I lost my goggles, and my racing flats are collecting dust. I haven’t updated my training log since July. I’ve started riding more miles on my road bike than my car. I only run on trails, without a watch, without mile splits, and without expectations. I’ve become my own coach, and my first order of business is to relax.
Since returning to Bloomington this fall, the first question I’m often asked isn’t how was your summer or what classes are you taking, but “how’s training going?” “How were your races this summer?”
At first, I considered lying – fabricating some great tale of why I didn’t race a single triathlon this year. I felt the need to explain myself, to mask a consuming sense of inadequacy. I wanted to reassure them that I’m still an elite amateur triathlete. I still dedicate more than 20 hours a week to training. I still dream of Kona starting lines and sponsorships.
But, the reality is, I don’t. Priorities shift. Passions evolve.
When I first explained this to a friend, I anticipated disappointment: Disappointment in my inability to fulfill the professional athlete persona my peers have grown accustomed to; disappointment in my comfortable lifestyle and lax training regimen. But instead the news was greeted with a smile. I didn’t need to explain myself. I didn’t need to cover my tracks. I didn’t race a triathlon this year, and that’s okay.
After years of letting coaches, doctors and training plans dictate my daily choices and activities, I’ve found the strength and confidence to let my body do the talking – and to listen. This realization didn’t come easy, but it did come with clarity. Two months into my latest running progression following a femoral neck stress fracture, I broke down in tears on a run. This was the third run to end in tears in two weeks. A combination of unanswerable lower leg pain, frustration, exhaustion and a yearning for answers finally broke me down. I was done. For the first time in nine years, I hated running. I threw my running shoes into the back of my closet and declared good riddance.
Coaches and physios were confident they could find the answer. I smiled and nodded, compliant with their plans and outward confidence, but deep down I wanted nothing to do with a comeback. I was done “coming back.” I had nowhere to come from.
I am no longer Samantha the triathlete, but I like to think I never was. I have experienced the dangers of identifying oneself through sport – I was once Samantha the varsity cross country runner, Samantha the half-marathoner, Samantha the swimmer, but predominantly, I have been Samantha the injured athlete. Countless times I have had these self-made identities taken away from me, leaving pain and disappointment to fill the void. Injuries, setbacks and regret have ripped these identities from my bare skin, leaving stinging bruises and the occasional scar in its place. I’m done being categorized. I’m done being labeled. I’m ready to just be Samantha, no qualifiers, no titles, no personas to satisfy.
The journey to this point of self-assurance has been rocky, unsettling and uncomfortable. But it has also been rewarding, enlightening and liberating. After years of depending on others’ training plans, guidance and validation, I am seeking comfort in my own assurance. For the first time in my athletic career, I am listening to my body without a workout, expectation or goal looming over me. For the first time I am not plotting a comeback. I am comfortable with where I am right now.
So where is that? Where am I today, right now? Answering this question requires more than one blog post, and thus I’m attempting to embark on a series of posts about this journey, beginning with my first run nine years ago and continuing through to today. There will be countless injuries, tears, redemption and doubt. There will be labels, judgments and self-blame. There will be fear, new experiences and countless friends. There will be joy, salvation and that little jittery feeling you get deep in your stomach mid-run when you realize all is right in the world. There is no ending, just a continuation of shifting priorities and evolving passions. We’ll see how this goes.