Monday, August 17, 2015

My Running Identity

I've been running consistently since 2007.  It's been so long now, that I can hardly remember a time when I didn't like running.  Believe me, those days existed.  I was the kid who walked the mile in 20 minutes.  But now, I'm known as the girl who runs.  People ask me how my running is going when they haven't seen me for awhile.  I'm told almost daily that someone saw me running.  Being a runner is a huge part of my identity.  The adjective "runner" describes me just as well as the adjective "sarcastic," or the adjective "introvert."

I'm not really sure when running became a part of me.  If I don't run for too long, I feel like a piece of me is missing.  I feel like I can't breathe as well.  I feel lost and sad, as if I lost a good friend.  And this is what I've been struggling with lately.

It's no secret that I've been struggling with a hip injury.  It's not so much my hip as I am certain it is my piriformis.  It's extremely tight and knotted.  I've been to the doctor and she told me to get a massage.  Last spring, as I was training for a marathon, I was sidelined by some random knee thing that I am certain came around due to overcompensating with my left leg to take away from the pain in my right one.

I went from running 60 miles a week to 11.  I should not have even run that, but since running is so much a part of me, I am stubborn and went out anyway.  Luckily, the injury came at a time that I was going on an extremely long road trip where I was forced to sit for hours and not use my legs.  It was hard to not run whenever we stopped for a moment.

I slowly increased my milage as soon as I returned home, but only to 20 miles a week.  Coming from 60, 20 felt like absolutely nothing.  I knew the marathon wasn't going to happen.  I was devastated.  I had trained hard.  Obviously, I trained too hard.  So hard, that my identity as "runner" had been stripped away from me.  I volunteered at the marathon I was supposed to run and got a free entry into the 10k, which I ran.

I promised my runner friends that I would go slow.  That was until my competitive edge kicked in and I threw it into high gear, coming in third woman overall.  My last two miles were in the 6's.  My knee locked up so badly after the race that I couldn't even cool down.  I was sidelined again.

I took a few rest days, then slowly began running again.  I helped Karen mark her course and then helped out at registration and the finish line, but just stared at the runners in envy.  I've helped at almost all of the club races since May, but have not raced since that 10k.  Every single time, I feel like I need to be wearing a giant sign that says, "I SWEAR I run!  I just hurt!"

In the middle of all of this, I met Z.  He runs, but he doesn't identify as a runner.  He helped me realize that most people don't even run 20 miles in their entire life, let alone in a week.  It was also easy to use my hip as an excuse to not run as far or even take one or two days off to spend time with him.  My milage dropped significantly, and I just didn't care as much as I had in the past.

Then Costa Rica happened.  My milage dropped to zero.  ZERO.  For nine whole days, I did not run.  Except four feet to pose for a picture.  I still exercised daily.  I did workout videos in the evening after it had cooled off.  I biked around with my mom.  But I didn't run.  That was the longest stretch of not running that I had done since I began running 8 years ago.  I struggled with it and probably bugged the crap out of my mom every time I said, "Remember when I used to run?" But I didn't really miss it.  Was I losing my running identity?  Was I going to run again when I got back, or was that a chapter of my life that was closed now?  My hip was feeling better, I had tons of energy, and I was still being active.

Of course, since running is as much a necessity to me as breathing is, I went for a run the day I got back.  And it felt good.  I didn't realize how much I had missed it.  Sometimes we just need a break from the things we love to remember how much we love them.

I've gone about running completely differently since I've been back from my nine day hiatus.  I run most of my runs slow (for me).  I stop when I reach the milage I say I am going to run instead of going extra, just to go extra.  I've felt great!  This last week, I went for a 14 mile run in the mountains with my best running friends.  I hadn't done double digits since June.

Thank you Karen for this beautiful picture!

I did speed work with Karen on Saturday and remembered that my legs CAN go fast if I want them to.  Sometimes it feels good to go fast.

Thank you again, Karen!

Then I ran 10 miles on Sunday.  I am finally feeling like my running identity is coming back to me.  I feel more like myself than I have in months, and I know it's because I am feeling good about my running.  I had no idea that running was such a part of me until I couldn't really do it anymore.  I had no idea that running was such a part of me until I started running regularly again. 

This weekend, I am going to try my hand at racing again.  We will see how my hip holds up and if it starts to hurt, I will slow down.  I don't want the running part of my identity stripped away again.


  1. We all need wake up calls sometimes, and I think your injuries were your wake up call! You clearly know you love running, but now you are just giving your body a little extra TLC. I think you have not yet reached your greatest physical endeavors and I think your new approach to running and training is going to help you achieve great things!

    The first time I had to cut back my running significantly I felt all the things you felt. I was like, "BUT I'M A RUNNER? AM I STILL A RUNNER?" Yes. Life is long. We can run 60 mile weeks every. week. of. our. life. and expect to run well into our 80s (which you know we want to do!!!) There are training highs and lows, but you NEED the lows to balance out the highs. Does that make sense? The easy runs to recover from speed, the short runs to balance the long runs... I am excited for you and your somewhat "new" approach to running!

    1. That should say we CAN'T run 60 mile weeks (sorry for the typo!)

  2. Ah running buddy, I think we all have to learn this lesson the hard way. Finding where our limit lies always involves crossing it first. You'll be back to racing happy (and beating me) very soon!

  3. It sounds like your balance with running is a LOT better now. I can't imagine running 60 miles a week. I'm glad Z. helped you feel better about your current running state!!

  4. Hey, we miss you! Well, I miss you! Hope all is well in Rachel Land.