'WHO I AM - WITHOUT RUNNING" Hillary Allen explains in an article for motivrunning.com’s Voice of the Athlete series. The piece is subtitled, “Pro Runner Hillary Allen gets a bigger picture look at life while sidelined with an injury.”
I have posed the question "who am I without running?" to myself, as have others; friends and acquaintances of mine and my family members. This crisis of identity has arisen when, just like Allen, injury or illness forced us off the roads and trails. The elite trail runner Allen, sponsored by The North Face according to the brief bio-sketch at the article’s end, is temporarily not able to run and train after a serious injury. A potentially devastating situation can develop when permanent acceptance of this status is necessary (would she be writing if her condition was career-ending?)
Allen’s telling of her feelings of isolation, anger, and grief is heart-wrenching, as she recounts no longer struggling to be a top-rung runner, but to “walk normally” and eventually become “the ‘runner I was’” again. She berates herself for this mental attitude of assumed isolation, calling it “a self-inflicted ailment.”
The author describes a full and brilliant working life teaching science, and how it is being adversely affected by her need to recover and resume running in order to be whole again, possibly better than whole. The introspection forced by this time of injury-recovery has caused her to attempt a re-definition of herself. One that is not singularly tied to her sport. Allen says the “injury and break from running has been immensely difficult” but sees that a ‘blessing” was bestowed on her by the “lessons it has taught me about myself.”
Hillary Allen writes about the dangers of looking at “oneself through the lens of singularity”, with that eyepiece represented as running. And suggests there are other single-viewpoint lenses through which we can see ourselves, for example by relationship, occupation, area of expertise, residence location, etc.
The point being made is that we can find ourselves in an emotional tailspin due to the temporary or permanent cessation of other lifelong, identity-affirming, activities or relationships, not necessarily related to running. It can occur because we have loved a sport, person, place, idea, or other entity and are no longer able to receive enjoyment from the association IN THE EXACT SAME WAY.
We probably should expect to experience such frame-shifts in identity, almost as a natural occurrence in our lives over time. Realizing that the ending of a specific association may actually represent evidence of personal growth, like Allen says, and be a ‘blessing’ in disguise rather than a disaster. If prepared, we can move on and move forward more easily after the initial disruption.
Perhaps there are preventative measures that can be taken to lessen the impact of a life without running or other sport, temporarily or permanently. It may help to pre-emptively shift the focus of our self-identification away from the specific sport to athletics in general. As runners (walkers, cyclists, swimmers, and tennis players, and so on) we might:
It’s likely that most runners don’t wish to be ‘blessed’ in the way Hillary Allen was, with a serious injury, in order to gain a healthy perspective of self. But she is saying, “this could be you, so feel blessed that I am showing the way for you to experience less personal upheaval” in the same situation.
We might respond to, “Who I am - without running”, in this way:
“I am an athlete, in training lifelong to be active, fit, and healthy regardless of my sport participation status. One who enjoys challenging myself physically, and takes inspiration from the struggles, shortcomings, and triumphs of other athletes in many sports...’
And after reading Allen's piece, add, "...Who does not define my life by a single subjective thing."
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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