What running taught me

Mon Dieu!  I have been delinquent in keeping you lovely folks up to date on all the goings-on around here. It’s been a busy time. We just returned this morning from a wonderful long weekend in Lyon (more on that soon). The weekend before we were with friends and enjoying a particularly Dutch adventure (more on that, too) in the north of Holland.

But for now, as I relax after a slow, hot, not-so-great training run, and with my first race in years just 6 days away, I figured I’d take a few minutes to share a bit more about my return to running. As I mentioned last time, I spent a couple of years recovering from a very painful injury to my heel and foot. It was so bad that I had pretty much given up on running completely. But after many months of finally being pain-free, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could start up again. When I was encouraged (pressured?) to be part of a company team for an annual race in Amsterdam, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for my “comeback”.

As I often do when tackling a new project, I made a plan. I dug out my list of physical therapy exercises and started the calf stretches and one-legged squats. I downloaded a walk-to-run app and eased slowly back into running. I joined a running group to give some structure to my training. In the first weeks, I obsessed about my heel and how it was feeling. I paid attention to every little twinge, worried that it was a relapse. I rested, stretched, massaged, and did whatever I could to be sure that I was protecting the site of the old injury.

Several weeks into my training, on a long run with my pace group, I noticed a little pain in my knee. We were running distances I had never done before; on this day, the knee discomfort started around kilometer 14 or 15. I remember being surprised by it – less by the pain itself, and more by the idea that some part of my body other than my foot could hurt.

Later that day, I realized that for the previous months of preparation and training, I had been completely focused on my heel, worried only about protecting and strengthening it. So focused, it turns out, that it never occurred to me to pay attention to pain or discomfort anywhere else. I was running as if I believed that the only possible injury I could have was a recurrence of the old one.

I don’t think my approach is an unusual or even a bad response to injury. We do need to protect parts of ourselves. We need to strengthen these tender areas, baby them a little. That’s fine at first – necessary, even. But if the goal is to return to full health, then shielding something too long can put us at risk in other ways. Maybe we opt to remove ourselves completely from something – a sport, an activity, a relationship – in order to stay safe. Or, we may find that our focus on the hurt or broken part has blinded us to other things that need our attention – both opportunities and vulnerabilities that we fail to see.

I’m not going to get all “Zen and the Art of Running” on you (mostly because I haven’t read the book), but I do find that this time around, running is giving me more than it did before. In the past few months, I feel like I’ve developed a greater general awareness. I have more trust in my body and its ability and potential. My injury and the pain that came with it felt like a betrayal of sorts; my normally healthy body suddenly had limitations that frustrated and (literally) hurt me.  But now we’re back on steady ground. I take less for granted, and try to pay more attention – not just to the parts that have been damaged.

When physical activity of any kind brings you challenge, focus, peace, growth, and health, you’re on the right path. Whatever does it for you, keep at it. Do it more.

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