Falling in love with running again

Addiction is funny. Conveniently, but simultaneously inconveniently, so is love. When you put those two together in a cake mix, it’s hard not to find a delicious treat waiting on the other side of a burning oven.

From around 2010 to 2018, I was addicted to running. Conveniently, but simultaneously inconveniently, I also loved to run. With those two facets of life working in tandem, it became not just something that I enjoyed as a hobby, but a massive part of my identity. Much of the day’s plans revolved around when I could run and how I was to fit the run into the grander scheme of my life. I can vividly remember a semester where I would run 20k’s with ease, hop in the shower, and then immediately race to class. Once class ended, I would run back. Backpack on and everything.

I ran so much that, like most elite runners, I developed unhealthy habits around eating, destroyed my body, and sometimes even failed to prioritize other important aspects of my life. I craved the run, and when I couldn’t perform to the highest level, it was devastating. And I liked it that way. I genuinely enjoyed being known as the crazy guy who would wake up at 4AM to hit a 20k before class or work. I challenged the pressure to perform at a high level and medal at every single half marathon I competed in. I challenged rolling through the country roads of Waterloo hours on end. I enjoyed the exploration of it all – finding new trails, climbing mountains, discovering new runs, even learning the entire KW region through running the streets. It helped me get out my thoughts. It helped me fully flesh out my ideas for whatever piece of fiction I was writing at the time. It even helped me become a better me, in many ways.

But ultimately, an addiction is an addiction, and it all came crashing down in April of 2018, when I pulled my hamstring somewhere along the way of my favourite race – the Run for Retina Half Marathon. What’s cool is that I still placed third. What’s not cool is that I was out for six months, predominantly as a result of trying to run in the days that followed the race, without giving myself the proper recovery time. Devastating at the time, the injury was an incredibly valuable learning experience. And above all else, it killed my addiction.

But now four years on, I’m still dealing with the physical repercussions of that injury. My body has never fully recovered from the pain sustained in that period, and I’ve suffered a host of injuries any time I’ve tried to sustain a consistent week of running, or sped up the pace. My hamstrings are the worst of the issues, but the surrounding area finds itself injured all the time. Right now, literally as I write, I’m dealing with a single shin splint, a pulled groin that I’ve had since May (clearly I haven’t learned the lesson of not running on an injury), and a foot injury from stepping on a weight (I really like to dance). Accidents aside, all of these injuries are down my left side – the same side of my pulled hamstring back in 2018. This has all meant that I’ve never been able to become re-addicted to the sport (nice!), and that for a while, I fell completely out of love for running (not so nice!).

People who knew 2018 me still ask about running as though it’s one of my defining personality traits, and I’m sure my family still thinks of me as impossible to travel with, even despite that loss of addiction. But for the past two winters, I hardly ran at all – opting for the indoor bike instead. It became easy to not only have no desire to go outside and run, but to become lazy in my fitness goals and actively prioritize watching soccer matches instead. When people would ask, I’d tell them “I run for fun now!” But looking back, I wonder if I genuinely meant it. I saw it as a tedious task to stay fit, and at best – an easy way to be out enjoying nature. But it took a while for me to accept that I didn’t actually enjoy running, and it took me a while to re-find my sense of purpose on the run.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. I genuinely don’t want to get addicted to running again. But at the same time, there’s no better feeling than the sense of accomplishment after a long run or an intense effort during a race. The run still calls me, and I still crave those feelings. I miss the flow, and I crave the runner’s high. At what has become a difficult point in my life, I have turned to running as a way of curing my mind from the pain. And it’s been beautiful. I’ve found all the secrets to loving running – and it involves travelling to new trails, different cities around the province, and turning it into a session of exploration.

I’m not obsessed with how fast I’m going (unless I’ve got a brunch to attend an hour away), and I’m not even training for any specific reason or purpose. For years I swore off listening to music on the run, as a true sign of inferiority. I saw it as a sign of someone who didn’t really get the whole idea of being in nature, being surrounded by your thoughts, and running wherever the wind takes you. Now I never go for a run without listening to a podcast (or even music!), and I never let it distract me from getting into my thoughts, reflecting on life, and staying in touch with how I’m feeling. Sometimes, I don’t even bring my watch.

I think this has all been beautiful in taking the pressure off, as my care-free mindset makes all the injuries so much less mentally taxing. But at the same time, I think I’m ready to train with purpose and intentionality of racing again. I think I’m ready to love running again, without the addiction, and conquer all of the goals I set out to achieve back before my injury hit in 2018. I still want to run an ultramarathon (and the full shebang 42.2km), and now I have new goals of running the entirety of the Paris-Cambridge Trail for starters…possibly even the entire 83km long haul from Hamilton to Cambridge. If the injuries can just hold off, I think I’m genuinely ready to fall in love again.


Rhys Desmond is a writer, coach and personal development enthusiast. If you are interested in getting in touch, please use the form or social media links below.

Thanks for reading & see you soon!

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