August 23 2017
Jennifer Stahl shares how she gave herself permission to embrace running for speed instead of compliments.
This was me, four years ago at the finish line of the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon, celebrating with my friend Ian and my husband (then fiancé) Andrew. I put in the months of training. Woke up and slogged through 18-mile runs on my own. I covered 26.2 miles of Los Angeles on my two feet, crossed that finish line and got my medal. Yet, I’ve never called myself a marathoner.
Things I also never say? That I ran a marathon. Because in my mind, what I did in that race didn’t count as running. What is wrong with me?!
I shared many photos after the race and was so happy; until Andrew posted this one on Facebook that he took of me crossing the finish line of my marathon. All I could see was the 06:37:25 on the clock—my actual finish time wasn’t far off at 06:29:09—and cringe that other people were going to see it. That they would judge my finishing time. That they would know I am a slow runner.
I have always struggled to say I am a marathoner because in my head, it makes me some sort of an imposter. I mean, I only did one marathon and I had to walk during parts of it. I never have any plans to do another marathon and got so burnt out after Los Angeles that in the four years since, I have barely run. But did I really get burnt out? Or did my mind just get defeated?
The thing about pictures and titles is they don’t really show the whole story. Even if I seem slow because of my finishing time in that photo or if I do or don’t say that I am, in fact, a marathoner; it doesn’t take away everything that I went through to get there. You can’t see that I raised more than $1,500 for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and was able to share my own story to help inspire others to use running to ease symptoms of anxiety. You can’t see that at mile 12 of the marathon my hip flexor started hurting and that I fought and battled my way through the pain to that finish line. You can’t see that I got to run a mile of the race side-by-side with someone I have known since I was 14. You can’t see that my best friend brought me Advil at mile 19 and that even though I needed a few tear-filled phone calls to friends to help remind me that I can do anything, I never once quit.
You can’t see those things and yet, I don’t often tell them. People say, “You ran a marathon?” and instead of saying yes and sharing those stories above, I shrink and say, “If you can call it running.”
Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Instead I should be saying, “Yes. It took me six hours of determination and I did.” And when they say “Six hours?!” it will be because I had the strength—physically and mentally—to stick with it that long and fight for my goal.
No one was expecting me to qualify for Boston. Or to set a world record. Hell, I didn’t even have a time goal for myself. No one is even expecting me to do another marathon again. If I told someone that I did Los Angeles a few years ago and am a marathoner, no one would say that I shouldn’t call myself one.
All this time I have had this idea in my head that by saying I am a marathoner that I am somehow an imposter (imposter syndrome is very real, everyone). But that’s the thing: it’s all in MY head. Meaning it is up to me to change the story I tell others—and myself—about who I am.
We all have to start somewhere—so, hi. My name is Ashley and I am a marathoner. And though that feels crazy to finally say after all of these years—I earned it.