What's the most extra thing you've ever done for a good Insta? Arrange your food in an illogical, aesthetically-pleasing fashion? Stare blankly into the void with a foot popped to make your outfit look more fashionable? Invest in a ring light so your highlighter pops just so? For me, it's run three half-marathons just to get photographic evidence that I'm capable of it.
My relationship with fitness is a weird one. As a ballet dancer, my achievements were measured by the performances I danced in, and were often applauded — quite literally — by an audience. But when I stopped dancing after college, I wanted to find a sport or activity that would provide some of the same sense of accomplishment, but could be cheaper than blowing £20 on a dance class. So, running races made sense.
Both of my parents are casually very good at running: My mum wrote a book about women and running, and this year my dad won a 5K in our town (in the 60+ age group — whatever, still cool). When I asked them the best way to start running, their advice was just to sign up for a race and do it. First, I ran a 10K, no problem. Then, I decided to up the ante, so I signed up for a half-marathon.
The thing about running that nobody tells you is that training for a race as long as a half-marathon can be quite boring. I logged the miles because I was "supposed to," and looked forward to race day because it meant I wouldn't have to run anymore. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy running, because it helps me clear my head and gives me a little high. But my approach to running is kind of like that famous quote, "I hate writing, I love having written." In other words, I hate actually slogging through a run, but I love how it feels to finish a run.
By the time my first half-marathon rolled around, I was physically prepared enough to get to the finish line, but spent most of the time on the course mentally drafting a caption for my Insta. And it was a pretty good Insta:
Looking back on my first half marathon, I don't really remember anything about the actual race, which might be a good thing. What I do remember is feeling like a badass for having the Insta to prove that I had run a race. I got a bunch of likes and comments from people who knew me as a dancer, and other people who I know to be serious runners. A race Insta is like having a trophy or medal, but more people tell you you're great.
There's an interesting dichotomy at play when we talk about fitness Instagrams. Some say that workout selfies are shallow and obnoxious, and others argue that they're a way of celebrating a personal victory, and inspiring others to do so. I agree that it can be annoying to see posts about people's #gains in your feed, but there's also something powerful about sharing your victories with the people who follow you on the Internet.
So, after the success of my first half marathon, I did another...
... and another...
At one point, I can remember embarrassingly asking myself: Am I just doing this for the Instagrams? And I think the answer is yes, but that's okay. A lot of newbie runners struggle to identify with running because, while it's a sport that anyone can do, it's also one that some people are really serious about. So, it can be hard to feel like you belong as a runner.
In my experience, part of "being a runner" is bragging a little bit about your accomplishments. I asked one of my friends who's an Actual Runner if she thinks this, and she said, "Runners are such hams!" She also agreed that allowing yourself to commemorate something that felt incredible is an important part of the process.
Nowadays, I'm not training for any races, but I do run a few mornings a week just for myself. I don't think I'd feel as confident in my running ability if I hadn't run those few races and received the digital pats on the back that came with them. When you're new to a sport, sometimes you need someone to say, You're doing it! or You did it! For me, sharing that I ran a race was one tangible way to document that small success for myself, and possibly encourage other people to run a race, too. And if you think that's too extra, don't @ me.