Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will the Real Runner Please Stand Up?

I think it was January 2008 when I listened to a voicemail that started, “Hello, I am looking for Eric Cameron, the marathoner….”  The voicemail was from a fellow Mr. Cameron who was also registered for Boston in April of 2009 and has a penchant for tracking down members of the Cameron clan.  If I received that call today, I would be tempted to say, “The marathoner isn’t in right now, I am expecting him back…eventually.”
I have heard/read people refer to being a real runner.  It usually comes in conjunction with a goal or achievement.  Be it running a certain number of miles or days of the week, achieving a certain level of speed, or completing a race or challenge, people feel that they are not a real runner until they have reached a certain level of psychosis dedication to the sport.
I used to be a real runner. I was a marathoner.  I labored over training plans and could be found pouring over my training log.  I awoke early to run while my neighbors slept.  I set goals and chased them feverishly.  I caught a lot of them.  I blathered on endlessly about races, training, recovery, and the friends that I made along the journey.  However, the real runner is MIA at the moment.  A flaccid temp has taken his place, wide eyed and panicky about how he can fill the shoes of his predecessor.   He has the real runner’s notes on how to get the job done, but is a bit overwhelmed.
So the question is this, if one has to reach a milestone to be considered a real runner, at what point does one cease to be a real runner?  Is it a certain number of pounds gained, dropping below a certain number of miles each week, or failure to maintain the training log because the truth is too painful?  Did I lose my real runner card when I abandoned goals to kick ass in my next race?
Ah…the next race. My real runner doppelganger is registered for the Pikes Peak Ascent in August and the Houston Marathon in January.  He had goals and aspirations for glory in those events.  He had a plan.  I have a belly and a growing feeling of doom.
Of course, being a runner is what has gotten me into this mess.  I trained like crazy for three years and was limping around Boston on the evening of Patriot’s Day 2011 after completing my 8th marathon.  The stabbing pain in my heel was the call for the real runner to go away for a while.  As I wrestle (I wish I could put this in past tense) with Plantar Fasciitis, an over-use injury from all that glorious running, I also wrestle with my identity.  If I am not a marathoner, who am I?
The answer: I am a runner.  Yesterday, the first day of summer, I took the dogs out for a run.  We all needed it.  The grass was high from the recent rain and the trails were soft without being muddy.  The sun was warm on my skin as we plodded along.  My mind was full of goals; where those goals would have been focused on race paces and strategies a few short months ago, they were now about how to finally whip this ailment and get back to my former state.  At what seemed like every turn on the familiar course, I thought about the hard workouts I had put in on those same trails over the past years.  While I am currently unable to hold the pace that I labored at while preparing for recent marathons, there was a spark.  I wanted to get back there.
And I think that is the answer to my question.  I am no longer a real runner when I don’t want to do it anymore.  Yesterday’s run was slow, and my heel was a little achy, but it made me want to get after it, which makes me believe that the marathoner will return from his hiatus.  As I turned off the trail to hit the neighborhood streets, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was Eric Cameron, the marathoner, gliding through the tall summer grass in the angled sunshine of late afternoon, chasing his glorious goals.
I will catch him and pass him soon enough.  Really.


  1. What a beautiful post. I'm excited for your new beginning, because that's what this is. Eric Cameron Runner 2.0. Word on the street is that it's the best version yet. :)

  2. So glad to hear your mojo is coming back. I think we all just need a break once in a while, especially after big races. The Real Runner will be back sooner than you think.