Running Through The Pain and Other Stories of Misguided Masculinity
I often tell stories about myself that I
Case in point, last night I participated in a panel discussion on masculinity. It's a topic that has been on my mind lately, which makes sense when you write about sports. But I have been reading, watching, and listening to a lot of interesting material on this topic. For example, one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, had an excellent show on the problem of loneliness as it relates to American masculinity.
So this topic has been on my radar. And last night's conversation gave me so much more to think about. I left with a deeper appreciation of my university colleagues--professors and students alike. At one point in the conversation, though, someone mentioned competitiveness and sports, and how guys have a tendency to take their games a little too seriously.
Then I started talking...
I recounted the time when I was running a trail race and, with about one mile left, I twisted my ankle on the uneven ground. It was bad enough that I literally heard a POP!
That's the point when you stop running, right? I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but there was an abnormal noise coming from inside my body somewhere. But I didn't stop. I just let out a swear and kept running.
Why? Because I'm a dude and something in my dude brain said "keep running."
Later that day, an x-ray confirmed that I did, in fact, break a bone in my foot. I am certain that running on that broken foot for one more mile didn't help my recovery time.
Lesson learned, right? Not quite.
A few years ago, I was out for a long run when I tripped over a rock. I didn't hear a pop this time, but once the adrenaline wore off, I knew my big toe was in bad shape. "Oh, just need to shake it off...rub some dirt in it." Indeed, I finished the run and drove home with tears streaming down my face.
Again, x-ray. Broken bone. Much sadness.
Now we've learned our lesson, right? Um...
In preparing for a marathon in 2014, I jumped from 45 miles a week to 75. This is one of those DON'T DO THAT pieces of advice that every new runner gets. Yet, after decades of running, I felt confident that THOSE ARE YOUR RULES, NOT MINE!!!
That's the story of how I got a stress fracture. When it first started, I could tell just from standing that I wasn't just suffering from tendinitis. But that's what I told myself as I slugged more ibuprofen than any person (or horse) should.
I actually finished a 20 miler on that stress-fractured-foot--which an x-ray would layer show was straight up fractured. That was the summer that I spent in the pool.
So last night, I rehearsed all of these misadventures in bone breaking as examples of my own misguided masculinity. In each instance, I ignored reality and my own limitations, because... GOTTA BE TOUGH!
As I have said many, many times, running brings value into my life. Real value. But I have destructive tendencies. And when these destructive tendencies overwhelm my better angels, I can spiral off into even worse places.
When I can't run--especially when I'm injured--the depression comes quick and hard. This has always been the case, but more so since this midlife thing started. Part is neurological. My brain is accustomed to whatever chemicals that running provides. But the other part connects to the ways that I wrap my identity and self-worth around this sport, and specifically to my performances.
That's the unhealthy part of running for me. Constantly measuring myself against faster people and a younger me. Add to that an ongoing lament of how my body looks and works.
At present, I am running and healthy. I should be grateful for that, and often times I am. But there are those times when I want to be something that I am not.
Running does give me the opportunity to push myself, to test my limits. This is no doubt a good thing--so long as I don't break any bones along the way.