I am an injured runner. While training for a marathon and running better than ever in my 20+ year career, I experienced an upper leg injury. After nearly two weeks off and pretending the pain would go away on its own, I’m finally going to see a doctor tomorrow. I am nervous for what’s to come and I expect I will be out of commission and without my anxiety-reducing pastime for a while. With that, I wanted to share this running piece I wrote just a few weeks ago. This is my motivation to come back from this injury and continue on the path to be my absolute best runner self. For any of my injured comrades out there, I hope this helps.
Why I Run
“It was time to step out of the mausoleum I had created for myself. I could never be the person I wanted to be, the runner I wanted to be, while I let circumstances (mental health illness, loss, disappointment) dictate my self-worth.”
No one would ever categorize me as an elite runner. Good, sure. Great, sometimes. And on just a couple of very special occasions, I’ve had flickers of “eliteness.” But I don’t think anyone in the 20+ years I have been running has called me elite.
But this isn’t about an ascent to eliteness.
I started running in second grade. I actually wanted to start in first grade but my parents thought for sure this was a phase and I would move onto something new. That never happened.
Rather, second grade rolled around and again I asked to join the St. Edwards Catholic School track and field team. Reluctantly, my parents agreed. As non-runners it’s completely understandable as to why they thought I was crazy for wanting to start running. Looking back, that decision changed the course of my life. I would spend the next 15 years training with some of the best runners in southern New Jersey, including Ashley Callahan, the 800 ace and as I have called her on many occasions, “the most talented runner I’ve ever known,” and Priscilla Frederick, the Olympian.
Through grade school and high school, on running trips and track workouts, from Disney World to Buffalo, I’d say it was fun in the beginning. I’m grateful for those days and all the coaches, fellow runners, and supportive people I met along the way.
This is the messy bit.
I knew going to college I would never be considered “great” (elite wasn’t even on the table). Running at The George Washington University was something to do to make friends (shout out to GW athletes class of 2011 and my bestie, Estelle) and add some structure. And yes, I wanted to do it well, but it was pretty apparent from the beginning that collegiate running wasn’t going for me.
Plagued by injuries and burnout, I lasted only two years. My first “DNF” if you will. But I did need the break from the sport. Running had been with me throughout my formative years, an ally. Now it was time I went out on my own for a while…which didn’t quite workout as planned.
I spiraled without running. I had always struggled with anxiety on the line; it turns out it wasn’t nerves, I had a severe mental health disability. I was always trying to win a zero-sum mental game.
Flash forward through some VERY messy bits (I will spare you and save that story for another day). After a few years of no competition and virtually no miles logged, I laced up again. You know the only thing harder than lacing up the first time…lacing up the second. I was at a point in my life, mid-twenties, a bit lost in my career and personal life, I NEEDED something to hang on to. Something to guide me in the right direction, so I turned to my trusty pair of dusty running shoes. At this point I didn’t even want to run, I NEEDED to run. And that running stage lasted for about a year. At 26 I was faster than I had ever been the previous 20 years. Why? I had some bruises. I had gotten a bit of life experience, been truly humbled, and even at a young age had “it all come crashing down.” I hit the reset button and found some very average success.
In 2015, at 26, I ran my butt off. But again, the allure faded.
I was preoccupied (in a positive, constructive, exciting way) after all that spiraling. I had a new life I was putting together. I’d found a new love, a new home, a new profession, a new outlook on life. I had my mental health illness under control. There wasn’t room for running.
A few years passed with a run here and there but nothing substantive. Then 30 rolled around. Oh, 30. How we all think at 30 our life is going to end, when in reality, it’s only the beginning. First things first, I had to stop trying to win the mental game. It’s exhausting, you know, thinking with your head all the time. At 30, I started to think with my heart. Engaged and ready to get married, a dream wedding in Sicily at that, I had something I had to do first: cue running, part three.
I didn’t “NEED” to start running again as much this time as I wanted to. In my mid-twenties, I NEEDED something; not the case now. I have what I need: family, friends, love. But I actually missed the sport and WANTED to run again. So I did, and you know what, something changed.
THIS TIME I feel different. You know when you see those women in their 40s and 50s who are just crushing it on the course and totally smoke you, and you’re like, “how is that possible I am half their age?” I’ll tell you how, they have way more tolerance for pain and life experience than you probably do. On these runs over the past year, and most especially recently, I realized why I continue to come back to running…and why I am at my absolute best now.
Yes, running has given me lifelong friendships and pushed me beyond my limits, but more than that, running taught me to “put it on the shelf.” When I started running again at 30 I had some baggage and a bit of a chip on my shoulder…but I didn’t need that chip anymore. And I certainly could do without the baggage. It was time to step out of the mausoleum I had created for myself. I could never be the person I wanted to be, the runner I wanted to be, while I let circumstances (mental health illness, loss, disappointment) dictate my self-worth. Now, it’s just different. This is a new chapter. That’s not to say I don’t visit that “mausoleum” on occasion (even more often than I’m proud to admit), rather it’s to say I made a decision to find shelter in a new place. It’s not a mental game anymore. It’s all heart.
At 31, I run for fun. I run because I love it. I feel better. I feel EVERYTHING more fully, but it’s better. My return to running has opened me back up and given me the space to be my best. And what’s most astounding, I see more of those flickers of eliteness.