Who am I, if I cannot run?

“If I can’t run, much less get up and walk across the room to plug my iPhone into the wall, then who am I?”

I ask myself this question as I sit on my futon, propped up by pillows, legs extended out in front of me, the dwindling red battery on my cellular device an annoying reminder of my hopefully temporary immobility.

Diagnoses: A pelvic stress fracture and bilateral knee dislocations.

Wonderful, I know.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with major injuries—I’ve overcome some serious health problems growing up, as I've written about previously. Apparently, the problems just decided to flare up again now. I was doing great—training hard, winning races and feeling good—then, BAM. 

All I know is now I’m feeling completely and totally helpless, and it sucks. A lot.

My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

“If I’m not a writer-artist-runner, then who am I?” 

Being a runner who has belonged to high school track and cross-country teams and is part of a running club, I know injury comes with the territory of repetitive stress exercise (e.g. running). And as I sit here, freshly injured, I can’t help but think about the concept of runners’ identity as runners. Is it the ability to run that makes us who we are, or is “runner” a state of mind?

Something tells me as I flex my sore knees and feel throbbing in my hip that it’s the latter, not the former. I’m at least three months out of what I would consider “training” at this point, but don’t think the sedentary days before me rob me of the runner piece of my identity.

I have experienced my fare share of runner’s highs, I have clocked tens of thousands of miles in close to 50 pairs of sneakers and racing flats over the past 12 years. These are things I can’t forget, no matter how far I am from lacing up my sneakers and gliding out the door.

“If I’m not grateful, then who am I?”

Gratitude is something runners have but often forget. And it's something injured runners must never lose.

It can be tough. I know it. As I sit here pecking away at my keyboard I agonize in my head all the fitness I am losing. How I’m missing out on scoring points for my running club. How I can’t use my usual method of stress-relief (running) after a long day of writing. How I miss it.

But instead of driving myself crazy lamenting over what I’m missing, I focus on what I’m doing. My injuries have given me the opportunity to slow down and spend more time at my desk. So I feel a lot less rushed when it comes to meeting deadlines and pitching new stories. I’m home all day with the cat and the dog, who don’t seem to mind one bit.

Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Injury forces a runner to reevaluate their goals. I am no Olympian. I am fast, but not the fastest. There is no need for me to truly “compete.” When I can come back from running, there will be no more racing for me every weekend, as I had been doing. Instead, I’ll carefully pick and choose the races I want to compete in. I’ll be happy with a few easy runs a week.

Injured or well, slow or fast, a runner is a runner. It’s an identity that cannot be taken away.

“I am a runner.”