I don't remember feeling terribly comfortable in my own skin when I was a kid. For reasons I didn't ever really understand, I always felt a bit out of place. I always felt different.
I often retreated to the comfort of books. Fantastic worlds crafted by J.R.R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander provided an escape to a place where being different was often celebrated. It was those who were different who made a difference.
Around the same time, I watched lots of movies on the big and small screen. I found myself connecting with outsiders like Mad Max from 'The Road Warrior'. I rooted for underdogs like Charlie Bucket from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'.
While I went to school, participated in soccer, and wasn't a complete misanthrope, I generally felt least comfortable in the company of my peers. It wasn't them, it was me. I didn't think anyone could understand me. I could barely understand myself.
Middle school gave way to high school and while the setting changed, I didn't change much. I felt like an outsider. I had no real connection to any cliques or social groups. My skin felt no less comfortable.
I would eventually grow weary of soccer and fate thrust running onto me. I found myself on the cross country team and began to realize perhaps I was in the company of fellow outsiders.
Running was not a sport many understood. I encountered many who thought it was silly. I encountered some who thought it was not a sport.
As someone who often felt like an outsider, it seemed I had found my calling. I relished the fact that not many seemed to understand running. I felt misunderstood, so it only seemed appropriate that I engage in a sport many didn't understand.
I ran faster and longer, embracing my outsider status. Naysayers could mock me all they wanted. They had no idea what it took to run a 5K in under eighteen minutes. They could never understand what it took to run ten miles.
As I came to know running, I came to know myself. I learned I could go farther than most. I learned I could go faster than most. If being an outsider meant I was faster and could go farther than most, I could live with it.
I came to relish the fact that my runs were mine and mine alone. I didn't have to share them with anyone and there weren't many who could do them with me even if they wanted to. Those who couldn't appreciate what I was doing were on the outside.
While I am markedly more comfortable in my own skin today, I still identify as an outsider. But, it's a title I wear proudly. It means walking (or running) to the beat of a different drum. Being an outsider means taking paths and trails others wouldn't consider.
Outsiders go places others won't. I run because I am an outsider...