I never really knew who I was. I spent my life trying to be something I am not; a chameleon yearning to be what I thought other people wanted me to be and someone they would accept me for. For a long time, it was the straight A student. Then, it was the party girl. Sometimes, it was both. Running finally gave me an identity I was proud of. It gave me a way out of the noise of my life and allowed me to quiet the noise in my head. When I was feeling down, I could take it out on the pavement. It’s where I processed my thoughts and the events in my life. It’s where I found comfort in my darkest days when Jeff was struggling, and when I wasn’t sure he would live. It was the only comfort I had that the journey would continue for me, regardless of Jeff's path.
When I found out I had torn my meniscus, I tried to be optimistic that this would be a minor setback in my journey to marathon. I had no idea it would be such a major setback, not only to just the marathon, but in my journey of life. A week of rest turned into three. Three turned into regaining a glimmer of hope after being cleared to try running again. Hope was brutally ripped from me, as even a one and two mile run activated the same amount of pain. That turned into uncertainty to when I would ever be able to return to running again, and if I would be able to return at all. All of that work I did, the months of training, and the singular commitment to one thing – to have it taken from me in an instant has been devastating. I want to blame myself; it would be easier to know that I have done something to cause this to happen. I’m certain it’s because I over trained, was too overweight for so long, didn’t stretch or cross-train properly, and that this just finally occurred as a result of all of those things. I beat myself up, why wasn’t I smarter, sooner? Why did I think I was above the law? Why did I assume my body could handle this? I wish I had never started marathon training and gambled my identity and future as a runner on one fall day in October. The moment may have lasted in my ego forever, but in reality, it would last for a mere three hours and forty-five minutes.
I’ve felt punished, admonished, and abandoned by the universe, which has been my guide through most of these difficult times. I’ve asked, “Why this lesson and why now?”
“Help me understand,” I’ve exclaimed to the universe, on my hands and knees in my shower, sobbing under the slow trickle of lukewarm water. My open letter has gone without response. When the universe does respond, it’s silently and without comfort. There is no warm and fuzzy feeling. The universe addresses me as I am: pragmatic, directly, and without emotion. It speaks my language, which makes it all the harder, to know that this message is addressed, signed, sealed, and delivered, directly to me. There is no mistaking it. This “thing” has happened, and it is without regalia or ceremony. I can only feel like a child again, but an innocent one who has done something to disappoint mom and dad, and who isn’t even quite sure what the transgression was. What did I do to deserve this? What lesson do I need to learn here?
I think about what it will be like to pick up my packet for the next 5K I am supposed to run next Sunday, but will not be. I think the same about the 20 miler race on the docket for the week after. My mind melts into sheer panic and terror when I think about stepping foot into the Marathon Expo to pick up my materials, knowing full well that I will not be completing the challenge. I look at the countdown clock on my computer to the marathon: 36 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes. It’s a countdown to misery for me. My mind wanders beyond the marathon, to the crisp fall days I will be missing out on enjoying, where I really feel in my prime. I reach near pandemonium when I think about winter, my favorite season to run, and also a season where I will not be able to rely on my bike as my backup form of physical activity. Will I be relegated to walking on an incline on my treadmill, facing a brick wall inside of my home, while inside I struggle to break free? How will I escape? Alone on the snowy trail, that’s when I feel like me the most.
I feel like the universe has decided I learned enough through running. The joke is on me, as this is perhaps the final lesson in learning how to let go gracefully, which I haven’t done, and to be unafraid moving onto the next chapter. I know that it would be easier if I accepted it and trusted it, but I just can’t seem to find my way. The immense grief I feel is unlike any other. The more I struggle, the deeper my hole gets. I’ve rebounded, reanimated, and regrown from so much over the past few years – I’m just not sure if I can do it once more. I’ve run a good number of miles this year, figuratively and literally, probably almost a thousand when you add them up. But, this is simply the one mile I am incapable of running in.
I can’t run away, anymore.