Running Not Running
It's been three weeks since I last went for a run.
For many (maybe even most) people, that sounds like such a tiny blip. Even to me, three weeks often doesn't seem significant. I go three weeks without doing things all the time. Washing my floors, for instance. Or calling family members, finishing a book, updating this blog, texting an old friend. All things I want to do, things I even love to do (minus the floor-washing), things I should do. But not doing them for 3 weeks doesn't hurt me too much.
Running, on the other hand, feels like breathing. It literally makes me breathe- forces me to focus on my breath, on what's happening in my body.
I often feel crushed beneath some internal load- a wall with bricks of fear, doubt, rage, pain, anxiety and sadness that I carry. I bear these on micro and macro levels, and feel them more intensely some days than others. At times they seem feather-light and silly; at times, so dark as to fill my vision and my lungs with a gray haze. I am convinced this is part of the human condition. I don't resent the responsibility of feeling these things and bearing my share of the world, usually. But now, my bones have literally cracked under their weight.
It sounds overly dramatic to declare that ethereal things like fear and depression have broken my bones. But one of my little bones is fractured after a year of sustained high-mileage weeks, increasingly fast races, and half of my second marathon training cycle of 2017. And, probably not coincidentally, the horror show that continues to unfold across this country and this planet.
Running is the first thing I do to cope with my particular burdens. Forty-five tweets something; I put on my Garmin. Another mass shooting; on go my tights and my favorite race shirt. Fires and hurricanes rage; I lace up my shoes. Loneliness, exhaustion from lack of sleep, boredom at work, an unproductive day, missing the family and friends I don't see, mourning- I'm breathing, moving, my legs launching me down the street, up the hills, past the lake; my heart pumping, my brain softening, my arms warming up in the chilly air. Running doesn't get rid of the terrible things in the world, it doesn't cure me of my anxiety and depression, but it brings me into my body and forces me to stay there, to pay attention. I can think and process, or not. I can notice where exactly we are in the seasons right now, what the air smells like; I can make plans or talk to my running friends; I can calm down when I really need to. (I really need to calm down a lot).
Running puts me outside, almost every day, with people I call family in a city I learned to call home through running. It wakes my heart up. It makes me feel confident, powerful, brave- things I seldom feel otherwise. It makes me feel alive. Like breathing.
I need it. I need it to remind me of what I can do. I need it to make me feel like myself. Without it, I'm lost. I use it for everything, to cope and to enhance my life. But it appears, as much as I hate to admit it, that I have relied upon it too much. The personal and the global have been overwhelming lately. Everyone feels this. I tend to deeply internalize negativity. I run so I don't break; ironic that doing so literally broke me.
In a high-impact sport like running, injuries happen all the time. Some are serious and some less so. When they do happen, (some) non-runners will inevitably take the opportunity to inform The Injured that running is bad for you. People love to believe this.
I was once stopped mid-run, along with the group I was running with at the time, by an older woman who wanted to let us all know that how we chose to spend our beautiful Sunday morning was wrong. She felt the need to inform us of her opinion that humans weren't meant to run and that the only reason we wanted to was because we had literally been sold the idea, presumably by shoe or apparel companies. The implication was that we were stupid and didn't know what was good for us.
That was insulting, but ultimately pretty ridiculous. Something like that is not a common occurrence. But as soon as a runner is injured, non-runners will inevitably pop up everywhere to say, "I told you so." I've been on the receiving end of this sentiment many times in the past few weeks, including from people who love me and have my best interest in mind.
But not from other runners. Thank the universe for sportfam. I would be in a much darker place without the runners I can't actually run with right now. They know.
I'm not sure why running seems to have a worse rep than other sports- all of which, by the way, can also hurt you. Do people hate it because it's hard? Do the run-haters like it when runners are injured because it justifies the fact that they don't run?
Running isn't for everyone, but it's also not better or worse than any other type of physical or athletic pursuit. Running is, however, for me. It's mine, and I love it with every chamber of my heart. Rowing, bodybuilding, and anything involving hand-eye coordination with a ball are all examples of sports that are not for me. But I would never feel contemptuous of anyone who hurt themselves doing those things. I wouldn't say, "That's exactly why I don't play baseball- you could really throw out your arm." I would say, "You got deep in your body and pushed yourself. That makes you a badass." (Not that you need to get injured to be a badass. It's better if you don't, fyi).
It's words like this that make up the monologue in my head I use to talk myself down from the brink of despair while I ride out this stress fracture. That monologue is made of the voices of my runfam, who hold me up even though I don't see them in person as often right now.
I don't regret any of the miles I ran that may have led to this injury. Some of them were the most exhilarating and joyful moments I've had all year. So I'm adding an addendum to my usual mantra of "I got this," in order to continue carrying my bricks without drowning.
This won't break me.