Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Lovely Return to Running

I wish I could say it happened like it does in the movies: that, sweat pouring-from-the-montage-with-blood-pumping music, I appear on the trail, running in the body of a Greek God or Phillipedes, for which the marathon owes its name. But no, it didn’t happen like that. It was a day just like any other day. 5am: I woke and boiled water by light provided by my microwave door left open. I slipped into my running shoes, dreading the pain I thought would follow, but forced myself to that dull resignation that had become my companion in recent weeks. 

Running tights, a long sleeved top. A heat pad tied to my injured tendon. Coffee in a thermos and I’m out into the dark of early morning. 

The air smells wet and crisp as though it rained the night before, washing everything making it new again. Up the drive to my car, where I set the thermos in the cup holder and turn the windshield wipers on to wipe away the night’s vapor, still present. 

I’ll drive to Walnut Creek to try today; in part because I’ve started swimming with a Master’s group there. I don’t know any of the others swimmers; for now, they are simply other bodies I catch mid-frame: a clipped arm or leg. Transitory, just as I am, in the 50-meter pool beneath the wide open sky. There’s a trace of a trail I glimpsed between breaths on my warmup the  last time I was there; a trail that appeared to be unpaved and relatively flat-- necessary attributes for my Achilles which is still delicate.

On the ten minute drive, I sip my coffee, tapping the steering wheel to the song’s beat that plays on the radio; I won’t let myself get excited. I can’t expect anything; I’ve been expecting-- hoping-- that I can hardly remember what it feels like, to run. Funny: when that was once so much my life, it’s become a flicker of memory. A testament, perhaps, to the notion that we are not as we seem but are made of fabric much deeper. But what do I know?  

As I pull into the near-empty parking lot, the sky turns a lighter shade of violet. It’s not quite dawn, not yet. I pull out my Stick-- a PVC pipe marketed for self -massage-- and pass over my hamstrings, my quads, and my calves. I linger on the tender spots, little sweat droplets forming on my forehead despite the early morning crisp. Another breath and I can’t linger any longer or I’ll miss the 6:45 swim time. I lock the car, and take a tentative step. 

And another. 

It occurs to me, that once again, I’ll begin by walking. Walking the course before you race it. Or, the way as a child learns to walk before they move more quickly. As I’ve said before: walking is the slower form of running. 

And so, I walk across the vast paved space and find the trail I saw: a single track tangled into bushes and trees. And then, because there’s no point in waiting, I take in a breath. I begin. Again. 
The wind on my face. The sky a pale pink now, the trees taking on the color of real forms instead of shadowy silhouettes. A single dog barks and the geese flap aside as I pass them, clapping into the water of a nearby pond. An old woman walks a golden retriever who lifts his snout into the air as I pass. The trail widens to a gravel road and leads to a corral where horses might be kept, with a green metal fence. No horses are there now, but it makes me smile, makes me remember one of the many mantras I once told myself: be like a horse, just run. 

Around a corner and up a slight rise: I ask myself does it hurt? Do I feel pain? I search my inner regions for that pang I’m fearing. But today: it’s not there. Or is it? Am I pretending it doesn’t hurt when it does? It’s like I’m wearing magnifying glasses I don’t need: the landscape of my body, once so crisp and clear, has become blurry. 

But I don’t think I feel pain. My stride, though foreign to me, feels balanced, as though each foot can handle the load of weight it must bear for the quickest of seconds before it’s released into the lovely sense of flight my heart has ached for. 
I’m flying. I’m flying. And I have no idea of how fast I’m going. 
I have races ahead of me; races behind. This is a running life, after all. But I no longer use running as an escape. I’ve left my past behind; now that it’s ready to be forgotten. As I run into the predawn light, I realize that I’m running toward every horizon, every person. I stretch my arms out, and hold it to this heart of mine whose beats sound as foot-falls.

Who would have thought I could come back from this injury? I'll admit: I was the last person to believe in myself. But finally, finally: I'm back. Thank goodness! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Put on your game face.

Good news: I just heard that I've been accepted as an elite entry at the Twin Cities Marathon this upcoming October. On the heels of a good (if short) run today, this is the sort of news I have needed for quite a while.

It's time to kick some ass, finally. I'm ready. Bring it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hope-- this injury's almost over

I ran for the first time today in-- what has it been?-- eight or nine weeks. I’ve been in the pool and increasingly, on a spin bike. Learning new stretches, new exercises to lengthen and stretch my muscles. I found a new type of specialist-- a Functional Movement Specialist-- who has been helping me above and beyond whatever he’d be required to do to get me on my feet again. He’s watched me squat and lunge and hurdle and do all sorts of other things and determined my lower-leg problems-- this horrid  Achilles tendonitis-- is a result of weak hips. So-- he’s put together a program filled with elastic resistance bands in green and yellow. 

I’ve been icing. And heating. And massaging. Loving the foam roller like never before. Doing core work I never did, which is to say, hardly ever. Hey-- who knew I could do 120 full-length push-ups? One-legged planks? I was running so much before, I never gave my core much thought. But these days, I’ve been told, it’s what I ought to think about. 

And so, after weeks of this I stepped onto the treadmill this morning and did a flashy set of “motion prep” exercises that included marching in place with expressive arms, leg swings (forward and aft; left and right) and this side-hurdle things that might have at one point been in a vaudeville routine. But I did them, as I do all the exercises and stretches on my regimen because it’s all about running again. 

And today I did. Five minutes, pain free. For the first time in nine weeks. 

I’m sure other gym-patrons thought there was something wrong with me. This crazy-person who did a routine that might have required spandex and a six-pack of abs was now teary-eyed after five minutes of easy running. But I was! 

I was.

And I am. So happy to feel my body in this way again. Not to say anything bad about cycling or swimming. I enjoy them both and have learned to appreciate the skill required to exceed in each more so than I ever have due to the lingering nature of this injury. 
But to run: there is no other feeling. For me, it is though my disconnected pieces and parts form a singular whole. I get to dance with my spirit and feel the sinews of my toes run along the ruddy road of my spine. I’m a bird when I run, flying, soaring; I’m a deer darting through a forrest. I’m all those things; I am most me or not me. Beyond me.  I am happiest in that motion. And for five minutes today, five glorious minutes at a not-so-fast pace on a treadmill, I had a glimmer of promise. Perhaps there’s joy to come. 

So. I haven’t given up yet.  I know I never will. But whereas before I might have been a Knight of Faith- believing despite no evidence to sustain that belief-- I’m now something else. There’s hope. I have five minutes on these feet and though a far cry from 26.2 miles, it’s something. 

I hold it with both my hands, tight.