Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I've noticed that there are two ways of looking at athletes in the world today. The misconception seems to be that the athlete is a figure of pure strength-- or, to frame this image with more precision-- the athlete is the embodiment of physical fitness. This is simply not the case. 

Or-- it's complicated. :) In many ways, an athlete is very strong. Though it's been a while since I've taken my resting heart rate (whatever it boom-boom it does upon waking) I've noticed it sits around 55 in the middle of the day after a few cups of coffee. I can do 140 man-push-ups and run a sub-40-minute 10k on any given day. So, yes, in the sense of my cardiovascular health I am indeed a specimen of strength. 

Yet, I'm struck by the contradiction between that and many other aspects of my life. Since I began training for long-distance events, I've had: Peroneal tendonitis, shin splits, runner's knee, Achilles tendonitis, bursitis of the hips, anemia, amenorrhoea and those are just the ailments I can name. There's been countless shadow injuries: days I can't walk right, nights I can't sleep for the pain that throbs that in one place or another.  Or little things: side stitches that just won't away, pain while sitting, pain while standing still. Pain I try not to think about when I'm running.

Then there is the issue of prevention: the hours (weekly) of foam rolling, elastic bands to strengthen various areas, stretching and calling upon my boyfriend to rub that spot on my calf just one more time... The visits to the chiropractor where he realigns my skeleton and rips adhesions that seem to develop bi-weekly in my calves. (And trust me: I'm no specimen of strength when he does that. One elbow in my soleus and I scream like a little girl.) 

Yes, athletes are strong. But in some ways, we are also weaker than the general population. If someone came to you with that laundry list of complaints and attempts to amend them, you'd think they were eighty, not twenty-nine.

And yet, here I am, up again this morning, ready to do it again. And again. I love the wind on my face and the sense that I'm accomplishing something. After certain races and workouts, I've had the thought that: well, I did that. What is there on this Earth I CAN'T do? And so maybe that's the sense of strength I see-- and most of us see- when we watch our sports idols achieve incredible feats-- it's our humanity, stretched to the max.  

And maybe that's why I always frame my writing by my running experiences. Writing, too, can be painful and unrewarding. (Anyone who types a lot fears carpal tunnel-- right?) But seriously: the hours of sitting, the time away from family and friends; the memories that might be painful to recall. But it's all in the service of something greater: to tell your story, to create something that is "bigger" than whatever discomfort you feel in the moment. 

That is what running has taught me. Not to be strong, necessarily, but to have a goal and pursue it with reckless abandon. And while I have "miles to go before I sleep" as Frost wrote, I am willing to go the distance, if one uncomfortable step at a time.


Rowena said...

Very nice. Thanks for reminding us of all you go through to perform. ...Whimpering away now.

Gurpreet Kaur said...

Writing and Running... who would have thought the two have a common base element. Thank you for taking the time to write this piece Rebecca!