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.
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! :)