sometimes, but my job as a writer is to tell my truth. I do not speak for everyone or about everyone. I speak for me.

That said, I am very grateful for the people who came to my defense in the last post. It is nice to know that there are people who get me. It is sad that we live in a society where women are not supposed to be confident, where competitive streaks are considered "arrogant," but I don't buy that.

We all have different definitions of what an "athlete" is and I realize some may think an athlete is one who does not ever admit defeat. I happen to think an athlete is someone who always tries their hardest but also recognizes when they should respect the elements and surrender a bit. The fact is, both kinds of people are athletes.

And I know I am an athlete. Obviously, I am also an amateur one. I have been running almost a decade, faster than many, but I have never claimed to be anything but an amateur and I also know I am not the best runner on the course (except once!). I know there are many, many faster (and many, many slower) people. I am ok with that, too. The only person I am competing with is myself.

I run for myself. I run the way I want to. As a mom, I spend the majority of my life taking care of others. Running is something that is all mine and I am not going to conform to anyone's standards in order to be seen as a "nice girl."

I am tough and I am strong. And unkind words? They do nothing but push me harder.

Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.