Dear Fear, Pain and Identity: please meet my Inner Ninja.

9 years old, ‘training’ for my first Tri. The swim was all of 200 yards, and the 8 laps felt daunting. A six mile bike ride – epic. The .25 mile run, though – I looked forward to it, because it was blessedly simple. No scary starting blocks or flip turns or dismounts or other equipment-related anxieties. I remember the red of the local college track, the bounce I felt from the spongey surface. The white lines were crisp and clean and orderly. This was where we would finish, and this was where my mom brought me to practice. Here, I was confident – the track was MINE.

Eighth grade, in all of my glorious awkwardness, I was miles away from what anyone might call athletic. Somehow, by some stretch of grace and grit, I tied for the top time in the girls mile. Tied is generous – our grade’s most gifted multi-sport athlete, Sara, a colt-legged blond who easily could have lapped me, decided instead to hold steady beside me. Sara, with breath to spare, encouraged me for the better part of the last lap and crossed the finish line of our dirt track in perfect step with me. Redfaced, nearly asthmatic, and completely exhilarated, it was my first experience with what I’d later learn was a ‘runners high’ – the heady nexus of pain and accomplishment and euphoria. When our stern gym teacher posted the results in the girl’s locker room, Sara insisted that we had, really and truly, tied. I recognized her selflessness and was equally appreciative and puzzled by it. I still am.

High School cross country and track, college cross country, post-college masters training, marathons. Running became what I am, what I do, what most connects me to self and others and surroundings. My training partners have always been my closest friends. The cities I’ve lived in and the places I’ve visited are usually best remembered by the paths I’ve run there. My relationship with running is as complex and nuanced as any lifetime relationship is. What holds true is that it is critical, it feels essential, and resides somewhere within my very core.

What – and who – is a runner who can’t run?

It’s not an uncommon crisis of identity. Running can be as cruel as it is generous. The physical demands, for most of us, over time require diligence to principles like moderation and balance, which is funny in that Thanks, Universe type of way when you consider that many of us that are drawn to the sport could be classified as a bit, um – extreme.

Stress fractures in my feet. Knives in my knees. Cracks in my tibia. I’ve been injured before – but not like this. The Orthopedic Surgeon calls this an uncommon injury, wants to consult some colleagues. He warns that it could be a year before I hit the dirt again, with a successful surgery and dedicated rehab. Outwardly, for the most part, I’m maintaining composure. I’ll take up competitive knitting, or rock climbing, I insist. The real deal, though? In some moments, I’m pretty fucking petrified, which is absolutely unhelpful. Eyes closed, I picture a favorite stretch of trail, the path just past Mitchell Rock en route to Eagle Peak. I am not giving up and I am not giving in. Learning, growing – yes. Finishing the last 6 miles of an all-day run has sometimes required Ninja-level mental agility. Those are the scooby-skills I’ll tap into.

I’m tough, I’m scrappy, and I’m strong as hell – I WILL figure this out.

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