When it comes to striking balance between our running pursuits and the other parts that comprise our whole, as avid runners, we often find ourselves unicorn hunting. We run with a doubt-crushing, goal-smashing, adrenaline-pumping blind fervor. To put it simply, we go hard.
In pushing our personal limits to their lactate thresholds and beyond, we run PRs, qualify for prestigious races, exceed target paces, and prevail at meets. We exist in a reality that thrives on progress and accomplishment. We toe the start line with a sense of hubris and invincibility, because we silenced excuses, trained at 0’dark thirty, and sacrificed human connections in the name of running—because we earned it.
And then, an overpowering tyrant stages a coup on our bodies, overthrowing a finely-tuned system we built on months of data collection, sweat, and an increasing VO2max. This tyrant takes possession through acts of aggression and violence, fracturing bones, snapping tendons, disfiguring limbs, shredding muscle. We, immobilized by the brutal upheaval,
have no choice but to surrender and become a prisoner of a war waged on our existence as runners. As Injury settles in to hijack our beloved safe space, we are left disoriented, with an overwhelming sense of heartbreak and loss..
We can all pinpoint that moment when injury forces our white flags. For me, it was Halloween 2017, and on the cusp of my taper for California International Marathon. Training had been going well, and I was on course for a healthy PR. Four runs out of a tremendously strong 22-miler, I found myself still nursing a deep pain in my left quad. About one-and-a-half miles into the warm-up for a track workout, all of which I had completed with a significant limp in my stride, I turned to my friend and clutched her arm.
“Stop. I can’t do this. I’m done, I’m injured.”
Liz wrapped her other arm around me and held me in empathetic silence while I cried.
After injury, what follows is a tense confrontation with the traits we celebrated prior to Injury’s hostile takeover. At first, it appears as a dichotomy, an either/or; we must choose between self-confidence and humility, between a race-ready invincibility and vulnerability, between being an accomplished athlete and an inadequate failure, and between being actively involved and a maimed bystander. Then, we consult friends, physical therapists, coaches, mentors, many of whom suggest that we use this experience to find that elusive balance between running and... Some may even dare to suggest we <gasp!> stop
running. Momentarily, we entertain these dichotomies, maybe even going as far as fantasizing about what our life would look like as a competitive cyclist or an adult kickball socialite.
But, we’re not ditching pride and strength for mediocrity; we’re not replacing participation in our sport with complacent voyeurism; and we sure as hell are not going to stop running. While injured, rather than succumbing to the façade of a more balanced approach, I found holding space for these converse characteristics, a space unfettered by the heartbreak of brokenness and inadequacy, immensely cathartic. While deep-water running in Mexico, I gave myself permission to feel porous and vulnerable. When a gal I secretly compete with in an imaginary race in my head beat my 5k PR, I embraced the humility that came not from perceived failure but from being forced to accept that it was time to get uncomfortable and set a loftier goal. And, damn it, nothing screamed “determined to stay involved” like crutching through the mud to mark off a cross country course for a group of athletes I both idolize and call teammates.
Consequently, injury taught me that these seemingly disparate qualities are less of a dichotomy and more temporary states-of-being deserving of space; they are fertile ground for the rigor we crave as runners to propagate new challenges we may not have realized if not for the added perspective. And when the revolution comes, when we finally defeat the tyrant that is Injury, we will once again run hard, we will run fast, and we will run strong, with all of the unbalanced determination we can muster.
-Julia "Jules" Reade