Running Through The Pain and Other Stories of Misguided Masculinity

I often tell stories about myself that I probably definitely shouldn't.

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.


  1. Masculinity is, of course, vital towards understanding competitiveness and the way men "take their games a little too seriously." However, with the example of running as it pertains to injury and just..not..stopping, I think, we can't overlook the type-a personality or even those prone to depression and/or anxiety. You get to this at the end of your post: "And when these destructive tendencies overwhelm my better angels, I can spiral off into even worse places." Too true. I find that, when I'm in physical pain, I can't stop running, which maybe makes me seemingly crazy. My personal issue here is, not running is what makes me Super Crazy. I am constantly asking, why run in the first place? For me, its really meditation and the presence/awareness I gain from a run. Distance running may seem boring, but I really do find it to be the opposite. You get past the mental "boring" aspect and it triggers thoughts and helps us connect. Ultimately, it is mentally and physically tough. It is addicting and awesome. All of this considered, it is important that we don't equate masculinity to toughness, which seems like a very masculine thing to do.

  2. Good point. Being tough, having grit, etc. has value for anyone irrespective of gender. Maybe the better way to phrase it is to say that there is a fine line between being tough and being stupid. Gutting out the last three miles of a marathon whilst dazed and dehydrated? Tough. Running on a broken foot... well, you get the point.

  3. I'm a big guy.
    I'm getting to be an old big guy.
    I find it hard to accept even though that small but rational part of me knows it is inevitable that I'll never be as strong fast or tough as I've been.
    I've never liked to ask for help, not sure if that's because I don't want to trouble others, or because my ego thinks a real man does for himself.
    Maybe I'm just a bonehead?

    1. I'm with you! In the days before GPS, I would drive around a city for HOURS before asking anyone.


Post a Comment