I started training for my first half marathon a little over two years ago. By the time I crossed the finish line of the Horsetooth Half with a New Belgium beer waiting for me, I had already caught the running bug. I shopped at Fleet Feet. I wore running clothes when I wasn’t running. I subscribed to Runner’s World, learned about Plantar Fasciitis and how to pronounce it, and gleefully discovered a whole big world of sweaty, carb-scarfing people who loved running as much as I did. I began to identify as a runner, and quickly many who knew me did too, and I was really proud of it; I wore it like a badge of honor. Heck, I created this blog because of it, essentially.
Fast forward, and sparing you details, I injured my foot during marathon training with 7 weeks to go before my third marathon this spring. I took 11 days off of running and jumped into cross training: cycling, swimming, yoga and strength training. What shocked me was I didn’t miss running. My familiar, neurotic don’t-miss-a-training-run self was out to lunch in China.
I missed out on a few weeks of crucial mile-building for the marathon while waiting for my foot to get back to normal. As it stands, about a week out, I have decided the smartest thing to do would be the half marathon instead. I know better than to fight through 26.2 miles, even if my foot feels fine-ish now, without having built up the mileage the right way. Plus, to keep running healthy for the rest of my life without a prolonged injury is ideal.
The struggle doesn’t lie in the fact that, for the second time now, I’m switching from the full to the half marathon. I’m secretly (or not so, now that it’s on the record) relieved. The struggle is in how I self-identify.
The more I’ve cross-trained, the less I’ve wanted to run. The more I’ve explored cycling HITT workouts and shakti kicks and chin-ups, the more interested I’ve become in pursuing fitness goals outside of running. As a result, I feel like less of a runner, like I’m betraying my sport.
If I don’t self-identify as a runner because of my own subjective definition, then who am I? (Okay, anyone else picture Zoolander looking up at the stars and asking the same question before his matchbook-size cell phone rings?) I know there is more to me than my PRs and mile splits, but everyone is proud to self-identify somehow; it’s personal, and it can mean a great deal.
Recently I had a wake-up call through a conversation with my mother. She was giving me a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and I was coming up with a thousand and one reasons why I should. She finally said it, casually, but it was like a light switched on: “I think you take things too seriously. Your dad and I have talked about it,” she said. Instead of getting butt hurt, I laughed because I knew it was true. And not only true, but something so easy and relieving to change. I gauged the notion of taking things too seriously with my boyfriend too, demanding he not spare my feelings, and tell me honestly. He agreed with my parents. Confirmation received.
As a result, I’ve been (trying) not taking this whole not-feeling-like-running thing too seriously, but there is a little part of my brain that is knocking: “Whooooo are you?!” I know it’s silly to structure my self-identity around a certain number of weekly miles on my calendar, but I have for the past few years, and breaking away from that, like any habit, isn’t easy.
Next week, I will be thrilled and excited to run the Country Music Half Marathon. I will miss running with those I’ve trained with, and not being able to say I have three marathons under my belt. I’ll be excited about the carbo-loading, the celebrations afterward.
I may just do a cartwheel over the finish line or something fun and weird. That wouldn’t be taking things too seriously now, would it? Maybe I could find a new identity in just that.