Somewhere in those three years, though, the unthinkable had happened. I became what I knew in my heart I would be all along – a runner. Still, it was only after a very successful half marathon in April I was able to say it out loud again: I was ready to set my sights on the marathon, and for real this time. I’ll cut to the chase since I have written about this time and again, but I did everything in my power to prepare. I adjusted my running pace, times, and distances accordingly. I ate clean and well to power my runs. I listened to my body and slowed down when I needed to, and even cut my training times down to 9s from 8:30s to ensure success. I slept, I hydrated, and I cross-trained. I showed up, every Saturday at 6am, and I safely increased my mileage according to the plan each week. That’s the problem with plans, though. No matter how hard I tried, my plan might not be what the universe had in store.
My body gave in on August 2nd. Even in my previous writing on the topic, the trail of unanswered questions is apparent. There was no rhyme or reason for the injury. At first I thought it was a hamstring. I went to the doctor when it did not resolve on its own, and all signs pointed to meniscus. I went to PT and I had a MRI. The MRI did not show a meniscus tear, despite my doctor and PT still believing I was presenting as such. Instead, it showed a far less clear picture, a knee that had simply had enough. It was not one issue, it was a compilation of many, and unfortunately there was no answer as to when, if, or ever it would be resolved. And that’s perhaps the greatest challenge of my life, being okay with the gray.
This injury was not happenstance. This injury happened to force me to live in the gray, to be vulnerable with the people I love, to be honest with myself, to not have to rely on external validation for my happiness and wellbeing, and to force me to realize that there is more to me than just this one part of my identity. Though it feels sometimes like it is the greatest part of me, it’s just but one piece of my overall sum. Most of all, it reminded me to take off the blinders and enjoy my life. There are other goals, dreams, and roads to discover, as long as I am willing to see them.
It also taught me that as much as I wanted it before, trying to be a runner isn't enough in act alone or in completion of a task. Being a runner isn't a physical activity, or a feat of strength, or even a demonstration of will. It’s not something that happens if you break a record, or win a race, or complete a marathon. One day, you wake up, and you just are, and not because of one step, but because of many. Not running for two months, not finishing the marathon, maybe not ever running again . . . none of those things take away from me this identity that is one part of many inside the person that is me.
The days that lead to this day, marathon day, were not easy. I missed a 5k I had planned to PR; the 20 mile run I anxiously, yet eagerly, looked forward to accomplishing. I religiously cross-trained, biked, went to PT, and did my exercises at home in hopes I might still run. But my knee did not feel any better, and I spent each day, wondering when I would be able to run again, and counting down the ticking clock to the day when I would finally have to admit that there would be no chance for me to run the race that had become my white whale. Perhaps the greatest challenge was in knowing that I would have to go to the marathon packet pick-up, to retrieve the ghost of a dream that had died.
Most of my non-runner friends, and even some of my runner friends, couldn’t understand. But emotionally, I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my bib there, abandoned. It said I was embarrassed and ashamed, willing to easily forget the days I had spent working towards this goal, as if they hadn’t mattered, or even existed at all. It said that what I did hadn’t counted and this struggle wasn’t real. I couldn’t leave behind my dream, and I knew that I had to get it, to own it, and to accept it. I needed it to know that it had meant something, and I needed it to know that I still believe.
I had not had any improvement, and I had not made an attempt to run since the end of August, when my doctor authorized me to try a small run to see if there was any chance for me to resume training. There was not at that time. It was too soon. I went to a running therapist, who has worked me hard to help me recover. Still feeling the deep down ache in my joint, I was finally sent to the surgeon this past Friday, the day I was to pick up my packet for the marathon. It was he who gave me the murky news: no surgery for no tear, but a clear degenerative wear of my knee and its ability to shock absorb the strain of one foot in front of the other. However, it had been weeks since the MRI and my last attempt to run, so it was finally time to see if I could begin again.
I was cleared to run about one half of one mile by the surgeon on the morning of the packet pick-up for the race in which I had intended to run 26.2. I had never felt further away from my goal. I rode my bike to the packet pick-up, 15 miles down the lakeshore path, against the backdrop of a cloudy, gray skied day. I tried to get in and out as quickly as possible, but the universe had other plans. My phone shut down, preventing me from accessing my mobile ticket, and I had to go through another line to reconfirm my registration. I rode my bike back, against fierce headwinds, my quads being pummeled every turn of the peddle as I fought against the current. I felt like I was being punished by the universe for picking the packet up, that I should have left well enough alone: the phone dying, the wind working against me. And then it occurred to me that this scene was familiar, and I had been here before. http://www.lifeimpaired.com/melissas-blog/ali-in-the-jungle I may have been knocked down that time, but I was able to get back up. That night, I laced up my shoes. I didn’t know how I would feel, what it would be like, or if it would be what it was before. But I had finally come to realize that there would be only one way to find out. So, I ran.
My foot hit the pavement and I easily fell into stride. Sure, it was a bit tougher than it had used to be, but I also remembered what it felt like to work for it. So, I worked. I was thankful I had done all of that biking, knowing that whatever lung capacity I had was directly in context to how hard I had worked in my off time. I felt free, and light, and like a fog had been lifted from my head. I ran in a 7:16 minute pace. While this wouldn’t have been sustainable for a longer run, it was reassuring to know that I still had it. All of my fears melted away, and a smile broke over my face. Suddenly, it had come full circle. In those first few, uncertain strides, I realized that I was going to be okay. I realized that all of the struggle, first coming to terms with being willing to try for the marathon again, to the hard work and dedication I had put in during all of those months, to being hurt and hitting my lowest of lows, and struggling to fight my way back, it had all been for this moment. Not for the 26.2, but simply for the .84. I had been training for the wrong race all along. My race was with myself, in my head, and I had finally won in less than one mile.
Today has come and gone. The marathon has been completed. Ironic is the fact that it was a really hot day, and heat is definitely not my thing. I chuckle a bit now, as I know I would have struggled immensely, and I feel grateful knowing that my higher power saved me from that. Though I was able to go the expo, I knew my heart could not handle being in the city today, so I came to Detroit to see and spend time with my friends, away from fresh pain. I went to a yoga class this morning with my best friend, to remember to be present instead of in the would've, should've. It was a Vin-Yin class, and in the transition from flow to hold, we spent 5 minutes holding a child's pose while Piano Sonata No. 14 played by Beethoven. I like to think that was the moment I would have been crossing the finish line. It was in this moment I was truly able accept that I can finally move forward. The instructor ended the class by saying, "Maybe there was some goal you were not able to physically or mentally accomplish today. Know that today is just but one day, and tomorrow is a new and different one." I’m not defined by the results of one day, but rather the seconds of the every one. I can always begin again, and I have this bib up on my wall, to remind me.