Recently, someone I’ve known a while – and who has always known me as a runner – asked whether I still was one.
This wasn’t because he hasn’t seen me for a while. More that he hasn’t seen me running for a while. I do manage the odd run/walk – usually in the name of testing some lovely kit for Women’s Running, sometimes out of sheer stubbornness or the deluded notion that positive thinking will somehow get me through it – but mostly I spend my training time on the turbo, walking as fast as I can, or doing [what feels like] hours and hours of rehab exercises.
I tell people that I have been running for 19 years. That’s true – on and off. But, in truth, my time of running six days a week and caring about nothing other than running PBs ended around 2007, when I first picked up an ITB injury on a training camp – a classic case of getting carried away in good weather and good company. Of course, I tried to run through it – despite the fact it wasn’t my first injury and I’d never addressed my dodgy biomechanics – and it just got worse. It’s kind of morphed into various hip, knee, lower back and sciatic nerve complaints, but it’s still there. I’ve had every type of treatment imaginable. I’ve actually managed to run a few half-marathons, 10Ks, and several triathlons – including two Ironman events, one of which saw me finish a 4:30 marathon – by having long periods of total rest, slightly shorter periods of dedication to rehab, and a bit of re-learning to run.
The question is: if I haven’t run, properly, consistently, for this long, am I still a runner? I was shocked to be asked this. Later on, when I’d swallowed my indignation, I realised it was a perfectly reasonable question. I talk and write as much about walking, cycling and weight training as I do about running these days.
But these will always be consolation prizes to me. I will never be an ex-runner. I’m like a ‘resting’ actor, working day in and day out in a call centre because the acting work is hard to come by; ask her what she does and she’ll still say, “I’m an actor.” If I could wake up tomorrow completely pain free I would happily throw myself into a 20-mile run. I’ve never found it boring (something I cannot say for my new friend the turbo trainer) and, when fit, I’ve never had to ‘force myself’ to run. Good running may be hard to come by for me these days; the injured days outweigh the fit days and my run/walks are more just… walks. But I will always be a runner.