When I think of runners, I don’t think of myself. I think of the elite athletes I see at races sporting just their sports bras and spandex shorts, muscles galore. These women run a marathon in the time it takes me to run a half marathon. They have sponsors and trainers. They have people cheering for them! I don’t have that. I’ve been running for five years, but I’m 5’2″ and weigh 155 lbs. I wear a size 10. “Elite Athlete” is not in my genes.

It all started in 2005 when a friend asked me to join a 5K with her. The feeling I had at that first race – the energy of the other runners, the rush of crossing the finish line, and the knowledge that I hadn’t walked any of those 3.1 miles – was enough to hook me on running for the past five years.

In the beginning I was only running about 15 miles a week, while signing up for at least one 5K or 10K every month. But when people asked me if I was a runner, I’d say, “No. I’m more of a jogger, really. I’m not a very fast runner.”

Recently though, I’ve been wondering: What exactly makes one a runner?

I mean, aside from the awesome body, I’ve got pretty much all it takes to be a runner. I’m a devout user of body glide, which I learned to use after an awful case of sports bra chafing that led to cuts all the way around my rib cage and prevented me from wearing a real bra for more than a week while the scabs healed. I’ve got the always flattering spandex capris, of which I own more pairs than jeans. I wear the ever-so-cool water fanny pack. I suck down those awful carbohydrate gels for long runs. I own more sports bras than any person should probably admit to owning. I subscribe to Runner’s World. I even read books about running.

And it’s not just the gear. Like the hypochondriac I am, I self-diagnose with any number of running disorders from shin splints to plantar fasciitis. I know what plantar fasciitis is. I regulate my pace depending on the number of miles I’m running. I talk about pace. I go to seminars about running. I worry about the amount of water I drink in a day for fear of getting leg cramps after a long run (and limit my alcohol intake, which, admittedly, was a bit out of control before I started running). I eagerly seek out the advice of other runners, with whom I could talk about pace and shoe fit for hours.

Then there’s the actual running, which has gotten into absurd numbers of miles since I started training for my first marathon in May (500 miles in 4 months!). I mean, really, who goes home early on a Friday night because they have to get up at 6 a.m. on Saturday to run 20 miles? Not normal people!

So why do I still, after more than five years of running, feel like I’m not a real runner? According to Claire Kowalchik, author of The Complete Book of Running for Women, this is a common problem among women, who are more likely to downplay their roles as runners, whether because of body image, speed, lack of experience, or fear of what other people think. But Kowalchik asserts that if you run then you are a runner. The key is to tell yourself that you’re a runner and see yourself as one. She goes on to say that one’s running will improve greatly with the belief that they are a runner – encouraging one to increase speed and performance to become an even better runner. In her book, she quotes Tim Gallwey, “I know of no single factor that more greatly affects our ability to perform than the image we have of ourselves.”

With that said, my name is Rebecca Adler and I am a runner.