Wednesday, June 29, 2022

My evolution and identity as a runner

For many years, "runner" was one of my core identities. But that identity has ebbed and flowed over the last 15 years. I got into running in my mid-20s and ran my first half marathon in June of 2006 and then my first marathon in October of 2006. Then I started grad school in the fall of 2006 and oof, I struggled to find time for running in the midst of working full time and grad school/homework/group project meetings (which were the bain of my existence and unnecessary for part-time MBA students IMO - but I digress!). So I really did not run/workout consistently during my grad school years. I found my way back to running in 2009 after graduating with my MBA that spring. 

Then I ran very consistently from 2009 through 2013. I ran marathons in 2010 and 2012, and a handful of other races. Then I was diagnosed with a stress fracture shortly after moving to Charlotte in the spring of 2013. And then I was diagnosed with RA later that summer - but I will always wonder if the stress fracture was a misdiagnosis and it was actually RA causing my foot pain? I'll never know. My RA was so bad at that time that pretty much everything hurt. It hurt to walk and I couldn't fully extend one of my arms due to pain in my elbow. I was supposed to run the Chicago marathon with some blogger friends that October but ended up spectating. I remember spectating and wondering if I would ever run another marathon.

Luckily, my RA became well managed and I was back to running by the spring of 2014 when I moved back to Minneapolis. I re-joined my running club when I moved back to Minneapolis and ran my 4th marathon in 2015. I also did a sprint triathlon in August of 2015. That winter/early spring, I started to have some awful hip pain and eventually had to have surgery on my hip in May of 2016 to fix a labral tear in my hip. I have an anatomical abnormality so all that running plus the abnormality in my hip joint resulted in a tear in my left hip. 

After that surgery, I knew my marathon days were over. I'm susceptible to another tear on the other side so I've decided it's just not worth it to risk another labral tear and surgery. I wasn't cleared to run until late October 2016 - right in time for our cold weather season to hit! I started to run again in the spring of 2017 and was just starting to get back to a good base level of fitness. And then I got pregnant! I thought I would run during my pregnancy, but early in my pregnancy I had a bleeding issue and while running was likely safe, it would result in more bleeding and that was not good for my mental health so I stopped running. And then my RA got horribly bad during pregnancy so running was out of the question. I got so many steroid injections - 10 total I think - that the guy who gave me my injections had to draw a map of my hands so we could keep track of what we'd injected! 

Paul was born in March of 2018 and I had all these visions of being a mom that runs with her baby. But I could not fit running/working out into my schedule once I returned to work. We leave the house around 6:50 and I just did not have it in me to get up at 4:30-5 to workout before work. I know there are moms who can and will do this, but I have different sleep needs - and a chronic illness that gets worse when I am overtired/stressed. Reading this paragraph, I feel like I am making a lot of excuses for myself, but prioritizing sleep over running/working out was the right decision for me. I tried to do at home workouts when I could and we went on many family stroller walks. 

Flash forward to the spring of 2021. We had Will in December and I saw a pelvic floor PT (highly recommend seeing one to all post-partum women!!) and had her help me safely return to running. This is TMI territory, but I never had any leaking issues - probably because I had c-sections (although I did dilate to 9cm with Paul!). But I injured myself in my abdomen from vigorously bouncing fussy baby Will so that is what prompted seeing this PT. She was incredible and helped me slowly and safely return to running and exercise. I lucked out and my neighbor across the street is also a runner (and a FT working mom whose schedule jived with mine). So we started to run together in April of 2021 and trained for an ran a 10 mile race in October of 2021. I was only able to train for that race because of the flexibility of working from home. So that is one huge positive to come out of Covid! 

Flash forward again to the spring of 2022. I had signed up for a 10 mile race in May during the winter, thinking I could maintain my mileage when/if I returned to the office. My office re-opened in March and we were expected to come in 3 days/week. Unsurprisingly, it has turned out that fitting running in has been hard. For awhile I was able to leave work 1 days/week around 3 to run, but it's too hot at that time of day in the summer to run - at least for me. So I'm back to fitting workouts in Friday-Monday. I personally can't run 4 days in a row, so at most, I'm getting 2 days of running in each week, maybe 3 if I am lucky. Leading up to that 10 mile race, I knew I needed to drop down to the 10k option. And then I got Covid the week before the race so I didn't race at all, of course. 

So what comes next? I've decided to run a 10k race over marathon weekend in October. A 10 mile race is just too much for me right now. It was fine last year but I was sick so much with colds and such leading up to the race that it wasn't exactly the most enjoyable race experience and my time was so slow and depressing. I know no one else cared about my time, but it was just kind of depressing to see how slow I was. I tried to have some grace since I was breastfeeding a baby that turned 10 months the day I ran the race, but as a person susceptible to intense self-criticism, I didn't feel super proud of my accomplishment on race day. 

Looking ahead, one change I'm going to make is shifting down to coming into the office 2 days/week. I don't think anyone really cares how often I am coming in and 2 days feels like enough in-office time for me. 

All this said, I still consider myself a runner - but a runner with different goals. Instead of double-digit long runs, I'll run 5-6 miles on a weekend morning. And that is just fine for this stage of life. What I'm most proud of is that I'm showing my impressionable 4-year old that mommy is active and enjoys running. 

Have you lost touch with a core identity at any point of your life? 


  1. Lisa, reading this I felt that you are being very hard on yourself. Being a runner doesn't mean you have to run x miles at x pace. You have fit running into your life, with all those life changes, and I feel like you should be very proud of your accomplishments. You're living with a chronic illness, you've had surgery, and still you are doing it! You should be so proud. I don't agree that you are "making excuses." Life changes and so do we. I think you're incredible, and all the things you accomplish every single day is quite impressive.

    I say this all the time to my yoga students: yoga doesn't mean postures that all look the same for everyone. Yoga is a personal journey, and it changes with life. It's there to support you in your life, and I think running or any kind of activity is the same. So what if you never run another marathon? The fact that you did is incredible.

  2. This is an interesting food for thought post, Lisa -- both in terms of your own story and in terms of how all of our identities/self-identifications evolve over time. I agree that you're being a tad hard on yourself and how you define "runner." (You and Rick would get on in that way -- he has very different opinions of people who ride a bike like him for passion and people who just ride for fun).

    I am more than one thing and so are you. I like to think of my identity as being a woman who happens to love painting (and an artist but as a part of me, my identity) and blogging and ..... You are a woman who is a mom, a runner, a wife, a professional. All hats we wear and some we wear more than others, then put them away for a bit while we wear something else. The trouble with having one external thing as an identity is when something happens out of our control to affect it, the challenges can be all the more emotional. That can be illness, parenthood, injury or any number of factors. Doesn't mean we can't all try to be better at the things we do. But it's only a contest with ourselves, as you know -- and sometimes no one wins. (I'm glad you're switching you office hours. Smart.)

  3. I love this post! You know that Janae of HungryRunnerGirl likes to say, "Running will always be there for you." I don't know how moms with little kids and full time jobs manage a big training schedule. I think they're probably sacrificing sleep, which is a personal choice but maybe not the best one.
    i just listened to an interview with a 100-year-old man who still runs- he holds the record for his age group in the marathon. And he said he didn't get into running seriously until his 60s. So, what I'm saying is you've got a lot of life ahead of you. What you're doing right now is perfect for this phase, and when the kids are older and you're in a new phase, if you want to run more, running will be there for you.

  4. Agree with Jenny above! Running will be there . Your kids are so little - it's soo hard to run consistently (or seriously) when there are babies. I'm just starting to get more excited about running again and it's totally the ages of my kids making a huge impact.

    Also shorter races are great and can be just as challenging if you are training for speed! I'm working on improving my 5k time!

  5. you are a runner!!! regardless of mileage! we all go through life stages where running is front center or back burner. when timing is right you'll get back to it to serve its purpose.
    my running story is shorter than yours but it has became The sport that I go back consistently as it serves as mental therapy and always makes me feel good.
    enjoy every run because nothing comes easily is my motto :)

  6. I've often heard the quote "If you run, you are a runner." I definitely think of you as a runner, just based on hearing mention of frequent runs for exercise. So, if that helps at all, you definitely project a "runner identity" to outsiders! I know what you mean though, if you aren't doing something quite to the level you used.

    I think for me personally, I sometimes feel like this about reading. I sometimes feel like I list "reading" as a hobby, or will say that I'm a "reader", but then I'll be like....well....I'm only reading 1-2 books a month usually, if that. And REAL readers read wayyyy more than that. Or real readers read every night before. Or real readers read in every spare minute they can find. Etc.

    I was always a "reader" as a kid, but then did pretty minimal just for fun reading through my college years (just so much required reading...) and then I sort of fell away from it when the boys were little. I was just trying to survive working and parenting and tried to prioritize exercise back then whenever I could. Anyway, I am at least glad that I have been consistently reading again for the last several years, even if it's not enough to really qualify me for "high level reader" status. ;)

  7. I love all of the supportive comments you're getting! I think Enneagram 1s are just naturally harder on themselves and seek perfectionism in everything they do. For you, running was such a big part of your identity and for it to have to take a backseat to your other roles in life was probably a hard pill to swallow. But you're not making excuses! Or if you are, they are really, really good excuses. It's natural for our identities to evolve through the years, especially when something as life-shaking as becoming a mother happens, and your kids are still really, really little and still need so much care and attention. It makes sense that you'd have to figure out how to fit running into the nook and crannies of your life and that it might become less important at this stage of your life. BUT! You are STILL finding time to run and THAT is what makes you a runner - not how many miles you're logging or how many races you're doing. The fact that you're still trying to fit in a few runs a week is what makes you a runner, and I, for one, am constantly inspired by your dedication to running. Keep it up, friend!