My latest piece for The Size Run.

Photo by: Mina von Feilitzsch Photography

MY COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH RUNNING

We like to put things and people into boxes. What do I mean? Well, throughout my life I have been confined to different “boxes” so to speak or labeled by the activity someone might know me through. For example, during my childhood someone might describe me as a ballet dancer or even a tennis player. During high school I might have been labeled as the captain of the first girls soccer team. No matter, all of these things are true when it comes to activities of participation, but they do not represent who I am as a person. Fast forward to the past ten years and I would unequivocally be known as a competitive cyclist, climber, and now a clinical sport psychologist. However, these labels represent only a small part of my life and personality.

How do we describe, label, or identify ourselves? These are questions I often ponder.

Yesterday I decided to finally visit William B. Umstead Park, which is a local state park here in Raleigh, NC. Of course, most people would think I might head there to ride a mountain or cyclocross bike, but what many do not know is my “secret” passion for trail running. Yes, running. My relationship with running has always been somewhat complicated. Throughout my life I have enjoyed the solitude of running, it has been a type of bridge for me during various life transition points. The first time I took running seriously (outside of tennis and soccer) as an athlete was when I retired from competitive cycling. I was about to start graduate school, and wanted separation from the bike and cycling culture. I was in desperate search for a new challenge and adventure. Unlike most people, I did not simply start running I decided after a few months to run my first marathon (do as I say, not as I do). The interesting part of this was not the fact I missed qualifying for Boston by a few seconds (my first attempt), but that I did not identify or even see myself as a real runner. I can remember feeling displaced and almost like an imposter when I lined up for the start of the marathon in San Jose, CA. I would often joke about my cycling tan lines being out of place and that I was merely, “a cyclist trying to run.” One theory is that as athletes we tend to identify with our strengths, I knew I was a strong cyclist, but at this point I had no idea what I was capable of as a runner.

During my Umstead trail run I started to think more on the idea of labels and my personal struggle of identifying myself as a “runner.” As I danced over roots, rocks, streams, and bridges I noticed that I was in a state of flow. In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

That was the golden ticket. Trail running is something where I have to maintain focus, but I can also allow my mind to shut off and flow through the forest. I may not be the fastest or strongest, I may not compete in a lot of running races, but in that moment I was a runner. The same goes for running on the road, I do it because it allows me to find a new rhythm, a new state of flow. Instead of seeing running as my “transition” or backup sport, I hope to cultivate a new relationship. The journey starts now.

Why do I run? I am an athlete and I run because I can. Remember: “Strength doesn’t look a certain way — it feels a certain way.”

Photo by: Alex Warren