For too many years, I didn’t consider myself a runner. I saw people who ran and since I didn’t look like them or run like them, I wasn’t really a runner. When I joined the track team as a senior, my cross-country friend Sarah was finishing an 800-meter warm-up (two laps around the track) only seconds after I finished my 400-meter sprint. I wasn’t fast, so I wasn’t a real runner. One of my roommates in college, Meghann, would leave for a run and reappear drenched in sweat over an hour later. I didn’t run long, so I wasn’t a real runner. Working in Washington, D.C., I ran to manage stress and achieve some sort of work/life balance, but I had never even run a 5K. I didn’t run races, so I wasn’t a real runner. Who I was didn’t measure up to my definition of a real runner.

Ironically, in the seasons of my life when my sense of self has been most challenged, I’ve come to realize I AM a runner. I am my own runner, just as I have my own name, and my own identity. Calling myself a runner doesn’t mean I need to run like Sarah or Meghann or any other runner I know. Identifying myself as a runner merely owns that I am someone who finds strength in lacing up her shoes, putting one foot in front of the other, and allowing the cadence of my feet to match my heartbeat. I feel alive when I run.

Nearly 20 years after first lacing up my shoes, I’ve run through many seasons of life. Running as an Air Force wife and mother looks different than it did when I was a single professional working in D.C.: Run on your lunch break vs. run before dawn. With the changes come new rewards: finish a 5K pushing your very own cheering section. And even when change dictates a season of rest, I’ve started over, working my way back to running just one mile at a time, remembering that it’s not about running fast, or running long. It’s about proving to myself that I am alive, I am exactly who God created me to be.