Breaking a five-borough boundary

I began running in Dublin but first thought of a marathon after I moved to New York, exploring the city on foot

Eimear Arthur running in New York: ‘Perhaps I became a runner when I moved to New York and forged a new routine for myself that involved running more days than not.’ Photograph: James Fitzgerald Kennedy

Eimear Arthur running in New York: ‘Perhaps I became a runner when I moved to New York and forged a new routine for myself that involved running more days than not.’ Photograph: James Fitzgerald Kennedy

Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 01:00

On November 3rd last year I was one of 50,266 runners to cross the finishing line of the New York City Marathon. If you asked most people to picture a marathoner, I would probably not spring to mind: a little overweight; a smoker; no real history of athleticism. Yet a marathoner was what I had become, the result of a fanciful “could we?” conversation with a close friend, months of training and incredible support from family and friends.

The enigma of deciding to train for a marathon is that it seems impossible until suddenly it isn’t impossible any more. That moment is hard to pinpoint or define, as is the moment you start to consider yourself a runner. I certainly did not consider myself a runner initially, when I would drag myself out of the house to slog along a three-mile route, counting the seconds until the end. My early running days were, as I suspect they are for many, fraught with self- consciousness, and I believe this reticence about identifying myself as a runner is symptomatic of that.

When I first started running, in autumn 2012 in Dublin, I used to slip out after dark in a hoodie, in the hopes of minimising exposure to onlookers. (These onlookers, I soon learned, couldn’t care less.) I remember the joy I felt the first time I braved running in daylight, watching the sun glistening on the water of Dublin Bay. As I got fitter I became addicted to the meditative aspect of going out for a run, music in hand, the cadence of my legs clearing a space in my head. Maybe I was a runner then?

Or perhaps I became a runner when I moved to New York and forged a new routine for myself, a new life that involved habitually running more days a week than not, exploring my new home for hours on foot.

Or was it the day, months later, that I spoke to my friend Maria, who was living in Australia at the time, and we decided to run the Five Boroughs together, just one marathon, even though the farthest either of us had run at that stage was about eight miles?

Maybe I was a runner the moment we crossed the finish line, hand-in-hand and overcome with joy, as incredibly noncompetitive and saccharine as that sounds.

The inevitable consequence of last year’s positive experience – and the two-day runner’s high that followed – was that I signed up for another marathon: this October, in Dublin. I have swapped my normal running routine for dedicated marathon training, this time with the clear goal of an improved finishing time. I am determined to learn from last year and have incorporated more speed work and cross-training into this year’s plan. I haven’t smoked for two months. I thought a recent calf injury and the resulting three-week running ban would drive me insane.

Am I a runner yet?

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