As most of you are no doubt aware, I’m nursing a running injury. If you belong to the coterie of people I communicate with on a semi-regular basis, you are probably much too aware of this fact, and for that, I apologize. It all started a month and a half ago, when I decided to increase the length of my runs for the first time in years. The initial weeks gave me a newfound sympathy for beginning runners and a level of challenge I’d long forgotten about. But I kept on with it, and soon, things were progressing nicely. Until I started the new day job and became a member of the run-after-work club, and well, it all went downhill from there.
Long story short, my knees–the only parts of my lower body that have never given me trouble–started to bug me, and I was forced, amidst much dread of my ensuing convalescence, to back off. The last time I had to take a break from running was five years ago, when I sprained my ankle in college. It’s the story I always tell when explaining how psychotic I get when I don’t run. What I remember from that time was how cold the Boston February was, how I donned my warmest coat every evening and walked and walked and walked in the most bitter and resentful way I could. I let it snow on me. I let the icy winds blow in my face. Ten below with the wind chill? Who cares? I can’t run. I may as well freeze. I’ll spare you the rest.
Over the years I’ve told that story, it’s been exaggerated to the point where now, I’ve been telling people that I wasn’t able to run for months. But the good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) thing about having had this blog for almost six years is that I have a written record of that most wretched time, and it turns out I was only down for one month. Clearly, it felt like longer, and I probably should’ve waited more than four weeks before attempting to run on a healing sprain. But at that point, it was likely that I was on the verge of pitching myself into the Charles, so maybe we can just say that running a bit too soon was the lesser of two evils.
I can hardly express the physical torment that befalls me when I’m not running. For one thing, I can’t sit still. Running utilizes nearly every part of your body, something you typically don’t realize until you stop. Imagine a feeling worse than any muscle ache you’ve ever had. Imagine what those muscles would sound like if they screamed. Imagine your tendons being covered in a rash you can’t scratch. Imagine a body that’s used to working very hard suddenly not working hard at all. It will quickly descend into anarchy. You will feel like a human marshmallow, and everyone who tells you it’s all in your head is nothing but a big fat liar. No wonder that month felt like years.
Cut to the present–it’s been a week and a half since I took a break from running, and of course, I’ve cheated almost the entire time. No, I haven’t been running full out, but with the exception of the first day off, I have been sneaking little bits of jogging into my walks–which, incidentally, is usually a form of exercise I enjoy, but when it’s acting as a substitute for running, walking becomes the most boring workout on the planet. And when you live in Boston or Portland or another city that runneth over with, well, runners, walking is nothing short of an hour’s worth of torture. I find myself staring at joggers the way childless women who want babies gaze longingly at mothers pushing strollers. Not fair, I think. Not fair.
Last week, we had a brutal heat wave, so when our fair Oregon clouds graced us with their presence on Saturday, everyone and their grandmother was out running. Except, of course, me, who since day one of the pseudo-running ban has taken to speed walking, arms pumping and everything. I’m sure I’m a sight. Not only were there about fifty times more runners than normal out this weekend, there was also a race happening. And did the packs of marathoners run through my route? Yes. Yes, they did. As they passed, I had to restrain myself from shouting, “I’m injured! That’s the only reason I’m walking! I’m normally faster than all of you!” Not running does not bring out my best qualities, to say the very least.
As if the physical angst of not running weren’t enough, there is also the mental angst. Your pride, for one, takes a severe beating (hence my impulse to heckle marathoners). Also, if you, like me, are the type who runs, in part, to process virtually everything that filters into your brain, not running feels like someone stopped up the drain in the tub. I find myself staring at problems and situations and stuttering responses like I’ve only recently learned to speak English. My coping skills leave much to be desired already. They really can’t afford to take this kind of hit.
So I’ve been flailing in this mad swirl of itching pain and mental retardation–until a couple days ago, when I noticed a shift. My body wasn’t screaming as loudly. My knees weren’t bugging me as much. I’d figured out how to let all those things I was supposed to process just float around in the old bathwater of my brain, and I–runner extraordinaire, girl who claims that exercise is not just a desire or a necessity, but an addiction–actually thought, with full sincerity, Maybe I don’t need to run. Maybe it’ll be too hard to get back to my normal pace and duration. Maybe it’s just not worth risking more injuries.
That thought lasted almost twenty-four hours, which, if you don’t know, is a lengthy amount of time for me to entertain an out-of-character idea. But last night, I had a near out-of-body experience (not literally, but go with me on this). It was like there were two of me, and the one who would never even consider giving up running grabbed the other one by the face and said, “Do you hear yourself? Seriously, do you?” And I sort of stopped for a moment, and thought, My word, did I really just think that? Did I think I could give up running? And did I say I wanted to give it up because it would be too hard? Dear God. What have I become?
There are many adjectives people might use to describe me, and at least half of them probably aren’t flattering. But I’m willing to bet that nowhere on that list is the word “lazy.” I’ve heard “passionate, extreme, relentless, determined, obsessive,” but never “lazy.” So how could I become just that? I then realized that this eh-who-cares attitude of mine had seeped into other areas of my life–in fact, nearly all of them. I looked back on the past few weeks and was shocked at the number of times I’ve said things to the tune of, Oh well, good enough, I guess this is the way it is, and the one that has been repeated and has also shocked me the most, I’m tired. I’m just ready to be done.
I am tired, and in so very many ways, I’m ready to be done. It’s hard to want things the world seems hell-bent on denying you, to chase what eludes you at every turn. It’s hard, at the end of a long workday, to summon up the wherewithal to research agents to submit your novel to, when you’ve been trying to get someone to take it on for the better part of a year, and to no avail. It’s hard to write blog posts when you can’t think of anything to say. It’s hard to write fiction, but at least that one, like running, is something I know I’d be crazy to give up–but do I know that? If I entertained, even for a second, the thought of no longer running, how long before writing would follow suit? It’s a slow fade, my friends. People don’t one day decide to give up on what they hope for, what they love. They get tired, and they stay tired, and soon, it’s just easier to stop moving.
But I’m not going give up running. Not because I had some grand epiphany, not even because my clothes will start to get tight, and certainly not because rehabbing an injury isn’t at all frustrating, time-consuming, or a blunt, repetitive blow to my pride. No, I’m not going to give up because I’m a runner, and runners run. That’s what they do. If they get injured, they rest (and whine a lot, a lot, a lot), then get back out there. If they fall, they get up and keep going, even if they’re bleeding (been there, done that). If I think too much about the long weeks of rehab ahead, or the likelihood of future injuries, I might not take another step. But if instead, I develop a game plan and chip away at it day by day by agonizing day, eventually, I’ll be running again.
While a bit trickier, the same goes for submissions–one day, someone might take notice of my book. There’s no guarantee of that, but the chances of someone finding it are even slimmer if I don’t put it out in the world. The same goes for writing. Novels are written sentence by sentence, even if it’s just a sentence a week. It may take years, but it’ll get done, which is more than will happen if I never write at all. A slow, tired, but steady walk is better than not moving, and a path laden with setbacks and roundabouts is better than staying stuck in one place. I refuse to stand on the sidelines, watching others run, wondering what might’ve happened if I’d just tried a little harder. That’s not the kind of ending my story deserves.