Without a doubt, my favorite part about collegiate running is being part of something that is greater than myself; I find this in my team. Here at Michigan we really emphasize how special it is to wear the Block M and be competing along teammates who are putting their hearts into their training and playing. Having a season dedicated to the pursuit of a Big Ten title really draws me and my teammates together, helping us to form bonds that forge far deeper than just sport. When you have a group of strong women behind you who are chasing their goals and reaching beyond their limits, it is impossible to not find the best in yourself, too.
Unfortunately, I have been injured my fair share of times at Michigan. Each time I have learned something new about training and I believe that they have actually helped to improve my running, but the time away definitely makes my heart ache. Thanks to our volunteer assistant coach Amanda Eccleston (4th place in 2016 Olympic Trials 1500m), I have great cross-training plans and a variety of aqua jogging workouts to help keep me in shape while I am not running. One of the most important things that I have learned through injury actually has little to do with my running performance, but everything to do with my mental health. When I had a stress fracture in my foot my sophomore year cross country season, I was miserable and depressed. I never contemplated suicide, but I prayed fervently that I could not exist and that I had never been born. I wanted desperately to escape the sadness that overwhelmed me every minute of every day. Flash forward to my junior year when I had another stress fracture in my foot right before the Olympic Trials. This time around, my current roommate and teammate Kali Dent asked if I wanted to start going to summer Bible study with her. I joined and learned some pretty incredible things.
Firstly, I learned that God wanted me to cry out to Him and tell Him about my pain. I learned that when I was grieving, so was He. I learned that while I may not understand why things happen as they do on Earth, there is a deeper meaning that will someday be revealed. Most importantly, I learned that I am loved and valued by God no matter how I perform as a runner. I learned to place my identity in something steadfast and unbreakable, unlike running and my bones. By placing my identity in God, I have a safe place to be when running (or life) does not work out the way I hope it will. Contrarily to diminishing my running performance, this identity outside of running actually improves it; God tells me to work wholeheartedly for Him and not as for man in everything that I do (Colossians 3:23). These revelations made all of the difference for that injury. I was sad, no doubt, and cried out to God for understanding and peace. But, having realigned my identity, I did not force myself to live every day in misery. I let myself smile and laugh; I allowed myself to enjoy things even though I was not running. Then I came back for the best cross country season of my life! I know I will be running far into my future. Consequently, I know I will be injured and unable to run in the future, too.
Next time around, though, I have found my purpose and identity outside of running. For me, it is my identity as a daughter of Christ.
Next time around, thus, I will endure, survive, and thrive while not running.
I strongly encourage you to find a purpose outside of running to keep you grounded next time you are thrown off the path that you had been pursuing. No matter how invincible you feel now, it would by impudent to believe you will not be injured again; now, then, is as good a time as any to recognize that you are more than a runner.
Some people like to completely remove being a "runner" from their identity, instead identifying as a person who runs. If this is the route you have chosen, good for you! However, I will never dissociate from the label of being a "runner" -- what I will do is never again make it my sole identity. The label of a runner is something I wear proudly, and creating an identity outside of running has allowed me to wear my runner's identity even when I am not able to run. I will always be a passionate runner and a devoted Christian, and I will thus identify as a runner and a Christian.
What are you passionate about? If you think it's only running, I suggest you start to explore a few other activities. Try reading, church, yoga, knitting, coffee shop-exploring - whatever! - and find something that makes you excited to pursue life. When you find something really special to you, add this to your identity. That way, when running lets you down, you have a steady rock on which you can hold. May you run (and not run) happily along!