Navigating your identity as a runner


The alarm clock at your weekend hotel buzzes you awake. Traveling for work guarantees a night of less than stellar sleep. You’ve got a meeting that could’ve been an email at nine AM, giving you just enough time to sneak in a morning run.

You lace up your Saucony’s, trudge down to the elevator, and slowly plod along the trail next to your hotel. Your body loosens, legs relax, and you spend the next hour zoned out along a path you’ll never run again.

You’re an out-of-towner, yet you feel at home as you move from one foot to the next. You nod, wave, and say hello to other runners crossing your path along the way. It’s a silent affirmation of “I get you” to the strangers passing by. Some of them are travelers like you, while others are locals that will cover this path thousands of times.

Athlete identity is the degree of personal connection to sport — and runners are often very connected to their sport. Regardless of your location, ability, or training distance, the simple act of slipping on a pair of running shoes immediately places you in a global community.

It’s why you can joke with others about circling a parking lot to get your watch from 4.9 to 5.0. It’s why you can relate to Eliud Kipchoge holding a 4:37 pace for a marathon without ever being able to do that yourself. It’s why when you are dealing with an injury and say things like “I don’t feel like myself,” your training partners echo, “I get that.” and completely understand.

Identifying as a runner is a broad identity that can be incredibly specific.

I’m a Boston Qualifier.
I’m a sub 20:00 5ker.
I’m an ultramarathoner.
Maybe “I’m a run to keep my life held together-er.”

Often when an injury occurs this identity takes a beating. It’s incredibly important clinicians understand this when working with runners. Runners don’t see rehab pros because everything is going well. There is a disconnect from where they want to be (running without limitations) and their current state.

It’s often challenging for runners to navigate the changing of these specifics, and these specifics are guaranteed to change.

Managing life transitions is difficult and and acknowledging they will happen is an helpful first step. This can be due to injury, but also to navigating running post-college, training with little kids, or realizing you don’t want to train at a certain level anymore. Your specifics might change, but the identity as a runner stays.

Just because something feels like it’s ending doesn’t mean there aren’t even better days in the future.

As Susan Cain says,” Endings will give way to beginnings as much as beginnings will give way to endings.”

Your relationship with running should bob and weave throughout life. Hopefully, that winding path brings you joy and connection regardless of the pace and distance that’s beeping on your watch.

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