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The mini-identity crisis of a varsity hasbeen.


Humor me for a moment and ask yourself these questions.

Who are you? What are you?

Student? Doctor? Teacher? Goofball? Ex-convict? Struggling musician? Insufferable know-it-all? Cranky recluse? Chocolate enthusiast? “That guy?”

I’m a runner. When people ask me about myself, it’s one of the first things I say. Not elite. Nothing special. Middle of the pack. But still a runner.

(Soon thereafter, everybody I meet who isn’t a runner is immediately sorry for encouraging me by asking probing questions in the name of polite conversation. Here is an open apology to every glassy-eyed soul I’ve drowned with a deluge of inane drivel about weekly mileage, daily training aches, porto-potty woes and mile-by-mile marathon recaps).

So yeah, I’m a runner. Now, though, I’m trying something new. I’m trying to be…

real runner.

A running-only runner.

Because you know what I used to be?

Photo credit: Caroline Post.

A rower. A varsity athlete. NCAA division I, with frozen, chapped hands on the inlet, eating seat races for breakfast, sick ball of dread in my stomach staring in the mirror hands on the erg handle 2000m flashing on the screen, ready all, Attention… Go!

I was wearing a Vespoli shirt the other day waiting in line to pay for some rain pants, and the woman in line behind me remarked, “Oh, you must be a rower!”

“Yeah!” I responded, “Well, I was a rower in college.”

Then there was a long pause and the smile slid right off of my face. WAS a rower?

Oh God, no.

[Enter sickening feeling of terror that accompanies realizations of subtle identity changes over the sneaky passage of time.]


Identity confusion face.


Even if you’re not into the whole endurance sports thing, you can probably sympathize with the feeling of mild identity confusion. See also: graduating from college, switching jobs, moving somewhere completely new, transitioning into and out of romantic relationships; any of that regular ol’ human condition jazz we all navigate in varying degrees.  Change some of those big pieces around and suddenly we get in touch with our angsty inner teenager: we may be left reeling in the overwhelming wake of newfound freedoms or clawing at the dissolving fumes of what we were.

In my first post-college year, I still incorporated 3-4 rowing workouts per week. I wasn’t ready to let it go. I figured there might be an opportunity to row semi-competitively again out of college, and I wanted to be in shape and ready to roll when that opportunity knocked.

But the opportunity didn’t come last year, and it’s not looking good for this year either.

So now?

I’m. Just a runner.

I’m free.

And it’s weird. This idea of becoming something of a one-trick pony is foreign and frightening.

The nice thing about being a multi-sport gal was that whenever I was having a bad day in one sport, I could lean on the other one for validation that I was still a decent athlete: Bad erg test at crew practice? Awwww shoooooot, I can still run faster than everyone else on the team, so who cares if I’m terrible at rowing. Crummy race at the local 10K? No big deal that all you skinny jokers just burned me on this course, I’m a jacked musclepants rower and I don’t need to be good at running anyway.

Now? I’m taking the rowing mantle off. I have to cast it aside and let it go. I had my year-long grace period. If rowing comes back into my life, I’ll embrace it, but for now? Time to run blissfully away from the erg, let go of splits, let the shoulders go weak, let the hammies thin out, and face the fact that it’s all in the rearview mirror and getting smaller. Regretfully so.

Can I get a heck yes from any fellow varsity hasbeens? Per Ostman takes the words right out of my mouth.

Truthfully though, this is a good thing, and I’m excited about it.

I get to run all the time now!

I’m going to sit down and look at the local race calendar and come up with some training plans and strength circuits to play with.

Or maybe I’ll just continue to fall head-over-heels for Juneau and become a hiking/fishing/skiing/Carhartt+Xtratuf wearing/[insert Alaska stereotype of your choice] enthusiast. I can see exactly why people move here, fall in love with it, and never leave.



Aside from those two rookie fools sporting non-waterproof gear, this is just another typical view in Juneau.

Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. I’m sure I’ll hate it in two months when it’s too dark and rainy to even see  any oncoming black bears.

Identity shifts — have you had any big transitions recently? How do you deal?



23 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/07/2010 10:24

    yay for getting to run all the time 🙂

    i’m going through the “holy $#%# i’m not a college student anymore” transition. hahah.

  2. 09/07/2010 10:41

    Right now I am transitioning to “I am really poor because my parents won’t give me money anymore” phase. It sucks.

  3. 09/07/2010 11:01

    I didn’t know you went to Cornell – I very nearly went to Ithaca College, until they decided I didn’t need financial aid. Nice of them, though totally not true as evidenced by money I will owe for the rest of my life as as result of loans taken out to get my law degree at a certain institution right up Route 81….

    I actually know a few rowers that have become kick ass runner’s/triathletes. I think the extra muscle adds a bad ass factor anyhow. ;p

    God, it looks gorgeous up there. Consider me jealous.

    • 09/10/2010 20:07

      81? ‘Cuse!!! I am sad about the prospect of losing my rowing muscles. Hopefully they’ll just stick around and not completely atrophy.

  4. dubay319 permalink
    09/07/2010 13:28

    OMG Cathleen , you are CRAZY you are by no means a one trick Pony because YOU CAN DO EVERYTHING

  5. 09/07/2010 13:54

    So, I have similar feelings about frisbee. Yeah, I know, it’s not a varsity sport, but I played it seriously and at a high level. And for reasons somewhat within my control, I no longer play it. And it bugged me for a while, and it also bugged me that there are only so many times you can say “I was voted MVP!” or “I went to three national championships!” before…no one really cares. It’s like your SAT scores. So what you’re left with is the experience and the memories and what kind of person you decide to become with those things.

    Or, I could just agree with dubay319 above me, who I don’t know but whose style I appreciate.

    • 09/10/2010 20:11

      Oh sheesh. So well put.

      “I am…” becomes “I was… ” becomes “I used to be…” which finally morphs into some permutation of, “Four score and seven years ago, I was awwwesome at slinging discs.”

      Plastic in your case. Vertebral in mine.

      Ah youth.

  6. 09/07/2010 16:47

    wow, running in Alaska must be so beautiful! i get to run through a lot of concrete. (sigh….)

    indentity shifts….yeah, i’ve had a few 🙂 in the last couple years i moved overseas, got married, got serious about writing. now we might be moving overseas again. don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting though! next stop will hopefully be the UK (fingers-crossed!)

  7. Lacey permalink
    09/08/2010 05:21

    oooh a rower. i was always in awe of their early hours and ability to be on freezing water. i was a college bball player, but D3. still i feel like i maintain that sense of “being” a varsity athlete. and now what am i 🙂 not even “a runner” more like “staying in shape” indefinitely 🙂

    • 09/10/2010 20:26

      Yeah, I feel like I maintain that sense, too in terms of dedication to being in training for something; having races and events to frame my months around. I don’t remember life before that, basically. Basketball! So cool.

  8. 09/08/2010 09:31

    I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I rowed in college too (Clemson!). Not all four years though haha, I got lazy… I don’t have an issue with past-tense rowing but again I didn’t stick with it. Call me crazy but sometimes I think about buying an erg! What is wrong with me, why don’t I want relatively-smooth palms?

    • 09/10/2010 20:29

      Now that there are no more erg tests in my life, I actually love having an erg around. Put on a little music and commit to not caring about the fact that your splits suck compared to what you used to pull, and it’s totally tolerable. I just love the motion and that particular rowing soreness. And it really does so much sneaky stabilizing core work and hammy strengthening. Of course now I won’t have access to an erg for months, so so much for that.

      We trained at Clemson during spring break one year, and raced them on the last day. It was such a blast!

  9. 09/09/2010 11:03

    I was a runner in college. No identity crisis there! But I was also an English major…and now I’m a personal trainer who likes to read.

  10. 09/10/2010 08:53

    Ouchies, this one stung. Know how I’m coping? Coaching. I didn’t coach this summer for the first time in…almost a decade? Jesus. Getting back to it was awesome, I didn’t realize I missed it so much.

    Also doing the random sprinklin’ of workouts each week. They’re so bad that it’s probably just a better idea to skip ’em all together.

    • 09/10/2010 20:35

      Wahhhhh. Let’s drown our nostalgic sorrows in all the ETOH we missed out on in college in order to wake up and be functional at practice. Not to say that you missed out on any, but I did.

      • 09/12/2010 17:16

        I kinda did, though I think that was a good thing.

  11. Delana permalink
    09/11/2010 21:20

    amen, sista.

  12. 09/15/2010 16:34

    I get it kid.
    Try arthritis in one knee and the other ankle… out of nowhwere….wtf…not me…no way…everything goes south eventally….
    Enjoy what you have while you have it.
    Tell the pain to BMA…

    Play on!
    PS…All is well…rest assured.
    I heart u.


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