Finding My New Way

Oddly enough, this cartoon was one of the first images returned when I Googled, "Who am I?" image

If you read The Book, you know I grew up a reader, not a runner. And despite my seven marathons, newly minted Half Fanatic status, and being a regular contributor to Runner’s World, there’s always a part of me that forever worries about backsliding to being that sedentary person. Now even more so because, deep, heavy sigh: I just got diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. (I’m rolling a frozen water bottle under my right heel and arch as I type this…)

But don’t check your inbox for an Evite to my pity-party quite yet. For now, I’m philosophical about being sidelined: I figure I dodged the injury-bullet for 25+ years, so sooner or later I was bound to get hit. The orthopedist who diagnosed the PF agrees: He took one look at my arches (which he deemed, “twice as high as most people,” a distinction I feel about as proud as if he’d told me I have “twice the amount of dandruff most people have” or “twice as small boobs”) and declared he was amazed I’d made it this long without succumbing to an injury.

As you can guess, though, I am not taking the diagnosis sitting down. While I haven’t run since May 17 with one, um, “minor” exception I’ve become reacquainted with my bike (a good friend when I live in San Francisco in the late 1990s) and I’ve been strength training at least twice a week. But, as we running-mommas know, nothing compares to the heart-thumping sweat induced by a delightfully simple run. (Insert another heavy sigh here…)

Other than finding a suitably sweaty alternative, the main thing I’m grappling with my identity. It’s finally T-shirt weather here in Portland, and I’ve found myself reaching again and again for my beloved “another mother runner” and “The more I run, the less I want to run away.” tees, yet I can’t bring myself to pull them on. While I haven’t yet reverted to being simply a reader, I am not currently a runner. So while I’m spinning away, mulling over this question, I think about what my friend (and fellow RLAMer) Megan reminded me: Not that long ago, I deemed I was “a rower who runs,” and in the past I’ve self-selected as a Masters swimmer. It’s only been in the last three or so years I’ve ID’d myself as a runner first and foremost.

Ashley's oh-so-appropos card

And nothing like a little kick from kismet: With the, “if I’m not a runner, then who am I?” question incessantly pinging around my brain, I got a card (yes, an actual piece of mail) from Ashley (a mutual friend of Megan and me who ran the Boston Marathon in April). Ashley wrote, “…I have been in a weird funk since I am taking a marathon break. Didn’t realize how much being a ‘marathoner’ these last few years defined me (at least in my head). Spending a little time resting & re-defining what running is to me right now….”

While these comments from dear women whom I respect greatly as runners and moms don’t get me back to running any sooner (a final sigh for good measure), they certainly helped get my head in a better place. And, as well all know, the body follows where the mind leads.

42 responses to “Finding My New Way

  1. I’m not even a running momma but I can completely identify with your post. In fact I’ve been struggling with the same problem (and periodically venting frustrations at since being sidelined in April with a stress fracture. I totally feel your pain and frustration! Hope the PF clears up soon!

  2. You hav always been so MANY things from my perspective. Not just a runner. I secretly like the idea of you redefining yourself once again. It’s always a spectacular result. You have taken on every challenge; writing, running, and mothering, with all your heart. Here comes the corny (or should I say “korny?”): My experience with life’s setbacks is that they lead somewhere wonderful once you go with the flow. It usually takes me YEARS to readjust. You’re at your depression-acceptance phase right now. Acceptance is next and I can’t wait to see how you spin this with the you normal enthusiasm and determination.
    Also, am I mistaken or do all these gals love your writing and your personality? They don’t actually see you run every day. It’s YOU they like.

  3. I, too, lived my life as a reader, not a runner. I never ran a step until I was 31. I was recently sidelined with pneumonia for 2 weeks and I completely stress out because I am terrified that the time off is going to take my “Runner” status away. I still qualify my runner status- I am a lawyer and one of the Judges I am before every day is a runner. When he points out to my clients (as he frequently does) that their lawyer has run a marathon, I always point out that it was slow. I am not sure I will ever be comfortable identifying myself as a runner.

  4. SBS – I will ALWAYS consider you a runner. Think of this injury as a small bump in the road of life. Time heals everything and you will be back on your feet before you know it. Hang in there!

  5. I feel your pain. I’m 11 days away from running my first marathon and I haven’t run for a week because I have such intense pain in my hip when I run, I just can’t keep going. It’s hard to take a break and trust that the rest will heal the hurt and make it better. However at this point, that’s all I can do. The feelings that you’re talking about so mimic many of the feelings that I’m having. It took me along time to admit that I’m a runner and I don’t want to lose that status now just because I got this freak injury.

    You are awesome, you have inspired countless women, and you can do this!

  6. As always, your words resonated with me!! I went from a monthly mileage PR of 122 for April down to a piddly 38 for May because of a strained posterior tibial tendon. It has been such a difficult month as I have struggled with my identity – I’m a runner!! If I can’t run, then what am I?!? Not to mention the emotional roller coaster I have been on because of the pent up energy, closing of another school year teaching, and watching my third baby turn a year old (sobs!!!). After several ART sessions and massages, 2 sports physician appointments, a round of prednisone, wrapping, icing, rolling, stretching, and many tears, I am hopeful after today’s first physical therapy session. I even had an awesome 5.5 miler tonight!! Hang in there SBS!!

  7. So sorry about the PF. I suffered from it years ago (heel spurs and everything) but have been wearing custom orthotics ever since and haven’t had any trouble. I don’t wear cheap shoes (I stick to Mephistos and Danskos and running shoes that I don’t run in) and I almost never go barefoot. I’m a new runner (less than a year) and was afraid the PF would come back, but so far, so good.

    My mom had a terrible case of PF a couple of years ago after a vacation (lots of walking on concrete, left her almost unable to walk at all). Her podiatrist recommended a “Bledsoe PFS” ankle brace (bledsoebrace dot com) and it worked wonders for her in a reasonable period of time, and she hasn’t had trouble since. I don’t know what makes it different from other braces, but that one worked for her. Maybe worth a try.

  8. “With the, “if I’m not a runner, then who am I?” question…”

    This quote resonated with me so strongly. When I suffered my stress fracture in 2006, I was devastated and really didn’t handle it well. After unsuccessfully trying to “run through it,” I pretty much just walked (or hobbled, rather) away from running for a long time. I didn’t want to be anything else than a runner. I didn’t want to cross train. I didn’t want to bike, swim, row, or lift. I wanted to run. And because I couldn’t do that, I did nothing. I really didn’t have perpective. Now, I don’t just look at myself as a runner. I look at myself as a mom, a wife, a runner, a librarian, a reader, a laundry folder (just kidding!), etc. And when I got injured last summer and was out for 12 weeks, I was able to hit the bike and weights and stay in shape without the pity party–because while running is a part of me it is not all that I am.

  9. My physio just told me today that I should stop running, possibly for 4 weeks, while we sort out what’s going on with my hip. I’m getting a 2nd opinion, because for me, nothing compares to running, and I just don’t want to stop running unless that’s the only option.

  10. I’ve had this for 4 years, it’s an ebb and flow type of injury, sorry. I had to skip 2 weeks of my full training this winter, and was just devastated. The good news is that if you baby it and take time off you WILL come back faster, push it, like any injury and it will push back, badly.
    I always do my stretches before I get out of bed 1st thing in the a.m. when it’s being testy, and wear my Danskos as much as possible (I have some that are sandals, too, which helps.)

    Irony: 0 interest in running since my 5/1 marathon, did maybe 6 miles. Ran the Race for the Cure Saturday (my runiversary race, 5 years) and PR’d for that race. Interest in running is back, planning my next full- and PF”s back, too. Joy.
    Patience, this too shall pass.

  11. You know what I did. Swallowed my lump and cheered by BFF through her first Half. Volunteered at the Seattle Rock N Roll – the race I won’t be running because of PF. And yes, it’s always that nagging “who am I” without the road that bites the hardest. Do I really just want to be a mom? Wife? No. I want to be a BadAss Mother Runner – Like YOU! 😉 It’s just the moment where you are right now. It’ll change soon.

  12. Ugh..PF…I’m so sorry! My boss is a bit of inspiration – she’s back after 2 months of PT and has been happily running pain free for nearly a year now ever since….

    Yup…I’m trying not to define myself as a “runner” right now, although by running nearly every day I am definitely one….I’m a bit scared of the competitive monster who has come out when I decide to define myself like that in the past (two sports in college, 11 workouts a wk and a broken rib while rowing national team training) Will the munchkins keep me balanced this time around?

    But it feels so good….and now with a good 5 wks under my belt, I’m getting so I CAN speed up, do a little testing, have fun on the trails, rather than just survive the runs….but can I keep it fun?

  13. I hear ya. I’m having the same re-discovery going on in my psyche right now. After 3 years of being a stay at home mom I’ve gone back to work. It’s a weird transition.

  14. Keep your eye on the prize! You will be back on your running feet before you know it. Thank you for bringing so much running humor into my life. Get well soon & thank you for all that you do.

  15. Two things: one: minimal shoes– might as well try it since you’ll have to start in small mileage (I’m tellin’ ya, it’s a miracle!) and two: you are so fortunate to be a swimmer, so this is a mere bump in the road. I’ve had breakage and PF and bronchitis, and backsliding always loomed, but never won, because I had swimming and cycling and yoga to lean on. That way every obstacle was just a snag on the river, and I kept on flowing regardless. Good luck, enjoy a really short but worthy pity party, and on with the game!

  16. I feel for you. My friend and I just did half fanatics and met our goals. We were also starting our training for my first and her second marathon in September. Just last week I had a hypoglysimic episode, emergency surgery and doctors found some sort of infection in my body(all within hours). All training plans are gone…I was really sad about it.I felt like my body had failed me. All this training and I fall ill. Now all I can focus on is getting better. I have been a runner for 12 years I have always loved it. It’s such a big part of who I am. I realised that now I need to take care of my body, figure out what’s wrong with me so that I can enjoy the things I love. I need to be healthy first. I think once we are better we will love it even more.
    You guys are inspiring! Thank you

  17. Ug, so sorry, it’s such a PITA or PITFoot, I should say. I had it for a while and if anything good came out of my 7 weeks of hospital bed rest before my daughter was born last year is that time cleared up my PF.

  18. I just started running about a year ago and have just started to consider myself a “runner”, and now I am right there with you with PF. I have not run for a few weeks and it’s killing me (especially after the beautiful weather we finally had this past weekend – yes, I’m in Seattle where it seems the rain never stops)! And to boot – my husband bought me one of your glorious “badass mother runner” t-shirts for my birthday – and I feel sort of sad because I am not running right now! But what I figure that means is that I must get out there and run again as soon as I am able! I am still hoping to run the Seattle RnR half at the end of this month, but we’ll see. In the meantime I took a spinning class this past weekend and remembered how much I like it – so I am planning on keeping it in my cross training repertoire once I am back to running.

    Thanks for the post and hope you are back in action soon!

  19. Having come off 3 weeks of rest due to my crazy champagne cork eye injury (!), AND having had plantar fasciitis on and off my whole running career, I can definitely sympathize. Keep using the frozen water bottle and do the runner’s stretch all day, as often as you can remember to do it: In hindsight some of my injuries have been my biggest blessings. I would have never learned to swim or use my bike if it wasn’t for my injuries and therefore would have never thought I could do a triathlon. Anytime I’m injured I revisit this article which helps me feel like I’m training for something even when I’m injured:,7120,s6-241-286–13412-1-1X2-3,00.html. Best of luck and keep wearing those running t-shirts! And to the mother runner who wonders if she should take the 26.2 magnet off her car, remember this, “There will be days when you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.”

  20. I know how you feel! I went through something similar last fall when my first HM was delayed by an Achilles injury. I wanted to cry when I saw people running while I was riding the elliptical and swimming. I tried to tell myself that all the XT would make me a better runner – and I was right. I am better. I’ve now done that HM and have a full marathon in my sights. And I still XT (never did before). Just hang in there – you’ll be back on the road again soon!

  21. Wear those shirts, woman! This is just a different training plan, a different project to manage. Just attack this project like you do all your other ones, and you will be back.

    That said, I look in the mirror several times a day, wondering if the chocolate I just ate will result in all 40 of my lost lbs coming back in an instant, so I know that “will I backslide?” feeling well. Then I remind myself it’s not about falling off the metaphorical horse, it’s about how many times I get back on, and THAT I get back on, no matter what.

    You ARE a runner! always will be!

  22. i am just getting back to running after a knee injury during my (first) january marathon. it has been such an insane, emotional rollercoaster of a journey! it for sure made me re-evaluate myself as an athelete/runner/what am i? and also made me re-evaluate any running goals. so i feel your pain! (literally- i’ve also dealt with plantar faci too!)

  23. You are absolutely always a runner. You are also an inspiration to so many other runners. Especially those of us who wait to run through injury or illness.

  24. I just finished my very first marathon with my best friend. I wod never have really considered it if not for your book. Your openness and willingness to go through all the good, bad and ugly with all of us following you is amazing! You are such a good example to take the time your body needs without hiding the dusappiontments and frustration associated with injury. Thank you and i hope you enjoy this well-earned break!

  25. I now consider myself a MOTHER RUNNER, whereas 1 year ago, I would not have. Oddly, I had PF, then started running in 2006 (longest distance 3.1 miles!), and it went away. I stopped running for 1.5 years, no PF, until I restarted running at end of 2008 (longest distance 13.1 now!). My PT said it would probably never fully go away (woman, high arches, on my feet a lot), but I have now been pain free for 1 year.

    Calf stretching, calf strengthening, hip strength (side planks and “monster walk” with a theraband), ice massage (freezing water in dixie cups and hard massaging over area), and Dansko clogs. My feet feel better in shoes, so I am always clomping around the house. I also had a night splint, but I am not sure that did much.

    Of course, now my achilles (on the same side) is acting up, so I do think there must be some connection. I was getting lazy with the above measures, so I am restarting it all.

    Thank you so much for the book and all the amazing mother runner advice and support! !!!!!!!

  26. OMG! We are twins!! High arches and all. The day I ran my first marathon, October 2010, I slapped the 26.2 magnet (great husband for handing it to me soon after I crossed the finish line!) on the back of my car opposite the 13.1 one on the other side. Having been sidelined for months with Achilles Tendonitis, I actually contemplated removing the magnets..can I really consider myself a runner if I haven’t run that much lately? Just the other day someone at my daughter’s school said “hey, you ran a marathon?!” “yes, back in October”, head down like it was a million years ago. So, who am I? Right now I am an injured runner who still hates to clean the toilets but when I go out for my 3-4 mile runs a few times a week, I proudly wear my “Another Mother Runner” tank and I’ll be a runner again soon.

  27. All I can say is “amen.” 🙂 I just finished a marathon yesterday and I’m not sure when my next one will be. I can relate to what Ashley said. Running is definitely a part of who we are, but it doesn’t define us. It can consume us so much, however, that we think of it as our foundation, when in reality it is not. What is our foundation when running is taken out of the equation? Whatever that is, it needs to stay central to our lives whether we are out there on the pavement or not.

  28. You can do it! Think of all the things you’ll have learned when you break on through to the other side. You are a capital R Runner. And the great thing about you is that you have emergency back up endorphin sources w/ swimming and biking. Nothing’s better than a run, of course, so you can spend your “down” time anticipating your next great run – like giving up chocolate for awhile and then tasting it again. MMMMM!! Delish! (Not that I would have ANY idea what that is like since I would never ever ever ever ever give up chocolate for more than like 3 hours!)

  29. Ick. Sorry to hear you are sidelined. Has been the story of my 2011 so I feel ya. You have a great approach to it, which is not that easy!

    I’m sure you’re going to get lots of advice on the PF, so I’ll add mine to the pile–ditch shoes as much as possible and when you must wear them, go minimal. It cured me of PF in both feet. Any time I put a “bad” pair on even for a few hours, I feel it again.

    Good luck!

  30. I agree with Shannon! Whether you are running or are sidelined for a bit as an “injured runner”, the fact that you are a runner doesn’t change. I have recently gotten back into running after “mostly” being off for almost a year due to injury. You have to choose to have the attitude that you WILL recover and in the meantime you’re simply exploring crosstraining options, because crosstraining is good and so many of us don’t do enough of it. (Please say I’m not alone in that!) Anyway, you don’t change who you are, you change your perspective. Stay strong and wear those tees! 🙂

  31. I’m currently injured and not running also (misery loves company!!!) and it would never occur to me to not think of or call myself a runner right now. I am a runner–I’m an injured runner! As are you! You’re a runner who currently has an injury, so you’re off running for a bit. Me too. I would totally still wear those tees.

  32. Sarah, I am in week 5 of NO RUNNING due to an Achilles tendon tear and I can totally relate. I have been riding the stationary bike and strength training, but it is NOT the same. I can’t wait to get back to running, although with the passsing weeks I worry about my dedication and motivation. I read AMR regularly to live vicariously and maintain my runner’s spirit!

  33. Read born to run and it will refuel your spirit. It did mine with my knee injury and helped me get through the am I still runner fase. BTW….YOU are a RUNNER as you are BORN toRUN.

  34. I don’t know if “runner” really embodies all that I am. Well, I know it doesn’t. I know that I’m a Christian, wife, and mom before anything. Then I would consider “athlete” probably before runner because I enjoy sports probably more than running, but running definitely has its place.

  35. It took me so long to finally call myself a “runner” and now that I am training for a marathon (1st – wahoo!) and I have an actually running coach/trainer – I have actually been dabbling in calling myself an Athlete but sometimes feel like that is too BIG of a word for what I do…but I train, I run, I sprint, I do hills, I do crissfit and I do Yoga and pretty soon when the Okinawa heat settles in I will be swimming… so can I… can I call myself an Athlete?

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