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.