Starting over. Back to square one. Back to the drawing board. These words can either come in as refreshing and liberating, or provoke feelings of exhaustion and defeat at their mere mention. It all comes down to your perspective, attitude, and above all, how you choose to look at/deal with it.
Of course I’m referring to my own runLESS journey, and everything that comes with getting back out on the road, trail, or any other “fair game” stretch of ground that lies ahead of me. With nearly half of my 2014 having been stripped of my running, struggle doesn’t do justice in describing what I have faced/am facing.
After my first nine-week forced break, I was sitting in my doctor’s office, listening to his plan for what’s next for me, and all too ready to pounce on him with a very important question: can I run now?! He laughed and answered, “Yes, go ahead, but don’t expect to be where you were in May.” Part of me knew he was probably right, but that determined spark of mine that never wavers despite what I face couldn’t help but come back forcefully, “Don’t underestimate me. I have a lot to run out.”
My sentence now lifted, I ecstatically threw on my running gear and fled out the door the moment I got home, clasping my hands together with the excitement of a child as I waited for my husband to get ready and join me. We did a quick two-miler around our neighborhood, slow and easy. I was surprised and equally pleased to find my body initially felt like it hadn’t taken a sabbatical. Even more so when after just another run of four miles, I decided to go all out to see what I could pull off. I managed to push out six miles on that third run, and while I was thrilled that my speed hadn’t been affected, my endurance had certainly taken a big hit. I found myself having to take rest stops every mile and half just to gather my bearings, catch my breath, and calm my profusely pounding heart. Oh, how frustrating this was! I reminded myself to be patient, that my body was still recovering, and kept pushing until I reached my goal. Just one week later, I was back to running my “happy sixes” with no stops and minimal effort. Everything was right again in the world. 🙂
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, more bad news made that running high short-lived, bringing with it another forced hiatus rearing its ugly head. This time was different, because after about six weeks, I was cleared to run by my doctor “as long as I listened to my body and took it easy.” At that point, my beaten, run-down, fatigued, and now very frail body felt it couldn’t run if it wanted to, which it didn’t. Another long and depressing eight weeks of feeling helpless and weak passed, until one day, I had enough. I was DONE feeling like a lethargic lump, and as many pep talks as I gave myself, I couldn’t stand to hear any more of my words of wisdom. I needed action. I made up my mind that I was going to run come hell or high water. Not far, not hard, and certainly not fast, but I would run.
And so I did. Three miles of my regular hilly route, with no stops or accommodations, slow and easy. It was EXACTLY what I needed, and I was in tears of joy through most of it, awed by my own strength that had long ago been buried so deep. My legs hardly felt as if they were working, sailing down the road with ease, and the only hint of exertion was the sound and feel of my heart pounding frantically in my chest. The endorphin charge from this three-mile run lasted for days.
A week later, I did it again, and this time was even easier. Another week passed with a four-miler that went equally well, and so the following week, I decided to brave it and tackle my happy number. Knowing it may be a bit much too soon, I kept reminding myself to run easy and focus solely on covering the ground. Since I wasn’t running for speed or training purposes, I took advantage of this downtime and concentrated on checking in with my cadence and running form. It wasn’t easy, and a few times I wanted to hang up my shoes and head home early. I repeatedly recited a mantra I use when things get exceptionally tough,
“Sky above me. Ground beneath me. Fire within me.”
put on my game face (a scrunched up version of a smile), swung my arms harder, and surged forward down the road, leaving all feelings of weakness and angst behind me, choking on my dust.
With only one rest stop where I paced in a circle counting to 20 before resuming my run, I completed six miles by how my body felt, only looking twice at my Garmin to check distance covered. When I saw my time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only had I covered my normal regular mileage, but I had done so at the same pace as my normal “easier” days. Shocked at my own ability, I double-checked my mileage breakdown, and sure enough, there it was, complete with negative splits. I felt INCREDIBLE.
While I’ve always known running is in great part a mental effort, I am living proof of this. It’s true that your body will go as far as your mind will push it. Logic would claim that, given what my body has been through over the past six months, I should not be able to do what I’ve done thus far, performing as I have. While not without its struggles, I’ve bounced back rather quickly, with minimal effort and complications. There was undoubtedly some fitness, strength, and endurance lost, but either that loss was very short-lived or I have superhuman powers, because before my last forced break was upon me, I felt almost back to where I came from before this all began. Honestly, as much as I’ve referred to myself as a beast, I truly believe that there is something within me that is much stronger than anything I’ve suffered physically, and that when my physical being was beaten down, something greater had its back, fighting for its temporarily downed counterpart. I believe it is my strong-willed and determined spirit that has kept me moving forward, one step at a time.
Despite the fact that yet another forced running hiatus has fallen upon me, I am still smiling. That’s what running does for me: it has given me strength to endure all that has blown through my life like a hurricane this past year. While I only managed a few runs in between forced breaks, it was enough to remind me of how strong I really am, physically and mentally, and how much more I am capable of. I am grateful I was able to do as much as I did, as every run holds value in my book. I have said multiple times in recent months that I’m so glad I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, because I don’t know how I could have survived all that I have this year without that ultimate refresher course in endurance. Which brings me to one of my all-time favorite mantras: “I run marathons…I can do ANYthing.”
I am hopeful this will be the last break for a long time to come, and that I continue to get good news in the health department. Throughout this long and difficult journey, I have found a renewed strength and faith that often can only be found in the darkest of times. I’ve been knocked down repeatedly and reached my lowest point thus far, but I have and always will get back up and move forward on the path to wherever it is I’m headed. I know my road is out there waiting patiently for me to return, fierce and determined as ever. And when I do, once again, all will be right in the world. Just in time for my favorite running weather. ❤
“There is a powerful driving force inside ever human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, dream, or desire a reality.” “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” These quotes are the forces now driving me, as I now believe there are no limits to what I can do. If I set my mind to it, consider it done. And rest assured I have a list of big dreams for 2015 that will become reality. Just watch me.