The Tour de France is coming to an end as I write this piece. The month long cycling race through the mountains of France looks absolutely beautiful from my couch at home. I dream what it would be like to push my body to extreme limits for days on end. However, the injuries and the pain of the riders after each day of racing and climbing hundreds of mountains on a bike aren’t shown before I have to turn the program off and leave for work.
I also recently finished North: Finding my Way while Running the Appalachian Trail by Soctt Jurek, which relays his 46 day journey running the AT in hopes to beat the record time. North is an inspirational book and encouraged me to embrace the pain as I begin to train for my fourth half-marathon. The book inspired me to throw myself into running, to appreciate the pain, exhaustion, and of course, endorphins. I hoped that the coming months of training would render me a better runner and a better person; however, in only my second week of training, I found myself struggling to keep up with the elaborate goals I had put in place for myself.
While on a long run (meaning a greater mileage than one is comfortable running to build endurance) with a good friend and running pal the morning of the final day of the Tour de France, we found ourselves walking instead of running, once again. We justified it, discussing how “we’re on a long run” and “we’re not running professionally, this is just for fun. Who says we can’t stop and walk for a minute?”
Running is a wonderful way to start my day, but I was disappointed in myself for requesting to walk a few feet. If hundreds of people compete for an entire month in the Tour de France and if Scott Jurek can run for 46 days, why can’t I make it all the way through a 5.50 mile run?
After spraining my ankle and canceling a race this past May, I hit a wall of self-doubt and existential crisis. Several friends reassured me that running is not the entirety of who I am. It is a “fun fact” I give about myself in ice breakers and something I do for fun.
I realized that it is because running is something I do. Not who I am.
Figuring out who I am and how to describe myself is complicated and confusing. College students are often forced to give the highlights of what they do in the first meetings of various clubs, classes, and, of course, first dates. I described first dates as a sort of “casual interview” to a close friend:There are parallel questions of “what do you do?” or “What do you like?” in order to get a better sense of the stranger sitting across the table. Having to constantly force myself into specific boxes to identify who I am and what I am all about to dates and with other strangers can lead me to equate what I achieve to who I am.
Simone de Beauvior, a feminist theorist from France in the early 20th century, deconstructed the “subject” and “object” of a sentence in relation to gender. She wrote that men have placed themselves into a position of power in which they are the “subject,” and women have been delegated as “objects.” Subjects are allowed to do the action of a sentence while objects receive action. In the social construction of gender in the system de Beauvior lived and wrote during one’s actions were based on where they have been “placed” in the “sentence.” Men were allowed to take control and be “subjects” of the world. Women were objects of the men in their lives. Much has changed in France and the United States since de Beauvior began writing, however it is very easy to become an “object” to others, no matter one’s gender identity. While de Beauvior was writing in the context of feminism and social activism, given the pervasive effect gender as a construct has on society, it is appropriate to apply theories of agency and feminist activism to several parts of life.
Participating in feminism and thinking about who my actions benefit (and how) is why I am so grateful to have studied feminist theory and women’s studies. Placing myself as the “subject” of my life has given me the opportunity to go at a pace which is appropriate and comfortable for development through young adulthood.
Defining oneself by certain criteria does not necessitate having to forever live in that box; one of the most beautiful parts of adolescence is changing and growing into adults. Taking the young parts of life slowly and taking breaks allows for the most beautiful kinds of reflection and growth. Pushing oneself outside of established comfort zones is how we learn, but going back to safe places to reflect is how we grow.
My sprained ankle in May was difficult to deal with, but I was forced to take time to reflect and think about where I wanted to go with my running and with my life. Running is something I do to stay active, just as I backpack, lift weights, practice yoga, and cycle. However, none of these things define me any more than the other things I do, like studying, working, and writing.
I would not give up anything of the list of things that define “Jojo”. In fact, I believe that very few of my friends would list running or studying as one of the first words used to describe me. Reflecting on how others see me and the work I do has allowed me to expand the definition of who I am. I would never be willing to give an entire month of my time like Scott Jurek and the cyclists of the Tour de France to compete. I love my studies, my work, and my friends. I wouldn’t be able to dedicate myself to running exclusively for longer than a week because varying my workouts is so fun.
Take a few deep breaths at the end of your day and get into a place you feel safe, physically and emotionally. Reflect. What did you do that you were proud of? What was your favorite part of your day? What can you do differently tomorrow to allow you to feel better? Give yourself a pat on the back. Give yourself congratulations for all you have done today and for all you will do tomorrow.
Even on days when I am not proud of my running or of what I have done, I am still happy to have pushed myself to even go on a run. No, I am not a professional athlete who can dedicate months at a time to participate in a thousand mile races, but I am still proud of myself. I will take what I have learned from today and tomorrow I will be better. Or I won’t, but there is absolutely no reason to beat myself up over it.