When You Can’t Run: An Identity Crisis

A few things you might know about me if you’ve frequented this site in recent years:

  1. I’m currently pregnant with a perfect little boy.
  2. I have what some might call an obsessive personality.
  3. I’m a new runner and I’m really, really into it.

All of these things led to a perfect storm of an emotional roller coaster when I wasn’t able to run from weeks 8 to 14 of my pregnancy.

Because of course, I was so paranoid about doing everything in my power to protect my little angel that I would never do anything that put him in any danger, but I also had (in retrospect, kind of silly) ambitions of running a half-marathon while pregnant.

This pre-natal half-marathon pipe dream of mine had already started to slip away during weeks 5-7, because honestly, your first trimester is a nightmare of energy. The most I ran was 6 miles and it was UNPLEASANT but, ever-determined, I thought if I could just keep the distance up at 6 through the first trimester, I would be able to train for the half in the second.

And then at my 8-week ultrasound, my doctor said no more running until the “normal abnormality” I had cleared itself up, hopefully within a few weeks.

It became almost immediately clear to me that the half wouldn’t happen and while I was sad, I was also a little relieved. Unfortunately, this short moment of relief was soon replaced with a million other panicked thoughts and emotions, none of them particularly happy.

  • I have to walk? Are you kidding me? Walking is THE WORST. It takes so long and I’m a total bitch who every time I see an able-bodied person walking thinks, “Why aren’t you just running, I don’t get it?” Are people going to think this about me? Can I wear a sign saying I’m pregnant and not allowed to run but I will be able to again soon? I’m like you, runners, I swear! (My thinking on walking has since evolved, thank goodness.)
  • Oh my god, I’m going to get so fat! (Hey, I’m outlawing the f-word (fat) once our little guy joins us, but a lady feels what a lady feels.)
  • Will I be able to run again? She says I will even during this pregnancy but like, what if I can’t? I’ve never, ever, ever, had to stop for more than four days at a time since I started. WHAT IF I CAN’T START AGAIN?
  • Will I still love it when I start again? Or will it be like when I started the first time and it took, like, a solid year and a half to love?
  • Can you stop thinking all these negative things? Your fetus is going to think running is more important to you than he/she is.
  • Well, Ella will get more exercise again since she hates running but loves walking.
  • At least you don’t have to pretend to enjoy yourself running in your first trimester when you really are not.

After weeks of obsessing over all of these thoughts and more, I started to think about WHY not running was bothering me so much, beyond the normal amount of frustration you would have at not getting to do something you love.I realized eventually that so much of my identity lately—so much of what I loved about my identity—was tied up with running.

How can I feel like myself if I’m not doing something that I consider such an important part of myself?

That’s when I decided to get to the core of what running did for me to redefine myself to fit within my current circumstances. I thought about the aspects of my personality tied to running that would exist every day, through every sideline I might face in my life.

  • I am a person who loves to challenge myself.
  • I’m good at setting a goal and reaching it.
  • I care about taking the best possible care of body (as long as the best possible care includes a weekly donut).
  • I invest in myself, my well-being, my happiness.
  • I am strong.
  • I like to have fun and do things I like.
  • I like to brag and feel smug sometimes.

All of these things? None of them went away when I couldn’t run. They were still there—I was still me.

In fact, some of them were even more powerful! Did you know that as I’m pregnant and sitting here typing this essay, I’m burning more energy than any man does body-building? Did you know that I’m literally creating a human with only my body? I mean, that’s just about the strongest thing there is.

And goals? Baking a baby up right certainly is a good one to have!

And being smug? Well, I bought myself a 13.1 car magnet during this running hiatus so clearly, I didn’t all of a sudden become a humble, nice person.

Reader, I hope you never have to stop doing something you love, something you care about so deeply. If it happens though, please remember that you are still the best parts of you.

Luckily, remembering this helped me survive those six weeks. Now that I’m back to running? You know, it’s okay! Some days I love it. Some days I hate it. Some days I feel fine and then all of a sudden, the sides of my belly are on pure fire. But I keep trying and I keep working because all of those things about myself I love so much? Running is (just) one way I can find them.

But I sure as hell am glad to know they’ll still be there when I’m 40 weeks pregnant and not about to put on my running shoes.


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