Believe it or not, this blog started out as a running blog. If you scroll back to the past, which when you think about it is a remarkable thing to be able to instruct people to do, you’ll see my race reports and workout descriptions, weekly mileage stats and analysis. In my world, the transition from running blog to writing blog happened seamlessly and incrementally, but I have to admit it’s a bit jarring to take a big jump backward to those early days.
The reason the transition was so seamless for me is that, like running, this blog has turned into a space for me to process a lot of what my brain is turning over, and realizing the intersection of connecting with other people comes from expressing my feelings that arise through this processing, not the stats and numbers. It was natural for me to start writing about what I thought about during a run, rather than how fast (or not) I was running.
Much of what I write still stems from seeds planted and nurtured during runs. Sometimes I actively prime myself and think about a current problem or story I want to write through before I lace up my shoes; after my run, I usually have a new idea or at least a new perspective. Sometimes, my brain just flits around, dancing in and out around internal and external triggers (my legs are tired… the light in that tree is beautiful… what am I stressed about… I can’t believe so-and-so said such-and-such… what do I have to do today…). Much like dreaming, both flavors of thought allow my brain to process and come up with new ideas.
Lately, a lot of my thinking has been about running itself, and its role in my life and my relationship with it.
This past year, I’ve seen teammates train hard and reach remarkable, lofty goals. I’ve forged and nurtured friendships through shared miles (and meals). I’ve struggled with balancing a limited amount of time and energy to train with my Type A tendencies to have structured plans and training goals.
It’s come to this: as I crawl out of the hole that has been my past year, my brain is having a tough time wrapping itself around ever being ready to race (or train) again. As I write this, it sounds quite dramatic – “never again!” – which I know logically is probably not the case. But it’s making me think – runners, athletes in general, are unfortunately used to dealing with physical injury. We see physical therapists and physicians and pull out all the stops to focus on the area of our body that is hurting, that is in need of recovery, that is preventing us from doing the sport we love to do.
What happens when it is our brain that needs to recover?
We’re never told to take time off because our brain has a niggle that might turn into a serious injury if we’re not careful. We’re never told, “if it hurts, stop running” when it’s our brain that hurts. In fact, usually the contrary is the case, because for most of us, running is an escape and a salve for a hurting brain. It’s why we started running, it’s what makes us love the sport on a holistic level. We may be told to take it easy, to cut back on the training while we’re going through a particularly stressful time. But then, there is no talk about how to gradually work back up to training. We’re almost expected to jump right back in.
When I was recovering from a stress fracture a few years back, the entire process from MRI to running took months. First, the walking boot. Then, the time in the pool and slowly increasing the amount I walked. Then, the weeks of run a few minutes-walk a few minutes, which was almost worse than not running at all.
Now that I’m beyond the big work deadline, the part of me that was dreaming about all the things I’d have time to do after, the part of me that witnessed my friends train and race and celebrate, the part of me that felt left behind, is telling me I should jump back into a life that revolves around running, around my training.
But I’m also sensing that my brain is still a fragile. It’s not bursting with excitement over the prospect of training. It’s not raring to go. Honestly, the thought of doing anything hard right now seems overwhelming and depressing. Getting out of my comfort zone with running seems an impossible feat. Which is plenty of fodder for me to me to start questioning my identity as a runner, as a racer. And feeling like I’m going through the motions with a sport I love is a confusing place to be.
But like any relationship, this relationship has and will continue to go through ups and downs. I cannot imagine my life without running, and right now I’m in that stage of wondering if that’s because it’s always been there or because I want to have it there.
It’s a scary place to be, but if we don’t take a look at our relationships now and then, how can we know if they serve us? Even if they’re perfect, how can we appreciate their value if we don’t take a step back once in a while?
For me, now, there is enough there, somehow, to want to want to have that spark again. But, it seems if I push it, if I reach for it, it slips away. Like triggering an injury, going too far before I’m ready. I need to give myself permission to slow down, to find again what it is I value. To use running to soothe my brain rather than stress it – and to be ok with that. To find the joy in plodding up a mountain and flying down the other side, in running easy enough to have meaningful conversations with friends, in having space for other endeavors, in returning to the basics as a way of strengthening the relationship.