Looking back at my running log today, it dawned on me – it has been four years and three days since my last “normal” workout. On March 10, 2014, I ran a 9 mile speed workout with my marathon pace miles at 7:05-7:10 pace. I remember the workout vividly. I was working downtown and had left work early to get my run in along the Lakeshore path. I had a set of hard sprints preceding my marathon pace miles so I elected to do the bulk of my workout along a straight stretch of path running about 250 meters. In retrospect, it was a horrible surface choice, as the portion of the path I ran back and forth along was completely slanted. In my running log I noted my IT band locking up. My next workout was designated by the words “painful.” The next month’s comments all noted my leg routinely tightening and my inability to stride. I muddled along for another two months before I physically was unable to take one more step.
Little did I know, this was the beginning of a saga that would change my relationship with running indefinitely.
So why do I write this now? Because this time of year forces reflection. Because even this morning my hip bothered me every single step. Because the freaking Boston Marathon is a month from now and notwithstanding having qualified by 11 and nearly 4 minutes respectively, I still won’t be joining my friends at the start line (again). The race I am running this weekend (which I am actually using as a workout rather than a race) was my first DNS due to this (now seemingly lifelong) injury. It was a race I was trained up for and by all accounts should have smashed my former PR – even on a difficult course. I remember having a wedding that weekend and not even being able to sit in my car for the hour drive to the venue because of the horrible hip and sciatic pain I was experiencing.
Fast forward 1463 days (and countless doctor visits and dollars spent) later. The good news is that I am running again (something that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do). I have run two (solid) marathons. I have even run some decently fast races. I have found great doctors who have got me back to not only functional, but to being able to train and compete (which at one point in time was another uncertainty). For this I am thankful. In many ways, notwithstanding my running not even being close to where I want it to be (or where, by all accounts, it “should” be) my life outside of running is 1000 times better than it was when I was at my running peak. No amount of miles run or PRs earned can change that. That’s what I try to focus on. Because I know that is what really matters.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I try to let it go – but as soon as I start running my hip flares up to some extent. It may be a minor twinge (annoying but completely manageable) or it may tighten up my entire leg to the point where it is difficult to move at all (which ranges from dis-coordinated to painful). I will never get to a point where it isn’t something I have to worry about because while it can be managed with treatment – it will never be the same. I will never be 100%. Easy runs will never truly be easy (or carefree). Hard runs will always be unpredictable. However, the physical part I can deal with (ignore, push through, or whatever else) – it’s the mental component that’s exhausting.
Feeling irritation, discomfort, and/or pain is no fun. But it’s manageable. What I struggle the most with is the feeling that because of this I will never have the opportunity to realize my full potential. And that’s heartbreaking.
Maybe someday I’l get back to where I was. Maybe I won’t. I have no doubt that I will continue to earn (at least some) new PRs. I do think that I have future successes in store. But it’s hard not to feel frustrated. It’s hard not to focus on the unfairness of the whole thing. Because if I’m perfectly honest, it’s hard to let my guard down and open myself up to further disappointment. But on the flip side, if I don’t keep trying I am only setting myself up for even more lost opportunity.
So what does it all mean? It means stop thinking, stop feeling, and just run. As far (or as short) as I can as fast (or as slow) as I can.
Because I can.