When does a runner stop being a runner? How many training breaks must we endure before we stop saying we’re still in training? How much downtime must we experience before we stop being runners at all?
I am writing this while sitting on a bench beside a path I have frequently run in the past. It is a cement path through my neighborhood, and it is probably one of the main contributors to my current inability to identify myself. I now sincerely believe that what they say about running on cement is true. At least it has proven so to me. I also think that what they say about women getting enough calcium is also probably true.
Because of the cement, because of the calcium, and most importantly because of my hard headedness, but clearly not hard bonedness, I am now in the position of going a full year of being unable to run well, or sometimes even at all. This is due to my currently fractured right hip; the ultimate result of bad decision making, bad nutrition, bad luck, and bad training. I know I’m not the only runner to suffer from an activity altering injury. I have never even been a noticeably accomplished runner. I only know that to me, running has been an important emotionally and physically sustaining activity. It has been one of my personal self-identifiers.
I recently had the opportunity to meet a 69 year old tri-athlete named Cherie. She was in Hawaii to defend her previously earned age-group gold medal. She has, in fact, won five gold medals in the Hawaii Ironman Competition, and has completed the race eleven times. She had come to Hawaii to compete again after a grueling and intense training program, only to randomly trip on the street a week before the race. Unbelievably she broke two ribs. I asked if she was still going to compete. She was adamant that she would. She completed her race slower than she had hoped, but she did cross the finish line. That’s a competitor! That’s a runner!
I, on the other hand, am a bench sitter. My inability to define myself as a runner is especially problematic since I had only been running three years when I started with this series of injuries. That’s three years of running and one year of injuries.
Mathematically that is not a good percentage; kind of like getting a 75 on a test. I could say that identifying my running self has more to do with intention than action, but with that definition I could also say I’m a novelist, or a baker, or even a piano player.
Our identifiers are important to us. They serve as our interface with the outside world. We meet each other and say, I am a student, parent, painter, writer. What we say about ourselves determines how we are perceived, and what it is we choose to say shows that which matters to us most. So for now, I will call myself an injured, sidelined, recuperating runner. I will hold on to that sense of myself as long as I have hope in a recovery. And then, by God, I will stay off the cement, and I swear I’ll take the stupid vitamins!