Maybe this is not the right place for it, but I can’t put down my travel thoughts until I get this off my chest. I’m not sure if it was the added walking around on concrete or what, but I left Amsterdam crippled. Crippled in the sense that I could no longer do the thing that was like a once a day prescription pill. This was about a month ago, and my right achilles is still injured. Fortunately, I can now walk without pain, but I still can’t do the one thing I want to do which is run.
The unfortunate thing is that it goes beyond the compulsion to exercise daily; a lot of the pressure is knowing that I’m supposed to run a marathon in three weeks. Not only does my right achilles giving out throw a big middle finger to my training and any hopes of running a decent time, but it also isn’t healing quickly. And I’m to the point where I don’t think I’m going to be able to do the one thing I’ve been thinking about for roughly a year and a half, the Edinburgh Marathon.
The whole issue is messed up because somehow I reduced my self identity to one aspect: running. If someone were to ask me (maybe a month ago, pre-injury, because now I’m stuck in a cynical spiral) to define myself in one word, I’d say “a runner.” What makes this so weird is that I’ve never been that good at running. I take it more seriously than those who run just to “stay in-shape” in the sense that I’m normally working towards knocking down my times/looking forward to a specific race, but other than this detail of treating it like a sport with specific workouts instead of “just exercise,” I’ve never felt like I can truly call myself a runner… even though that’s what I tell other people. There’s a difference between calling yourself a runner to people who don’t run (in the definition of it being a sport) and calling yourself a runner to runners.
Anyways, everytime I feel like I’m on the cusp of breaking into the runner lifestyle and actually achieving something… my body gives out. There’s always an injury lurking near the top of the mountain. Not at the peak, mind you, because that would’ve meant I achieved something and got injured at the top. It’s more like those cartoon drawings of mountains that have a jagged snowline starting uniformly two thirds up the perfect-triangle mountain. Where that zig-zag snowline starts is where I always get injured. Close enough to see the peak, but never actually getting to it. This is what probably makes the whole identity thing so messed up, because it prevents me from really feeling like a runner even though that’s the lifestyle I’m living.
It certainly makes you reconsider if you’re self-identifying in the right way. It feels like identifying as part of a club that will never open up to let you in. The “adult” solution to all of this is always: maybe try something else, get a different hobby. Which, by the way, it grates on the soul to hear something that influences every aspect of your life called a mere hobby.
Actually, this needs to be said in order to understand what I mean, so I apologize for the aside. Running, for me, is something that I think about constantly. It influences what food I eat and how much. It influences when I go to sleep and when I wake up. It influences how much I go out (rarely) and when (only if the next day is an easy/off day). It influences any spare moment: sitting in a chair in class becomes performing a set of toe raises to hopefully prevent shin splints down the road. It influences if I can view a day as complete/a success, if I’m not running the day is rarely, if ever, a success. And, just to clarify, by “influence” I don’t mean that running makes any of these choices easy or natural. True, once you make something a routine then it becomes just that, but I constantly have to weigh out the pros and cons of getting ice cream when grocery shopping. Of going out at night with friends, when I know I should double the next day. It’s difficult to explain. It’s difficult because you don’t know which sacrifices will pay off. Will staying in speed up your recovery? Probably. But is it enough of a difference to justify not having fun at a party? When everything is going well, you don’t question the choices, and I’ve come to love a lot of them. But when injury announces its bleak omnipotence… it makes you question things. It makes you question everything. Why did I worry so much about getting enough sleep when it was going to end up like this anyway? Hopefully this gives a glimpse into why, “picking a new hobby,” is not as simple as it sounds. It has become too tied up in my identity, whether I like that or not.
Maybe once upon a time it was a choice. I definitely had to choose running at one point to be doing it… right? The point is though, it doesn’t feel like a choice anymore. It’s something I do, and if I can’t do it, it sends me spiraling. When it is going well though, holy moly, it feels like you’re on top of the world in the non-cliche way. I have never felt more free than months into training, when I’m finally in pretty good shape, and I can crank out a sub-seven minute mile paced long run without much effort. I’ve never felt more connected to my body and to the world than in those runs. But for every one of those moments, there is an equal valley in the opposite direction. Maybe that’s fair. I just wish that what I loved didn’t injure me physically and emotionally… that’s what we in the business call “an abusive relationship.” This is all a lot, you might be thinking, but isn’t this a study abroad blog? Yes, it is. And I’m just here to show that even though you can be in a fun, new place: life still has familiar patterns on both the positive and negative end.