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Becoming a Gambler

"You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run -Kenny Rogers

Seventeen years ago, my college roommate suggested I run on the track with her as a way to shed unwanted college weight. I could barely run one lap around the track before walking but I continued returning to the track until graduation and then, after college, I took to the streets. I have dedicated several posts to my love of, and history with, the sport of running and my journey to defining myself as a runner. Running has been a constant and consistent piece of my twenties and thirties, a safe space in times of uncertainty and a place for me to channel my energy and goals. I use those words very intentionally: space, place. Running is not a thing, it is an action, but for me the action of running has a physicality beyond my body moving in time and space. Running is tangible; it's impact on my mind is as concrete for me as the way it has shaped my muscles. Running has also been a mechanism for developing friendships and gaining a personal identity outside of my family. If someone were to ask me to use five words to describe myself, runner would be one of them.

I have also used this post as a place to express my frustration and depression over running-related injuries. It's hard to believe that my first significant injury was years ago, as running strong and injury-free is easily conjured in my mind. Since I was never athletic before adulthood, I overlooked the process of injury and recovery, let my obsessive compulsive inner demon get the best of me, and never healed properly.

Slowly, over time, I have accepted my injuries, combatted the demon, and experienced periods of running and periods of injury/recovery. I even had a personal best (ever) post injury. Yet, even with the PR, I have not yet returned to feeling as strong and resilient as before my first injury. I've not been able to run as far nor as fast as I once did. Through all of this, I swallowed my pride and came to the realization that it's more important to run, no matter how slow or how short a distance, than to not run at all.

Yet, despite my decision to dial down my expectations, both physically and mentally, I continue to experience injuries. For those who skipped A&P, muscles are connected! Yeah, so injuries, particularly those that aren't treated, can cause a domino-effect: hip pain can lead to hamstring stress, down to calf pulls to heel spurs to plantar fasciitis and a bunch of other injuries, too. Sometimes and injury can be the beginning of the end.

I'm a big believer in ROI though I've realized lately I don't always follow my beliefs. In theory, I believe we should put energy into activities that deliver the biggest return on investment. If we aren't seeing the results we want, we need to either tweak our technique, reconsider our methodology, or stop doing the activity altogether. I apply this to many aspects of my life, and with respect to running I've talked to physical therapists and other runners and I know there is hope. I could go to PT. I could get massages and go to a chiropractor. I could try different strength training exercises or stretches. An injury does not have to be the beginning of the end.

Unless you want it to be.

My latest injury has been nagging me for about 2 months and screamed at me two weekends ago, when a long run turned into a shorter run and a little bruise showed up, warning me of what can happen when we don't take care of a nag. As I iced and foam rolled my injury, I felt the same old feelings of sadness, frustration lack of control, and missing out. I started to think that I spend more time feeling bad when/after running than feeling good. So, as I cross train and rest my latest injury, I'm also trying to determine whether I should return to running or if there's another soul-mate exercise out there for me. Maybe I can love more than just one sport. Maybe another exercise will be as therapeutic, and accessible, to me as running. Hopefully.

I've also decided that it's time to apply ROI to other aspects of my life. What else, besides running, needs to be reconsidered? Is there anything that I once loved that now feels like a drain? What are the implications of me stopping that activity? What am I afraid of letting go because it will change my identity?Conversely, can I tweak anything I'm doing to make it more fulfilling? What parts of my identity are non-negotiable?

I have trepidation when it comes to change and I'm fairly risk averse but it's about time that I start thinking like a gambler and know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run.


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