"I'm not a real runner"

I have been running regularly for about nine years now, and for the majority of this time I have felt like I was not a real runner, as I was only doing it to keep fit. I began running in the mornings when I was seventeen in order to reap the fitness benefits, and because I enjoyed doughnuts as much as your average student. It didn’t take too long for this to become a habit, and before long I did not feel normal or happy if I hadn’t been for a run in the last two days.

Throughout this time I knew that running was something I did, but never felt like it was part of who I was. “I run.” I would often think,“but I’m not a real runner”. I spent many years in this state of mind until I completed a 10k two years ago and did surprisingly well. I thought a top ten position was alright for someone who wasn’t really a runner, and just pretending for that day. Soon afterwards, I began getting greater satisfaction out of competing in races, and my mileage gradually increased from four miles at a time, to six, to over nine.

I competed in my first half marathon in September last year. Encouraged by how close I was to 90 minutes, I resolved to beat this time soon. I achieved this just a few months ago, and it was at around that point when I reconsidered my attitude, and thought that it might be appropriate for me to start considering myself to be a ‘real runner’. Somewhat more importantly than this though, one takeaway from this experience is that maybe I should always have considered running as something that plays a part in who I am.

Running has been something that brought me joy for years, and while my ability has fluctuated over this time, it has always been an important part of my life. I think the reason I never considered myself a runner was that I had a preconceived standard of what a ‘real’ runner would behave like. This involved competing, achieving decent times, and aligning other choices in their life to improve their running performance. However this standard is arbitrary, and ultimately dreamed up by me. I see no reason why my eighteen year old self should not have considered running as a stronger part of her identity.

I started considering this topic recently, because of my relationship with programming. I am spending every day of my life programming at the moment. It brings me a great deal of happiness, and I have improved at it significantly in the last few weeks. It was incredibly daunting to start programming full time earlier this year, because I was very conscious of the fact that my existing skills in that area were very limited. I definitely did not consider myself a programmer.

After seven weeks of intensive programming on a daily basis, I think it might be a good point now to reconsider my relationship with the term ‘programmer’, and how it aligns with my identity. I am still painfully aware of the vast amount of information and skills I have yet to learn, however I think that to some extent I always will be. It would be very easy to spend years thinking that I was not a real programmer, and that I was pretending, just because I never stopped identifying with the feeling of intimidation that comes with making a career change.

A better approach would be to start consciously reevaluating my relationship with programming now. I may still have a lot to learn, but working as part of a group to deliver project goals, troubleshooting and problem solving, and coming to my own conclusions through research have already boosted my confidence a great deal. I can definitely picture arbitrary standards of programming expertise that I may live up to in the years to come, but for now, it might be ok for me to at least start being comfortable with the idea that I am a programmer. I think it would be bizarre for me to see something that plays such an important part in my life any other way, no matter how newfound this relationship is.

Our identities are comprised in large part of the things that are important to us, and the things that bring us joy. Sometimes benchmarks and standards are important for maintaining a level of quality assurance in the titles we award ourselves, but often, if you have a passion, all you need is to consider your own ability and enthusiasm as enough to identify with the activity in question. Realising this at an early stage is a great way to build a healthy relationship with your chosen skill. It may take a while before I am entirely comfortable with the term ‘programmer’, but starting now will ensure it does not take me another eight years!