I have joked with many acquaintances that the last year and a half has felt like a delayed-onset adolescence of sorts.
To state the obvious, a huge part of growing up, if not the hugEST part of growing up, is figuring out who you are and what you're about. Navigating the world and situations and friendships and relationships and potential vocational paths are all the name of the game of self-actualization.
Being somewhat of an introspective person, I started to realize a couple of years ago that while in many ways running has been a huge part of making me who I am and directing much of the course of my life--which I do not regret--it becomes clear to me during other times when I am not part of the running world that in other ways I let it inhibit me from developing in other areas. I think that likely resonates with most everyone who has pursued any one thing with reckless abandon.
I have frequently found myself in many recent months asking the age-old question often posed by many a "bird with its wings clipped" so to speak: who am I without __________? Which is something I feel as though I should have nailed down years ago, but never really did as I was too busy defining myself by the one thing that I felt validated me.
Who am I when people ask me what I'm training for and I don't have an answer? Who am I when people ask me, "do you still run?" (Am I getting fat or something? Dafuq prompts that question?!) Who am I when I don't have a checklist of running goals to chase throughout the year? Who am I without writing detailed entries into a running log everyday like a dweeb?
I know that I am far, far from alone when it comes to the loss of an important defining feature of one's life and the subsequent identity crisis that follows. Why can't we ever really learn how to truly answer these existential questions? Damn you, human condition.
I kid sometimes that my life would look outrageously different had I stumbled upon, say, heroin before stumbling upon running, such is the nature of my somewhat addictive and obsessive personality common to so many who pursue endurance sports. We are all fortunate that we managed to find a healthy outlet before finding an unhealthy one. Or at least, that the healthy outlet manages to somewhat offset the unhealthy one.
The biggest kindness that has been presented to me in the last year however, is the fact that I can presently run just enough to remember what I love and why, but not enough to make it my life. Maybe it's just me reaching for silver linings or maybe it's some sort of psychological defense mechanism, but there is a strange accompanying sense of unexpected freedom that has come with that. Freedom to do and be anything else without the trepidation that comes from not wanting to upset the perfect balance in your life that you've created to maximize your potential at this one thing.
So the delayed-adolescent quest to ascertain "Who the hell am I (without running)?" continues. In the meantime, if nothing else has been drilled into my skull, it is that we have to hold on loosely to what we define ourselves by, and to be very discerning with what we allow those things to be. Are those things transient? Then you're playing with fire. When all is well it's easy enough to think that you already know that, but I now absolutely believe you can only truly learn that lesson the hard way.
I harbor little doubt that it will all come back to me, but my relationship with it is unlikely to resemble what it was before.
I do love cheesy 80's music, and 38 Special probably didn't know they were writing a song for runners when they advised us to "hold on loosely but don't let go, if you cling too tightly you lose control."