Losing Myself: A Runner Who Can’t Run

My shoes, staring longingly at a jogger on the Brooklyn Bridge

I miss you.

I feel so alone without you, like my entire identity has been stripped from me. You gave me so much: friends, happiness, freedom, strength…  And now you’re gone.

I know nobody is at fault here, but I can’t help feeling sometimes like I could have done something to prevent this.  I could have taken better care of myself.  I could have been more committed to you, maybe given you a little more time, or maybe even given us some extra time apart. I could have kept a better eye on where things were going.  I could have seen it coming, at least.

That night when it happened I was so scared we’d wind up like this, but I didn’t let anyone know. I put on my strong face and kept on. I was determined not to let it set me back.  But, as I now know, it doesn’t work that way.  At a certain point you have to let yourself give up or you risk hurting yourself even worse in the end.

God, running. I miss you so much.

From my 9.9.12 Training Log:

I ran for my physical therapist on September 4th. First of all, he was shocked that I’d never had a coach, other than my sister.  Second, he told me my form was really wonky (suprise!). I’ve been running too forward on my toes, lifting my legs and bouncing but not following through with a strong push off the ground.  When he corrected me and had me run, it took me less than five minutes for my injury to kick in. I felt that sharp pull in my knee, like someone was cutting into it with a knife, and it was strong.

I started crying.

It’s been so long.  I feel like a failure! How can I have taken this much time off–almost 4 months!–and still not be at least a little better?

And I wouldn’t give up Salty Running for the world, but writing about running every day and reading about running every day, hearing about other runners’ races and victories and training… it’s so hard for me.  Sometimes I feel like this would be easier if I could just pretend running didn’t exist and do something else for a while.

But here are all you Salties, waiting for me to talk all about running. And here I am, absolutely desperate to read every word you say about it too, like a jilted lover stalking my ex on our mutual friends’ Facebook pages.

My shoes and my favorite socks, frolicking in the grass…without me.

Not that, like, I’ve ever done that before or anything.

Sometimes, like a couple weeks ago, I give up and trot around Brooklyn, running a hundred steps at a time between walking stints. I struggle not to look guilty when I see my physical therapist and don’t tell him about it because I’m afraid he’ll stop treating me.  I know I’m not supposed to, but I justify each step to myself with the knowledge that I’m going crazy without it.

Hanging out by the water fountain in Fort Greene Park…without me.

I want new shoes. I desperately want a race. I want to feel strong and healthy again. I want to feel the wind on my face and the sun on my cheeks, the sweat dripping down my back.  I want to scream that battle cry that’s taken me to the crest of so many hills and jump high at the excitement of that last mile marker and see my mom/sister/friends/aunt/anyone on the sidelines cheering for me.

I don’t know what to do.  I feel like I don’t know who I am, like my whole self has been undermined by my body’s incapability to heal this injury and move on.


Have you ever gone through a long period of healing from injury? How did you cope with the stress of not being able to run?

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. I am so sorry. I know how truly awful it feels. I was off for a really long time last year (almost the entire year between 2 injuries) and I got really, really down. I finally talked to a sports psychologist about it and it really helped. He taught me that it’s ok to feel this way and to acknowledge your feelings.

    The only thing I can tell you is that you WILL run again, however long it takes.

  2. I SO feel your heartache, Cinnamon! Not running is the hardest thing for a runner to do! I felt the same “want to pretend running doesn’t exist” feeling. Once I took away the time constraints of running again by xx month or running xx race, my mind was at ease. And even now that I’m running again, it isn’t pretty (as you may have gathered from my recent posts). But the interesting thing is, even though it isn’t pretty and it isn’t how I imagined my comeback playing out, I enjoy every single run because I am just so darn happy to be out there again.

    Two other tidbits on the matter:
    1. You are going to have many days along the road to recovery that are painful. As frustrating as it is, it is part of the comeback trail. I’ve cried a LOT this year and stressed even more about every feeling in my body, but part of the comeback is learning to trust your body again.
    2. Don’t be afraid to see a new PT. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes can really help. My PT actually advocated for me to see someone else because he felt as stuck as I did. My frist PT was great and really, really helped jump start recovery, a new perspective and slightly different treatment approach helped me get over the hump.

    Sending healthy thoughts your way!

  3. I can’t even imagine, Cinnamon. I know that isn’t helpful, but I have not been sidelined by an injury for more than a couple of days (knocking on wood). But I do know I WOULD be absolutely crazy if I couldn’t run. So I hate that you can’t and I feel so bad for you.

    That said, 4 months does sound like a long time with no improvement. Have you considered getting a second opinion?

  4. God, that drummer’s feathered mullet just sings to me! And the keyboardist’s perm/stache combo!

    Anyway, I was right there with you this past winter. It sucks majorly and I wish there was something I could do to make it better. And really, 4 months?! How did I not realize that? I agree – why? Let’s start getting to the bottom of this!

  5. earlier this spring i had a stress fracture in my heel! 8 weeks in a boot. In the middle of the spring (and the first signs of lovely spring running weather). It was devastating. But i recovered.

    So do what you need to do both physically and emotionally to get to a better place. Maybe a new PT. Maybe a new doctor. Maybe something sparkly. And remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. you will get better. you will race again. you will get your new shoes.

    1. Thanks all for your awesome commiseration and feedback! I hope you giggled at the fine grooves (and mustaches) of Player as much as I did.

      The saddest part of this whole story is that I have to give up on PT altogether. I just can’t afford it anymore. No health insurance, not working much and not making much money when I do work has resulted in all of PT going on a credit card, which is now about to be maxxed out.

      I wish I could go for a second opinion. Believe me, I do. But that’s not my life.

  6. This was a hard post to read because it saddened me. I hate the way you are feeling. But the pictures you added put a smile on my face. Don’t loose that sense of humor! Sometimes that’s the key to healing.

    1. It was hard for me to read it back too, Jing! But giggling at the feathered mullets and the vignetted pictures of my rainbow socks through my tears definitely helps. 🙂

  7. So, so sorry Cinnamon! I feel your pain. I could have written this. In fact, I was sitting down to put my own tale out to friends and family when I saw your post.

    The hobbling calf pain has struck three times now, each time at a point where it seemed my running was going a little bit too well. I don’t mean “too well” in an insecure, I’m-not-this-fast, I-don’t-deserve-this kind of way; I’m talking about walking that fine line between pushing myself and asking for a karmic advance on the health maintenance work that I keep promising to get around to. It’s a popping, ripping, stop-me-dead-in-my-tracks kind of pain.

    Until now, karma has been my friend. Through three marathons and the births of two children, I’ve managed to eek by, only to crash just past the finish line. Not this time. My Chicago Marathon confirmation ticket is mocking me from across the room. The plane tickets are bought, the hotel is paid for, the whole family is coming. I’m going to Chicago, but I won’t be running.

    My “calf problem” turns out to be a much more serious back problem. I learned this a month ago: after four brilliant opening miles of the Eugene Women’s Half, my first DNF came in three painful steps and was followed by a seemingly eternal hobble-hop back past 900 runners to get to my car. I herniated a disk years ago, shortly after I took up running. I was told to find another sport. I’m both glad and proud that I didn’t, but perhaps I’ve been a little too cavalier. I’ve neglected my core and powered through a lot of pain in the last few years, and apparently I’m well on my way to blowing disk #2.

    I know I’m done for the year. I will never risk that kind of pain again.

    So, instead of touring the streets of Chicago this fall, I will lay on the floor with my little ones climbing all over me and do the oh-so-tedious physical therapy required of someone who can somehow run both fast and far without ever actually firing a glute muscle. I will do it 4 times a day, like I’m supposed to. I will keep doing it even when the pain is gone. I will take this opportunity to look forward to next year’s races, to support my husband’s long-overdo return to running, to get reacquainted with my bicycle, to catch up on chores that got sacrificed to long runs, to volunteer. I will not succumb to the (injured) runner’s low.

    Or at least I will try.

    But for the next 2 weeks, I know I will have to fight off the voice that’s still trying to find a way to make it happen on October 7th, no matter how disastrous it would be.

    Hang in there. There are better times ahead!

    1. Ugh, thank you! It’s so good to hear from someone who’s in the middle of this too!

      It’s one of the toughest things to go through, isn’t it? Knowing there was this race…and it was supposed to be YOUR race… I’m right there with Wineglass.

      Maybe you could volunteer in Chicago? As long as the plane tickets are bought and everyone is going, maybe you can be part of the race that way? I know it’s hard to watch other people do what you can’t…believe me…but I’m thinking about going up to Wineglass to volunteer and cheer for my friends who are running.

      I’ve dealt with a lot of depression over the years, and for me the best way to get through it is to face the source of my pain head on, let the tears wash over me and come out on the other side with some clarity and a plan to get through it.

  8. This is SUCH a hard thing, and I feel your pain. I had knee surgery about a year and a half ago, and had a period of about 3 months before and 6 months after when I couldn’t run. It stunk. Big time. A huge sanity saver will be just staying active somehow – yoga, swimming, weightlifting – whatever you can do without aggravating your injury that you enjoy. The temptation will be to find ONE thing to replace running with, but odds are you won’t find ONE thing you like as much as running, so change it up and get creative.

    And hang in there. Rest is the best thing you can do for your body right now, and it WILL get better. Think of this time as investing in your running future. By taking care of yourself now, you’ll give yourself tons more time to run happier and healthier.

    But it stinks. And every now and then you might need to wallow and throw a little pity party and shut out the running world. And that’s OK.

  9. so, whatever happened? I, too, am a runner – or was until I overdid things and tore both medial menisci (compounded by probable pre-existing degeneration as I in mid 40s). Trouble is, I love to run and have had some of my faster times in the past 2 years. I qualified for NYC but, after taking off 5 weeks in the summer, ran (and placed) in a 10-miler followed by 8 miles one week later, and can no longer bend one of my knees. I can barely push off the wall swimming with that leg either (concomitant Achilles strain, I think). Unlike some, my tears are not really amenable to surgery (absent removal) so I fear running may be a thing of my past.

    1. I’m in the same darn boat. It’s the biggest bummer in the world. I have been told (just last week) that I really can’t do anything to fix the knees as they are. It’s KILLING me. I’m trying to figure it all out and feeling quite lost about the whole damn thing.

      1. I’m so sorry, guys. It sucks being injured! For me, things got better; I joined a union and in so doing got access to health care, and was able to return to running. If you follow me on SR at all you’d see that I went on to run three more marathons, including a 16 minute PR with a 3:53:xx last spring. I’m currently training for my fifth. For me there was light at the end of the tunnel.

        Get a second opinion. Talk to doctors who are runners themselves! Work on your core and hip girdle strength; weakness there is incredibly common among runners who have suffered injury. Elliptigo and pool running are some options to retain fitness with the hope of coming back. Keep us posted!

  10. I am really new to running. Just started last April. Signed up for my first half marathon and was doing really well with my training, ran in my very first 10k, 2 as a matter of fact. I was secretly so happy and proud.We’ll directly after my second 10k I could barely walk and even used crutches for a day due to pain in my hip, or groin or both. It was and still is hard to tell exactly where the pain is. Only 9 weeks from my half. I can’t afford a PT. It’s been almost 6 weeks no running and I hate it. The range of emotions has been awful. Even jealous to hear how well my? fellow runners are doing, even though I am cheering for them to do well I’m, well. . . . Pi@#*! Even being mad makes me mad. That’s not like me either. Ugh.gh.gh! Most days I know the half is out for me, sometimes I think, “I still have time”. I don’t.
    Thank you so much for this post it realyl is nice knowing my feelings are the same as a few people. I hope I will love to run again someday, right now my emotion is, “I guess I’m done forever”!
    Tgee 🙁

  11. I’m right there. It’s been 3 months for me, and I do like you do, run/walk just to see how green the summer foliage is on the path by my house or to feel some wind on my skin.

  12. It’s been 13 weeks in boots, 14 since my injuries were diagnosed, and 15 since I last ran. This post has me in tears. As a 250lb lady, I had finally found something that answered all of my physical and mental health needs. I’d been running for 2.5 years, had lost 65lbs, and even with 2 major surgeries, I had been able to keep running. I’ve sat on this couch for … too many days. It’s official, I’m depressed. I so desperately miss my good friend, Sweaty Running. 😭😭