AM I A RUNNER IF I …?
- Walk and run instead of just running?
- Have not, and don’t plan to run a marathon?
- Don’t race at all?
- Am injured and can’t run for an unspecified time?
These are some of the questions that intermittently surface in running related articles and blog pages. Non-runners might consider this a stupid or pointless question. Who cares? Well, runners do. Most want to validate that they fulfill the ‘requirements’ of being a runner to make the claim privately or publicly. My guess is that the it’s the private question that causes the most angst.
I recently encountered someone publicly questioning their runner identity upon seeing the title of Susan Paul’s piece for RunnersWorld.com, “Can I Try a Walk-Run Method and Still Be a Runner”. A reader was wondering if it was “really acceptable to walk when running? And if I walk am I still a ‘runner’?” The response was encouraging and the author took the opportunity to provide guidance on getting back to running shape with first walking and then trying the run-walk method.
It caused me to think more deeply about the query, “Am I a Runner if…?” Had I ever doubted myself in this area? In retrospect, I must have been asking this question about 10 years ago when I first had difficulty with an inflamed tendon near the left knee. The orthopedist who evaluated my problem and prescribed rest and physical therapy also scolded me for wanting to continue running. He advised swimming instead; I was “too old”, his 40-something- year-old talking head told me.
I was shocked and refused to give up on a comeback. But doubts were instilled into my running heart. Could I continue to run indefinitely? Would another injury eventually bring me down? Was he right?
Fast forward to today. I searched online for more articles on this topic.
In an article for the special 50th Anniversary Edition of Runner’s World, “I Am (Still) a Runner”, Nick Weldon (released online October 18, 2016) interviewed 17 “famous and/or accomplished individuals”, asking if they were still running. Most were. The 2016 interviewees ranged in age from 38-year old boxer Laila Ali to 68-year old Kenneth Feld, owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. They represented a sampling of 148 such persons who had each been featured in Runner’s World’s regular monthly section, “I’m a Runner” from 2004 to the present.
A common sentiment among them was that running was an integral part of their lives or identity. Others valued the feeling of freedom it provided. Some admitted to running less than they would like; with the older set it tended to be due to physical concerns, but with the younger set it related to busy schedules.
Kate Mihevic Edwards posted a piece on September 16, 2015 for PrecisionPT.org, “Am I Still a Runner?” In it she reveals her struggle with feelings of her running-identity due to a heart problem that does not allow her to run very much. As a result of her condition, Edwards perspective on what constituted being a runner changed and broadened.
Back in March 30, 2009 Mike LaBoisssiere had asked the question in his blog post for TalkingPhilosophy.com March 30, 2009, “Am I Still a Runner”. He had sustained a non-running-related injury that resulted in sufficient damage to make even walking difficult. Being a philosopher, he recognized that since running had defined his identity for nearly 30 years, the injury “hurt him physically and metaphysically”. He worried that at some point he would become “just a guy who used to be a runner”. He believed that if “I go too long without running, I will cease to be. A runner, that is”, and that in losing running he would lose a part of myself”.
Fast forward again, to today. For many runners, a decrease from peak effort years or a complete cessation of running will trigger the self-questioning demonstrated in the previous articles. The most troubling doubts arise when injury, illness, or physical conditions are the cause.
What’s the remedy? Without researching the topic it seems likely there is no single answer. What I have learned from investigating my own problems is that running is the prize at the end of a long-ish, and more often-than-not arduous, physical rehabilitation process.
It’s not a guaranteed prize. Simply being able to run a small amount may be the desired outcome of the rehab work. Regardless of the infirmity, there will be elements of rest and recovery; nutritional support; flexibility, mobility, and balance training; and strength building required to get back to a functional state of health that allows resumption of running.
BE ENCOURAGED. All the effort made to run again will benefit your physical ability to enjoy life’s other ‘prizes’. Along the road to recovery you may find that alternate athletic activities are as, or more rewarding, if they allow you to socialize with others and enjoy the great outdoors.
Injured and can’t run? Move forward, work to rehabilitate your physical self, and open your heart to new possibilities.
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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