Am I still a runner?

My relationship with running has been tumultuous. There have been periods of feeling uber motivated to throw down miles upon miles, and there have been periods of wanting to throw away all of my running sneakers out of sheer disgust. What do you do if so much of your personal identification centers around, “being a runner”?

Running, before I knew what it could be, was a way I mirrored my brother. Morgan ran cross country in middle school, and because I’ve always been the sibling that wants nothing more than to do proud by him, I think I made a subconscious vow as a young child to do everything he did. When he joined the cross country team in sixth grade, as soon as I reached, “upper school” as it was called, I couldn’t wait to lace up his flats (somehow I thought this was a good call) and dawn the same shoes he did during his races. What I learned first hand was how exhausting it was, but what I also discovered was this innate sense of achievement you got after crossing the finish line. The pride from parents, teammates and coaches was overwhelming after your physical performance. Even at such a young age I knew it felt exhilarating.

Fast forward a few years, when bodies start to change, and suddenly your skin doesn’t quite feel like your own, I began panicking and wanting an out. I wanted an out from the feeling of discomfort I got every time I buttoned my t-shirt or zipped up my jeans. I wanted an out from the sensation of my thighs rubbing together or my belly folding over itself.

So I ran. I ran to burn calories. I ran to feel hungry. I ran because I wanted to be thin.

My relationship with running has evolved so much over the years. It’s been labeled, it’s been sidelined, it’s been obsessive and it’s been moderate. Towards the end of 2018, as I sat in my surgeon’s office after an MRI I had done revealing a small cyst on a nerve root on my right side, I finally felt terrified. He said that most likely due to the mileage of ultra-running I’ve subjected myself to that the nerves look significantly more inflamed than my left side. Scary thing to hear, regardless of if it’s detrimental or not.

What am I supposed to call myself if I stop running? Is it possible to be “healthy” sans Strava? What about my redemption at the Pine to Palm 100? I don’t feel ready to walk away yet…and yet, it feels simultaneously liberating waking up on Saturday morning and not having to trudge through a long run. What does it say about me if I feel a sense of relief?

I think the point I’m making, as always, is that life isn’t black and white. Running both destroyed my body and saved it. After being admitted into the hospital (twice) for my eating disorder (at a depressingly young age), I was only able to run again after being fully weight restored. Once my doctors and parents trusted me enough was I able to hit the pavement and rediscover the joy that running provides. So I think it’ll always be complicated.

Whether or not your relationship to sport has changed recently or in the past, I urge you to remember that it is never black and white. We can love something dearly but keep it on hold. It doesn’t mean it won’t be a part of us forever, it just means that now may not be the appropriate time. Conversely, it’s okay to fall madly in love with a certain activity, abiding by its routine religiously and feeling inundated by its progression in your life.

Trusting your body is not an easy thing to do. At least for me. Knowing when to push and when to pull back has been something I’ve struggled with since as I long as I can remember. But it’s high time I start making some changes. I want to continue running, I want to finish that pesky 100 mile race I got so close to last summer, and I want to run the Boston Marathon. But I have time. And I know my body will tell me when it’s ready. And if by chance it never feels the same, I’m going to trust that that’s ok.

So here’s to no more labels. Here’s to trusting the process. Here’s to following in the footsteps of your brother or sister because sometimes a mentor can be life changing in ways you don’t expect. Here’s to trying new things and not being afraid to let go of the old ones. Here’s to supporting the people in your life who have lofty goals. And here’s to supporting your own intuition.

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