Thursday, January 5, 2012

A long overdue update; and an end to (this) story

It's 2012 and one day ago my 30th birthday and so I thought I would finish what I started: to let you know how I fared in my attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the Marathon Event. I've started countless drafts of this only to leave them incomplete. Some of them made my cry; others made me angry. But what each attempt shared was this sense of incompleteness; of something half-admitted. And now that I'm no longer a twenty-something, perhaps it's time to state things plainly. Perhaps it's time to face the truth.

I didn't qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. I injured my Achilles Tendon severely last spring and rehabbed the injury as aggressively as I was able. I was back on my feet two months later and trained as though I were already in the trials: double-days-- double-days with cross training mixed in. By mid-summer, I was doing 20+ hour weeks (running, cycling, in the pool) in addition to working 40 hours each week. I wouldn't have admitted it then, but I was exhausted. I can remember more than once "zoning out" at work, only to "wake up" and find myself two-thirds up Mt. Diablo as the sun reached the western horizon to my right. 

But I hoped and held onto that dream that I could do this. I knew I had a challenging semester: three courses, a job, a teaching internship and yes, training. I woke up at 4:00 am to make it to the pool to swim and then to run after. I did intervals Tuesday/Thursday mornings by the light of morning stars. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't realize how tired I was; how worn thin. How little there was of me to give to anything. No wonder I didn't make it; no wonder I became injured again. 

The highlight of my season was a 17:36 5k Cross Country race I ran with the Strawberry Canyon Track Club-- a team I tried with last spring and to which I still belong, though my commitments prevented me from attending any of their practices this fall. It was a bittersweet victory: that race truly felt like flight: I ran faster than other athletes who had already qualified for the Trials. I thought, (without that inner-critic I seem to carry with me) that: "Wow. I can really do this. I can be an extraordinary person. Finally."

But then came the day I ran an 18-mile tempo with a fast and fit young man to pace me. And I did it, but it didn't feel good. I didn't feel right. My stride was off, somehow. And then the pain began again, back in that Achilles tendon. I tried to ignore it for as long as I could. I even substituted cycling on my easy running days-- only to lose control on a steep descent and slide across the paved road, bruising my hip and scraping my right (injured) leg. 

And so: the race I was supposed to run came and went; my running shoes sat by the door. I have been trying to find some wisdom in this; some way to tell myself that I am not a failure; that there is still something in this life worth fighting for, and worth believing in. I can't help but mourn the life I had, rough though it was: I had hip issues, tendon issues, stress fractures in 2009. I hadn't had my period in three years and my feet quite truly looked like something Stephen King might have dreamed up. But the sort of happiness I felt on those early morning runs is like nothing I've ever known. A true freedom; a dance with sunlight and cloud and leaf. I can't wait for the day that I'll be able simply to run again-- not fast-- but to step and glide and slide across the silent paths of a long distance runner. 

I didn't qualify for the Olympic Trials. I wish I had; if only as a way to say that dreams are worth believing in; worth following.... that they are worth giving up everything for to achieve. But despite my failure, I still believe that. I still believe in the beauty I saw those many days; the beauty I glimpsed, sometimes, in me... 

Once, at a coach's Christmas Party years ago, a 1500 meter Olympic runner (from the '84 games) told me I had to be grateful for every step I took, no matter how fast or how slow. Being me, I'd said something like: "I'm not fast, and there's nothing to be grateful for in that." But now, two years later, I understand. I am grateful; each step I ever took was wonderful. And what I wouldn't give to have more in me. 

Perhaps I do. 

But for now, I have to keep believing. My spirit: waiting to run again.