By Diane Rudholm
When I was a child, I loved running. Running through fields. Running up and down hills. Running until I tumbled into a ball of giggles. But sometime during middle school a kid in my class told me I looked dumb when I ran. He was relentless about it, and I was devastated.
After this kid’s bullying, I did everything I could to not be seen running at school. I walked the mile in gym class and told my teacher I had asthma—which was not true. Occasionally, when I played sports, my competitiveness would override the fear, and I could run and truly enjoy myself. But if I took my mind off the game, self-doubt would creep in to remind me that I was clumsy, that I was not athletic and never would be.
This doubt stuck around for more than a decade. I still loved running. I still did it. I followed routes around my neighborhood at times when I knew most people were at work—but I stuck to elliptical machines at the gym.
Going out on runs with other people was stressful. To me, real runners were intimidating creatures, agile and nimble in a way I would never be. They were gazelles, and I was a Great Dane with paws too big for its limbs.
When I registered for my first half marathon, I did so with a knot in my stomach. What if an elegant gazelle were to point out that I was an imposter among the herd?
I steeled myself against the possibility and immersed myself in training. Running books and blogs became a huge part of my life. I learned how to eat carbs without feeling guilty. And—perhaps to no one’s surprise—I obsessed over running form.
Who knows how many hours I spent watching YouTube videos about running form or how many of my early training runs were spent agonizing over footstrike and cadence and stride. What were my arms doing? Was I using the right muscles? Was I remembering to relax? Some days it was awful.
By race day, the mental chatter had cleared. I was so excited and nervous that I didn’t have time to think about running form or much of anything else. The start-line crowd moved forward like one big animal, and there were plenty of people like me who were running their first official race.
There were veteran runners in the pack, too—cool and confident—wearing race shirts from years’ past. But they weren’t there to tell anyone else that they looked dumb running. They were there, simply, to run.
The end of the race is on video. I have watched myself and others cross the finish line dozens of times. And it makes me smile every time. After 13.1 miles of putting every stitch of my effort into the race, my cheeks were flushed, my feet and hands were heavy and my form was absolutely graceless.
That’s how everyone looked, and there was nothing dumb about it.
Diane Rudholm is the managing editor and social media coordinator of OutdoorsNW. She loves to read running stories almost as much as she loves to run.