My running. My life.

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For many of us running forms part of our identity.  Some of us reflect this identity in our social media handles (e.g. @runninggirl42; @racingsnake10 etc); proudly describe ourselves as runners when completing a list of hobbies or special interests; and will even plan family holidays or excursions around a particular race, and then brag about doing so.  Those of you delaying your wedding to a date after Comrades or Two Oceans… yes, I’m talking about you.  

I also happen to know many, many athletes with a greater variety of running shoes than high heels, as well as some gents who genuinely never seem to wear anything that isn’t a run-specific brand of clothing.  Running is in our blood.

So what happens when we can’t run?  Do we stop being runners?  Do we stop living our lives?

Some of my darkest days as a human being have been when I was too sick or too injured to run, occasionally for days or even weeks at a time.  (In fact, I’ve been benched with bronchitis for the past week).  Many runners, and by that I mean anyone addicted to running, not only identify as being “a runner” but also attribute a large part of their self-worth to their running and the attainment of their individual running goals.  When you don’t run, or can’t run, you feel inferior or even worthless.  This feeling of inferiority or worthlessness often projects outwards to others as bad-tempered behaviour… we’re a little bit like a bear with a sore head.  Am I right?  And the longer we’re unable to run, the worse and worse it gets.

Last year, two of my close running friends were sidelined from running competitively for the better part of 6 months (in fact, one was benched for 9 months and is only just getting back on the road).  As the weeks of their recovery turned to months, and our favourite races kept passing them by, I watched as each of them became steadily more depressed and unhappy, not only with their running, but also with the rest of their lives.  Suddenly their marriages seemed a little less happy and their jobs not quite as satisfactory. Life in general just seemed to be worse, and boy, were they grumpy!  

Worse than that was to watch two ladies who I loved and respected begin to doubt themselves.  Instead of saying: “when I get back on the road”, each started to say things like “if I get back on the road”, and later “maybe its time to stop running and focus on something else”… like what?  Knitting?!  

Each of these strong, successful women started to think they just couldn’t do it anymore, and their sense of self worth went down the toilet.  It was awful.

So today, what I’d like to share with you are my tips for staying motivated and committed to getting back on the road.  Mostly importantly, you need to retain your sense of self-worth because, side-lined or not, you’re still a runner.

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  • Stay Involved – As tempting as it is to run off and hide in a dark corner while you live out your sickness or injury, its not particularly helpful to your sense of self-worth.  You need to stay involved.  Volunteer to assist with a club water table (or parkrun), second your friends along the route of a race or hang out at the finish and play Action Photo.  Surround yourself with people who share your passion for running and who will inspire you to get back on the road again quickly.  You need to miss your running!  

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  • Cut Out the Negativity – It sounds harsh, but you need to cut those people out of your life who tell you that you can’t run (or run that fast, or that seriously) anymore and/or who criticise your efforts to stay involved and in touch with your running.  One of the two ladies I mention above found herself on the receiving end of repeated negativity from her coach and mentor who ceaselessly criticised her for “allowing herself to get injured” and for not recovering as quickly as the coach would have liked.  As she lost more and more self-confidence and, at one point stopped running altogether, this same coach started to tell her friends and peers that she was “over-the-hill” and would never race competitively again.  The coach even started to incentivise other athletes to beat my friend at races.  As you can imagine, this nearly broke my friend’s spirit.  But, after cutting her old coach out of her life, finding a new club, new training partners and a new coach, she’s back on the road, happy as Larry.  Don’t you dare let someone else’s insecurities and negativity prevent you from chasing dreams.  Cut them out.

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  • Change It Up – You know what they say: a change is as good as a holiday.  Sometimes what you really, really need is to try something new.  Consider adding some cross-training to your recovery, and later your training.  Read up on new training methods, find a new training program completely different to what you’re used to or even, consider getting a new coach.  I think it’s healthy to switch coaches every 3 years or so, it keeps the workouts fresh and exciting and should keep you, as an athlete, on your toes.   

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  • Set Realistic Goals – The thing about being sick or injured, is that you need to rest and recover.  This means that you will lose (some, possibly all) your fitness and speed, yes, even if you are cross-training.  One of the worst things you can do upon returning to the road is to set unrealistic goals, for example, by thinking that in a matter of weeks (or days…) you’ll be back to where you were before your injury/sickness and will magically whip out a podium position or PB.  It’s going to take time.  I spent an hour with one of my Team Massmart ladies today setting realistic goals for the year ahead.  This involved a steady progression in speed over various race distances, all of which are slower than her PBs.  While she was initially quite depressed about not being able to run a sub 2h45 marathon next weekend (about 2 months after returning the the road), we eventually agreed that to set such a big target risked setting her up for failure which would only further detract from her self-worth.  A far better approach would be to set a series of “soft goals” which, if achieved, will boost her confidence and keep her inspired in working toward a sub 2h45 marathon in the second half of the year.  Just because you can’t shoot the lights out immediately after your comeback, doesn’t mean you never will… its just going to take some time.

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  • Read – Possibly my best tip for staying motivated, your self-worth intact – is to read about athletes who have struggled with injury/sickness, or against some other kind of adversity.  These are the stories that will motivate and inspire you to rest, recover and race again.  They might also give you some perspective on the severity of your injury and/or any hardships which you yourself are experiencing.  Draw from their strength.  Keep the faith.  

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If I’m honest, a major component of my self-worth is running related. But I’ve also taken care to ensure that there are other things going on in my life which I can fall back on when my running isn’t going so well. For example, I really love my job. The thrill of standing up in court or drafting an affidavit or heads of argument in opposition to another party is, for me, truly exhilarating (almost as good as those pre-race jitters!). I’m also really lucky to be involved in Team Massmart which gives my running a greater purpose. Not only do I run to compete individually, but I get to run with and manage a team of ladies who love running as much as I do. And so, even when I’m having a bad day, I can still make a difference in the lives of my team mates. It gives me purpose.

As important as running is to you, I promise you that it’s not the only thing you have going for you. You will have a family that loves you, people who look up to or depend on you, and other talents which can be developed to give you purpose. No matter whether you are running or not, your life has meaning. When your running falls on hard times, it’s up to you to find that something else to fall back on.

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You can find a list of recommended athlete biographies HERE. I really enjoyed reading ‘The Perfect Mile‘ by Neal Bascomb, which is available at Exclusive Books.

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3 thoughts on “My running. My life.”

  1. Duncan says:

    Thanks Ann, really needed an article like this with current long term injury.

  2. Gavin Scott says:

    Encouraging read Ann. A worsening Motton’ Neuroma put paid to my running in November. Cortisol injections no longer effective. At 72 doctor had advised against surgery.☹️

  3. Nosipho Buthelezi says:

    Love the article Ann,I know axcatly what you are talking about.I was off running last year for about 6months,missed OMTOM & Comrades. It does help to volunteer and help other team members as much as you envy them you are also encouraged to focus on your recovery so that you can come back strong.

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