Today is my sixth day away from running. Without my normal routine, I feel off-kilter. It is as if I do not know how to proceed, how to construct my days.
There was a time before running, when I managed just fine, but that was more than 18 years ago. Without running, sometimes I question my identity and my purpose. Take out the running and it isn’t long before I become existential.
Running helps me concentrate. It helps me feel like me. It brings me a sense of calm, a sense of control over the world. It provides endorphins, silence, connection to nature. It is my mood-control. It is my foundation.
This, at least, is the story I have told myself over the years. I began running when I was 12 and, except for a few brief injury-related breaks, have not stopped since. Running has become enmeshed in my identity. It was the subject of my college-entrance essay, it informed my friend group in high school and college, it gave me purpose during and after my divorce.
Now, without running, I am floundering. If I cannot run, how will I feel fulfilled? How will I focus? How will I sleep? How will I engage with the people around me? How will I have the clarity to write? How will I accomplish my goals? How will I stay sane? These questions sound trite when written down, but inside my head they feel very real and very scary.
If unanswered, they leave my mind in chaos.
Last year, when enduring a similar crisis state after incurring a stress fracture in my sacrum, I decided to re-write my story. I removed running from what it meant to be Anya and, in the process, realized I have more to give than my daily mileage.
I felt empowered, invigorated, and full of creative energy. Life did not end when I removed running from my daily to-do list: a revelation.
This new outlook, however, did not last. Everyday stresses crept back and I forgot not to equate my self-worth with increasing mileage, running quick splits, or cultivating an unflagging dedication to go outside and suffer no matter the conditions. I forgot to consider my body’s signals. I forgot the pain of injury, the difficulty of recovery, and the peace of an identity not bound by running.
In forgetting these truths, I lost sight of my most esteemed value: health. I convinced myself to go just one more mile, one more minute, one more block, ignoring all pain. The extra distance seemed inconsequential (how much harm can bit more do?) and made me feel productive and tough (look at how you pushed through the pain and exceeded your goal for today!). Eventually, of course, it added up. Adding extra impact will always cause an already-weak body to crumble.
And now, here I am, unable to run. Unable to work. Barely able to walk.
Those extra miles don’t make me feel tough anymore. They make me feel stupid. A sucker for my own conniving self-talk. I listened to the voice that comes from sabotaging part of my mind. She revels in failure. She is happiest when I am mired in shame. I cannot believe I fell for her line again. I have some pretty unkind words for her, but I will spare you the profanity.
To silence this unkind voice, I am rewriting my story again. I am posting it by my desk. It reads:
I am a caring, compassionate person. I enjoy learning, reading, writing. I am flawed. I try my best to prioritize my own needs first, so that I have energy to support my friends and family. I do not always succeed, but I always try. I am a person who runs. I am a person who loves animals. I am a person who enjoys moving her body, feeling strong, and being filled with health. I eat plants foods in abundance. I am multi-faceted. I have the capacity to change. I feel joy as often as possible. I am curious. This is who I am.
Notice, I am not “a runner” but a person who runs. I am my self first, my activities second. I am still me without running. I will always find creative and athletic pursuits to fill my time. Running is a happy bonus in an already fulfilling life.
I am not at the point in my life where I want to give up running. I hope I will never be forced to delete it as an aspect of my story. I want to remain a person who runs. But only in moderation. For fun. And never to the point of injury.