Monday Runday: On (Not) Being a Runner

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m recovering from a stress fracture in my tibia. It’s my first running injury in almost five years of running.

Three important things have happened recently:

1. This weekend I missed my first scheduled race as a result of this injury. I hated it. And there will be many many more.

2. I reached the halfway point of my 12-week recovery time last Thursday. I am now closer to the next time I will run (November 5) than the last time I ran (August 13).

3. After several weeks with zero pain, my leg has started hurting again. It comes and goes and is a 1 on the pain scale, but still–it aches.

Obviously #3 may impact #2. And that sucks.

My current theory is that I’ve been walking too much. “Every step you take will set you back,” the doctor said ominously when he gave me the diagnosis. I’m certainly not walking for exercise, but come on. I chase around three kids and just moved to a four-level townhouse in a walking-oriented suburb. We walk our kids to school and back. The commercial center is pedestrian-friendly and ringed by parking garages. There’s Target and the grocery store and Costco.

I may be the only person in the market for a Fitbit so I can limit the number of steps I take.

I’ve been doing too much.

That’s the thing about recovery–whether it’s from injury, illness, childbirth, maybe addiction recovery too.

You don’t get to decide how much your body or spirit can take.
You don’t get to decide what you can get away with.
You don’t get to decide what “too much” is.

I loathe that.

Meanwhile I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a runner. I have friends who run but don’t claim the name because they think they’re not fast enough / dedicated enough / knowledgeable enough. I used to be that way. I ran, and that was enough. I didn’t need the noun, the verb worked just fine for me.

But at the heart of it, I agree with those who say “If you run, you’re a runner.” There’s no entrance exam or minimum pace or uniform. If you lace up shoes and hit the road or trail or track, you’re a runner.

A runner is one who runs.
Except now I’m not running.

Lots of runner friends jumped in to reassure me. You’re still a runner! You’re recovering from an injury, but you fully intend to get back to running. You’re doing everything in your power to be back out there again! (Including pool running, which is the most ridiculous-looking exercise that doesn’t involve Sweatin’ to the Oldies.)

My friends are right. I’m doing everything I can so I can resume this unexpected passion of mine. And I love them for those affirmations. But I finally figured out something important: I wasn’t needing reassurance that I was still a runner. I was wanting to try on the identity of not-runner, at least for this 12 weeks.

Because while I expect to make a full recovery–in the universe’s timing, not mine, dangit–there’s a possibility that I will not be able to run as much as I did before. Or I won’t run at all. That’s not the injury talking. That’s life talking. No guarantees, folks. That’s what item #3 above has reminded me–you can do the best you can and still, the hand gets dealt to you.

So rather than find a way to continue to claim the title runner for the next six weeks, what’s exciting me more is to let a beloved part of myself go and realize that the world doesn’t end. There’s great freedom in trying on new things. Swimmer. Biker. Spectator. Cheerleader. Person who sleeps in on the weekends instead of lacing up shoes at 5 in the morning.

Let me be clear–I’m not saying other injured or sidelined runners are no longer runners. I’m saying for me it’s been fun to live my life independent of that identity I jumped headlong into five years ago.

I ran into this Roald Dahl quote recently:


As a high school senior I had a teacher for AP English that I absolutely loved. I remember asking her to sign my yearbook at the end of the year. I secretly hoped she’d write that I was her star student, the best student she’d ever had. Instead she wrote, “It’s rare to have a student who loves the class as much as I do.” In retrospect, that affirmation has probably served me better.

Go at it full speed, even if it’s swimming speed.
Embrace it with both arms, even if “it” is a set of handlebars.
Lukewarm is no good.

9 thoughts on “Monday Runday: On (Not) Being a Runner

  1. Mary Ann Baker

    I sometimes feel that I love too many things…I am always hopping from one thing to another, enjoying all of them while I am involved in each one.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada!
      I don’t know, it’s not a terrible way to be. Sure, it can feel good to drill down with something. But doesn’t Mary Oliver write about being “a bride, married to amazement”? Lots of ways to get there.

  2. Mamala

    I love that you search for and find maybe not the obvious meaning from what life hands you. Better still is that you share it with us.

  3. Bob Braxton

    For me it is letting go – of tooth #15 – my first extraction I was fourteen and that was the first time I had gone to a dentist – to have a molar “pulled.” I turned 71 in August. By the time my father was this age, he had instructed the dentist(s) to extract all his teeth. In another 13 months or so, he was dead. My point is, the follow-on self-care following this most recent tooth extraction of mine is Lukewarm (water) – the instruction is adamant and clear – lukewarm – with a pinch of salt.

  4. Kerri

    Thank you! I really appreciate how you articulated this. It helps me as I’m going through some transitions. It also reminds me of “already/not yet.” I may already be “something” whether I claim it and call myself that or not. But I’m not yet in the fullness of it and it may not turn out as I expect moving forward. For me, the “something” is being a chaplain/pastor. I graduated from seminary a year ago and am still working my “day job” where I certainly have pastoral opportunities, but i don’t feel like I can call myself a pastor or chaplain because I’m actually working as an Occupational Therapist.
    I might have moved into rambling, but your post sparked some thoughts for me and I wanted you to know!

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Thank you for this!
      I’m not currently serving a church as a pastor and I realized after I posted the blog that I could substitute pastor for runner and it would pretty much all be true.

      Best of luck to you as you make this transition from already to what is emerging.

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  6. June Shaffer

    Thank you for reminding me that sometimes I do have to let go and move on. As my chronic illness as progressed, I’ve had to let go of more than a few things and yet, embracing something new I can do, contribute, and be involved in has opened new doors. And, as my husband noted recently, I don’t get nearly so upset over things any more. I want to continue to embrace and be enthusiastic about the new things!!


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