Turtle vs. Sludge

I belong to quite a few running groups on Facebook and I follow a few of my favorite bloggers and their running escapades.  I’m always interested when someone calls themselves a “turtle” and then goes on to explain that their personal best has “only” been 2 hours and 33 minutes.  I wonder if that’s a turtle, exactly what am I?  My personal best came 2 years ago and I crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 36 minutes.  My personal worst was 4 hours and 49 minutes at a race in Wyoming that tried to kill me.  I average between 3:46 and 4:00 so if 2:33 is a turtle, what am I?  Frozen sludge trying to go uphill?

I’ll tell you what I am.  I am a runner.  Not in the traditional sense, nothankyouverymuch, but in a continually redefining sense.  I toe that start line in the hopes of 1) meeting the cut off time and 2) finishing strong with my head held high and my body exhausted.  Most of the time I accomplish both goals.  Sometimes I don’t.  But it doesn’t keep me from signing up for the next race nor does my sludge time prevent me from thinking of my achievement as any less than anyone else’s out there.  Yes, we all travel the same distance but no, the distance is not the same.  My battles on the course are different than anyone else’s – they are unique to me, they are owned by me – and I will not demean someone else’s course by trying to compare it to mine.  There’s a start and there’s a finish but what happens in between those two points has as many stories as there are runners.

As I get ready to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma to participate in the Route 66 Half Marathon, I find myself wondering if I could be a “real” runner and finish the course in a decent time.  I am saddened that there’s a part of me that doesn’t consider herself a “real” runner and I wonder where that comes from.  Does it come from my other runner friends who are showered, fed and rested before I even get to the 5k left mark?  I don’t think so – all of my “fast” friends are incredibly supportive of me and celebrate my finish as if it were their own (you know who you are *cough* Amanda, Jackie, Deb, and Deb, Jim, Michelle,…).  Does it come from the groups I belong to that have this conversation with each other?  I don’t think that is the case either, because I’ve never really been one to listen to “group think” and “group judge” and I love an underdog.  I think it comes from my own insecurity and doubt.  And that insecurity and doubt works together with the mean Bethany during my race.  The mean Bethany that tells me I’m not good enough, don’t look the part and have no right to be out there.  Mean Bethany sucks.  And when Mean Bethany gets together with Mean People Who I don’t Know Who Tell Me My Effort Isn’t Good Enough, defeat is only a step away.  I’ve got to silence Mean Bethany because, well, she don’t know jack.

So I’ll go to the Expo in Tulsa on Saturday.  I’ll be a part of the Blogger Forum I was so graciously invited to.  I’ll sit amongst the runners who are faster than me (really, you’d have to be almost dead to not be faster than me) and Mean Bethany will tell me that I don’t belong.  But Strong Bethany, Determined Bethany, and Humble *cough* Bethany will drown her out.  Because I do belong there and I do have insight to share, encouragement to spread and celebration to take part in.  And then I’ll go back to the hotel and lay out my race gear, post a photo, and lay down.  I won’t sleep, because I seldom do before a race, but I will dream of pushing myself just a little more than usual and come across that finish line in 1) the allotted time and 2) with my head held high.

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