«In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains»
These are the lyrics of the last chorus of the song «The Boxer» by Simon and Garfunkel. A song that has always been dear to me as my mom used to sing it to me before bed when I was a little boy. But it was only with a recent listen, feeling down after another injury setback, that the lyrics really hit me.
I will publicly acknowledge something I have never really wanted to confess: running by trade is hard. I have for long considered it as a privilege, and it would be no less than a travesty for me to say otherwise. I have silently gone through despair and pain as I have been «living the dream»; and I know many athletes that have gone through this as well.
You could think that running, «all the other sports’ punishment», or even the essence of the endurance event where we flirt with pain day-in and day-out, would be enough to constitute the fact that running is hard.
If only it were just that.
Being a runner by trade for me has meant to be injured multiple months every year, and see my results fall through. It has meant that every morning I had to fights demons, knowing the the first step I would take out the bed would be deeply painful, and that it would prevent me from accomplishing the one thing I am supposed to do on that day. It has meant that I have missed 3 World Championships, Pan American Games and the Commonwealth Games due to injury. It has meant that I have lived day and night with performance anxiety, while I was always limited physically and late on the racing schedule due to pain.
A foot injury I have sustained since March has officially put me out for season for 2019. Coupled with an Achilles injury that has prevented me from running for 8 weeks in the fall, for the first time ever I am more than half of the year on the sidelines.
I lost another round, but the fight is not over.
Every runner will face injury and that’s a fact. But for me, they have been coming non stop since 2016. The most I have been able to complete healthy was 3 months of training and racing without any setback. A big contrast in comparison to my pre-professional years, 2010 to 2015, where consistency was one of my strengths.
I have this conviction deep inside me that I can be one of the best runners in the world. It is a dream that is still very much alive and that seems to be achievable everytime I gain momentum in training. However, it hasn’t been lasting very long in the last years, crushing many short term and long term goals.
How am I supposed to hang on this dream, when runners just as talented (or even more) as I am never reach a World podium, even though they train consistently and without setbacks or injuries to slow their progression?
Not to mention those who never face setbacks, but also cheat and dope, and are still quite far from a World top 5?
The last few years were harsh on me. Many time I have cried in rage, and every injury seems to throw me in a gulf that gets deeper every time. But I still hang on to this dream. Just give me 12 months where I can be healthy, and who knows…
I also know that in running, when things go well, they go very well. To the same extent as when they go bad, they are quite really bad. Even if I have physical and emotional reminders from all the blows running has given me, the triumphs of the sport always weight heavier than the setbacks and the pain.
However...to which extent should you keep fighting without ever reaching another triumph?
I have asked myself this question. I will answer it later. The truth is I don’t feel like answering it right now. I still think it is time for me to fight on. Down, but not out. After all, as Paul Simon sings earlier in the song:
«Still a man hears what he wants to hear,
And disregards the rest»
Disclaimer: This is not a cry for help. I have an incredible coaching and medical team following me and we do everything in our power to minimize the chances of injury. I would like to thank them dearly, as well as my sponsors ASICS, Sportium, Polar and Eye am, who have been supporting me unconditionally through this journey.