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The Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: A Runner's Guide

Am I a Real Runner?

Am I a Real Runner?

When did you realize you were a real runner? Such an odd question to ask of someone, but I have been asked it many times. I have actually gone to battle with myself over this question and had difficulty finding the answer when trying to justify it to others.

I guess in order to answer the question; you must first understand what a “real runner” is. defines the words like this:

a person who runs, especially in a specified way.
“Mary was a fast runner”

actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.
“Julius Caesar was a real person”

So, based on the definitions, I guess the day I became a “real runner” was the day I hit the ground running. Each time I ran, whether for sport, to get to something faster (or maybe get away from something more quickly), I was running in a specified way. Just by the act of doing it, it became real. More importantly though, is the moment when I “owned” the title for myself. The day I decided that I in fact was a runner. That moment did not come until years after taking my first “running” steps. As I write this, I know that deep down I still struggle with the definition and what it means on a much grander scale.

Let’s rewind to my youth. I loved sports, I loved being outside and I loved a good dose of healthy competition. I wanted to win. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted to give it a shot and I wanted to be the best at it. I had drive (some would say, I still do). I ran a few youth track meets and enjoyed the thrill of the chase and of course the recognition of a podium finish. As I entered high school, I ran with the cross country team, but to be honest, I only joined because the boy I liked was on the team. I was not a fast runner, but held my own for a few years until I lost interest in the sport. I still loved to run. I ran for fitness through early adulthood and would enter the occasional local 10K. It was my sanity at times, my reset button. It was my freedom.

It wasn’t until 2005 when a co-worker, friend and retired ultra-runner challenged me to run my first marathon. I took her up on the challenge and trained with her for 6 months. I ran my first marathon in January 2006 at the Orange County Marathon event. It was amazing. I must have liked it because the year I ran my first marathon, I ended up running three. The year 2006 is when I feel I started my official running journey. Instead of running for fitness only, I was running to complete a series of goals. I began coaching a youth marathon program and found new and interesting ways to insert my life into the running community.

With this new found passion for running and racing, I began to set more and more goals. Places I would like to run, PR’s I would like to set and distances I wanted to conquer. This was a transitional phase for me as I learned how remarkable my body was. I wanted to push harder, I wanted to run faster and eventually I wanted to run farther. A LOT FARTHER!

Here is where my “real runner” phase really begins to kick in. Maybe it was the pressure I placed on myself, or the comparisons I made when meeting other runners, but there was a need for validation in what I was doing. Each and every time I stood at a starting line, I always felt a bit inferior to the others, almost as if I didn’t belong there. This feeling didn’t start to take shape until my goals became more out of the ordinary like when I wanted to stack up back to back races, or run distances of 100 miles. While trying to qualify for Boston, I was reading The Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes. He speaks about Western States 100 and Badwater 135 in the book. Both of those races seemed far out of reach at that time, but as I progressed in my running and as my hunger for more difficult challenges could not be satisfied, these races became my goals that kept pushing me. They became my desire. I needed to go for it. With that, I started to sign up for races that would help me achieve my goal. Badwater was first on the list. I knew I needed at minimum three 100 mile races completed before I would be considered as an applicant. I also knew that I needed to crew/pace at the event to determine whether or not I should actually go through with this crazy idea that had started to consume my mind. I had already completed two 100 mile races, but they were on loop courses. I wanted to add some trail races to my resume so that it would look better when submitting for Badwater. I registered for the Angeles Crest 100, Leadville 100, Endurance Challenge 100 and Chimera 100. By finishing these, my resume would certainly have the minimum three 100 mile finishes I needed (and then some).

The Angeles Crest 100 Miler was first up and I needed to complete required trail work in order to be allowed to start the race. The day of my trail work, I was partnered up with many highly seasoned ultra runners to do trail maintenance. Many of these runners had run not only the AC100 course a number of times, but had completed dozens of other trail races that I had only heard about. I loved hearing their stories. I wanted to ask them so many questions about trail racing but didn’t want to seem stupid or too eager.

During the course of the trail work I learned so much valuable information from this experienced ultra vets. However, during that time, one of the guys made me feel very bad. While we were discussing upcoming races he mentioned that he would be at Leadville. I was going to be there too! It happened to be just two weeks after AC100. I spoke up, how exciting we would both be racing these two events so close together! He looked me straight in the face and asked how I thought I could pull that off without having any 100 mile trail race finishes under my belt. I felt foolish. The truth is, I really hadn’t thought about it. I just knew I wanted to do it and the only way to reach my goal is to take the start line.

I was too naive to know the difference until he pointed it out. It didn’t matter to me when I signed up for them. My goal was my goal, and I was on my way to achieving it. The only problem with his comment, is that I began to doubt myself. I believe that you should go into every race with a respect for the distance and the course. It is important to go into an event with the ability to SEE the finish line. Picture yourself there. Visualize the medal, buckle or whatever it is that they give to you upon completion. You need to be able to see your completion of the race. Own it. It needs to be YOURS! Until this moment, AC100 was going to be my first trail 100 finish.

Now, well… I wasn’t so sure. Maybe he was right? What made me think I could pull this off?

AC100 came and went. I missed the time cutoff at mile 52 and therefore did not finish AC. My first DNF! I could go into a long story about all that happened, but the truth is, I gave up mentally. I didn’t think so at the time, but after the tears had dried and the dirt was washed away, the harsh reality stared me in the face. I gave up on myself. I doubted myself. I didn’t feel like I belonged there and now in two more weeks I was going to do it again, but this time at 10,000+ feet in Leadville, Colorado.

What made me think I could pull this off?

I decided to pull up my big girl panties and get my head in check. I had trained well, my body was strong, and I had a clean slate with a new starting line. I wanted to finish Leadville really bad. I wanted to have my qualifiers for Badwater and I didn’t care what that guy at the AC trail work said to me anymore. What did he know?

So, two weeks later, I started Leadville and DNF’d at mile 60. This time I missed a cut off, but I gave it all I had. I never quit, I never gave up and I pushed until I was told I was no longer allowed to continue. I felt better about this DNF, but I wasn’t OK with it. Maybe that guy was right. Maybe I had no idea what I was doing, and maybe I had bit off more than I could chew. The cold hard fact is that I had 2 DNF’s 2 weeks apart and it stung.

But I didn’t quit, and I didn’t give up. EC100 and Chimera 100 were coming up and I needed those finishes. I trained hard, I trained smart, and I finished both.

I went on to run Badwater in 2014 and continued running long hard races. Each time I showed up, I never felt like I was a true Ultra Runner. Even after completing Badwater, I still wondered when I would become a “real runner”.

It wasn’t until November 2016 at the Mt. Gaoligong Ultra in China that I finally realized that I belonged on the course. At that time, I already had completed Badwater twice, the Grand Slam of 100 Milers, and many other difficult 100 mile races. I had won some and placed at others. I was close to dead last at a few as well. The difference from my failures at AC100 and Leadville compared to my success at the 100 milers I finished is that I simply believed in myself and my ability.

Starting the MGU 100 Miler race in China was magical. I was one of a few American women who made the trek 1/2 across the world for this inaugural event. It was an incredible honor to wear the US flag on my bib and to represent my country.

I stood there surrounded by some of the most talented athletes with running resumes and accomplishments that would blow your mind. I stood there and looked around and asked myself, “Why am I here? How did I get here?” Then I just started to soak it all in. I took some deep breaths and listened to the sounds of the drums that introduced us to the crowd around us as the heat of the fires burning in cauldrons at the start line warmed me. I began to tell myself in amazement that THIS WAS MY LIFE. I worked hard for this moment and I earned it.

As I ran, I went through many personal and emotional battles. I finally came to the conclusion, over the course of those 104 miles across the rugged hillside of Tengchong, that I belonged there. I finally, after many years, realized I was a “real runner.” I actually had been all along.

I was a real runner the day I laced up my shoes and decided I wanted to start a race. I belonged at every starting line even when others thought I had bit off more than I could chew. It is my journey, and I am proud of it. I am even more proud when I look back on it and how far I have come from those DNF’s at AC100 and Leadville early in my ultra running career. It is my story.

With every misstep, I found my way to greater success. With each mistake, I learned something new about myself. With every tear and outcry of heartache and disappointment, I was awarded with greater victories down the road I could have never imagined at the onset of this journey.

I encourage you to set your goals high and follow your own dreams even when they scare you. Feel the fear, but do it anyway. They aren’t you, and they sure don’t know you like you know yourself.

Do hard things and then find even harder things to do.

And always remember…that you are a “REAL RUNNER!”

Andrea Kooiman
RIF #404



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This post was written by:

- who has written 1072 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 204 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). He is the founder of Run It Fast, the most driven club on the planet. His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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