Freedom in identity leads to freedom in running 

Deep breath. Writing remains scary. As much as I pumped myself up last week, I am still avoiding writing and doing so is still causing me anxiety. And so here I am again, to force the habit and prove to myself that I enjoy this practice. 

To begin, a quick update on my running/injury cycle. As of last Tuesday, I am running again! It took about two months of rest, of wrestling with my identity and reframing my focus but I am now pain free and excited to return to my favorite sport. The progression is slow (three days a week, progressively shorter walk breaks, no back-to-back days, a pace so slow I sometimes can’t differentiate between the walking and running segments, and plenty of checking in with my body to ensure I do not overdo things) but it is happening. And in three weeks I should, unless further complications arise, be running thirty minutes nonstop. 

I am using the same program that brought me back to running after my first sacral stress fracture more than a year ago. This time around it feels conservative, but last year it felt aggressive and exhausting. I was theoretically stronger then since my physical therapy routine was far more intense than I the one I have followed at home, so perhaps I was speedier but I did not feel in control. I was exhausted from the physical therapy and drained by the slight depression brought about by not running for six weeks. I thought I had decoupled running from my identity, but I had not done the hard work of redefining myself.

I still felt very tied to the image of myself as a Runner, one whose purpose is to run. I rejected the idea that yoga or biking or anything else could act as a substitute. And while I still believe that running fulfills a specific and unique role in my life that cannot be exactly replicated, I am comfortable with how I feel after other activities. Running is no longer the only way I connect with my body, and that is an important change. I can feel whole after stretching, after doing intense body weight exercises, hiking, biking, practicing yoga. Running is not my only therapy.  

Because of this newfound freedom within exercise, I have been able to let go of my expectations within running. It would be nice to regain my previous speed and ability, but that doesn’t need to happen tomorrow, or next month, or even by the end of the summer. Really, it doesn’t need to happen at all; as long as I stay strong, injury-free and joyful, I will have succeeded in achieving my goals. For now, I am grateful for each step, for (as I heard someone recently term it) the “guilty pleasure” of global warming that has brought unnaturally warm weather to Chicago, for my body and all it is accomplishing. I am learning, bit by bit, to enjoy the process and it is pretty amazing. 

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