I remember reading an article back in 2015, before Rodale ceased publication of it’s Running Times Magazine. The article, which featured New Zealand ultrarunner Anna Frost, touched not on her status as an elite athlete, but on the severe depression she experienced when injury forced her to take a break from running.
Anna’s story isn’t uncommon; depression during times of forced rest and recovery is something many runners struggle with; it’s so common in fact that it’s often the topic of discussion on various running forums and websites. While most recognize that depression occurs because there is a huge loss of emotional and physical fulfillment, the idea that a sense of identity is also lost is not so perceptible.
In Anna’s case, that’s exactly what happened; she faced the possibility of never running again and found herself asking the question “Who am I, then, if I’m not Anna the runner?” She wondered how she would spend her time, and worried too about peoples’ reactions, especially those who knew her as Frosty, one of the world’s leading female ultrarunners.
Even at the non-elite level, everyday runners can experience a similar host of emotions. Regardless of achievements and status, a runner is a runner is a runner…… so if running is no longer an option, it’s easy to see how feelings of a lost identity might evolve. Most runners for example, wake up each day and anticipate their morning, afternoon, or evening run, and others even, who schedule life around their runs (versus fitting in a run only if time permits).
For someone like Anna, who filled much of her time with training and racing, thoughts and priorities were heavily focused on things related to her running goals. To suddenly find herself in a position where all running had to be ceased, it’s not surprising that a period of depression ensued. Fortunately she was able to recover by training her mind to accept only positive and empowering thoughts, and as her emotional health improved so too did her physical health.
Anna eventually went on to run and win more events, but her return to training and racing was accompanied by a much healthier mindset. These days Anna balances her life by also making time to swim, make jewelry for her online business, and enjoy quality time with friends and family.
Running may be the “thing” we most love to do, but it doesn’t define who we are. Anna’s story teaches us to seek out other enjoyable activities, so that we don’t box ourselves into a life that can only be enjoyed if running is at the heart of it.