I Never Felt Like a Runner, Until My College-Athlete Brother Helped Me Realize I Am

Kaley Rohlinger
·4-min read

My younger brother can run a mile in four minutes and 15 seconds. He's always been fast, and he's currently a Division I athlete in track and cross country. I stay active and genuinely enjoy running, but I could never define myself as a "runner," because I always compared myself to him.

I've run with my brother exactly twice in my life: The first time, we completed a lap together around our local park, after which he turned to me and asked, "Is it OK if I go fast now?" I was gasping for breath. The second time, more recently, I drove him to the high-school track for a workout. We ran two laps together at his warmup pace, which to me was pushing my regular speed, then I finished my own workout while he ran twice the distance I had in about half the time.

Whenever someone asked me if I was a runner, my response was always this: "Well, I like to run, but I'm not really a runner." Watching my brother regularly wake up at 6 a.m., log 10 miles a day, and do it all at a six-minute pace had defined that category for me as one that I'd never fit into. If asked about my own running habits, I immediately started talking about my brother.

I love how running makes me feel, the sense of accomplishment that pushing through an extra half mile can give me.

To be clear, I'm always eager to talk about him, and I'm immensely proud of him. But over the last year, I started to realize that putting him on a pedestal was diminishing my own ability.

I love running. I love how it makes me feel, the sense of accomplishment that pushing through an extra half mile can give me. It's the workout I always turn to when I'm feeling anxious or stressed. I usually run once or twice a week, about three or four miles, at anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes. But when I looked at my frequency, mileage, and pace compared to my brother's, I hardly felt like a runner.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic began and I lost access to my gym, I found myself running a lot more. When my brother's university went fully remote, he moved home for the rest of the semester and the summer, too. We've always been close, but suddenly we were spending a lot more time together. I'd chat with him when he got back from a run, and he'd do the same with me. Soon, I looked forward to telling him how far I'd gone or what route I'd taken, and he was always excited to hear about it. We'd chat about the weather that day and how it was perfect or not so perfect for running, and he'd give me advice on what to wear if he'd gone out first.

When we first started having these conversations, my response if asked how far I'd run was an out-of-breath chuckle and a "Well, not as far as you!" I'd recap my time with a similar message, but my brother always brushed off these comments.

"Hey, you still got out there," he'd say. "That's what matters."

I hadn't realized how much I needed to hear that from him to know it was right. He was always happy to talk about running with me, and when I tried to make comparisons between the two of us, he shot them down. When we were chatting after one of my earlier runs during the pandemic, I was embarrassed to admit that I'd walked a little bit on a section of our neighborhood that's uphill on the way home.

"I know the exact spot you're talking about," he said, which surprised me. "Going uphill on the way back is always a killer!"

It was a tiny remark, but it made me realize something important: running, no matter how well you do it, is universal. Even my D1-athlete brother was challenged by an uphill stretch at the end of a run or annoyed by a particularly windy day. As we continued our running and chatter, it didn't matter who could run faster or farther; he made me realize I was a runner, too.

I recently moved to a city with a beautiful running path around a reservoir, and that's greatly increased my weekly mileage. When I go out, I always try to take a picture and send it to him to let him know I'm still running. Because being a runner is something we share.