I’m not an elite runner. In fact, when I first started–fresh off the couch–I worried about finishing last, especially at small races. I felt out of place, like it was totally obvious to everyone that I didn’t really belong there. I tried to remind myself that I’d gotten into running for myself, not anyone else, but I still felt conspicuous, an impostor.

Between my first and second 5Ks I knocked something like four minutes off my finishing time. I’m pretty sure that was the moment I fell down the rabbit hole of running, chasing that feeling of triumph, of accomplishing things I never thought I could.

It was addictive.

I no longer wore as-low-as running shoes. I had begun amassing an impressive collection of brightly-colored technical shirts and matching athletic headbands. I developed definite opinions on capris vs. shorts vs. tights, earbuds vs. Bluetooth headphones, and hats vs. visors. No, not those socks; these socks. Then there were water bottles, running belts, sunglasses, and a long trial-and-error journey to the perfect sports bra.

But the real evolution in my running came after I bought my first Garmin GPS watch.

Because after I spent $250, I thought I really needed to get my money’s worth from this thing. What better way to do that than by training for a half-marathon?

The San Antonio Rock and Roll half was supposed to be a bucket list thing. Devote five months to training with Rogue, earn the 13.1 sticker on the back of my car, and return to shorter distances. Except it was hot on race day, and I didn’t run as well as I hoped. But hey, the Austin 3M half only was two months away–I could try again. And like those 5Ks a year and a half before, I got sucked into chasing that finish line triumph once more.

These days I’m usually found in the middle of the pack somewhere–sometimes rocking it, sometimes dragging and complaining, occasionally both. But I’m still running, still chasing. I’ve completed 12 half-marathons; the 2017 Austin half will add #13 to the medal rack. And while I’m still no speed demon, I finished this year’s 3M half more than forty minutes faster than that very first San Antonio race.

What I’ve learned during the weeks and months of training–because even modest success doesn’t come without training–is that like good shoes, good running buddies are invaluable. Anti-chafing gel, a foam roller, and podcasts are my friends. And Garmin watch bands don’t last forever. Neither do disappointments.

I’m the unlikeliest of runners. But after five years and hundreds (thousands?) of miles, I can finally call myself a runner without feeling like an impostor.

About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.