So, during the practice run with the Striders last Saturday I pulled something in my lower leg. I have no idea what. According to the anatomy book, it could be anything from a high Achilles tendon strain to an interosseous ligament to the tibialis posterior muscle or a low soleus strain. The treatment seemed to be the same for all of them: Ice, Rest, Elevation and light stretching. I could do that.
By Monday, the leg still hurt, like an interior bruise and the bottom of my foot was very sore and stiff as well, so worked on stretching.
On Tuesday I attempted to wrap and run and got as far as one mile before thinking this was not such a smart idea.
Wednesday and Thursday I rode the bike. The leg still hurt, and both knees felt as if they had been injected with bath caulking; stiff with sharp pains.
I had signed up to run in the YMCA Heart of Savannah 5K on Saturday and had planned, before the injury, to get to the park early and run five or six miles and then run the 3.1 mile race, and if I still felt up to it, another lap around Forsyth Park.
At the rate I was going, it looked like I might be jog walking or volunteering to man a water station.
I decided not to run or bike on Friday. It wasn’t like I was going to improve any over a 24 hour time period anyway.
I had felt bad all week, not so much because of the leg or the knees or the foot, which all seemed determined to secede from the union; but because the weather had turned hot and muggy and rainy again, and I was dealing with hormonal changes that made me grumpy, bloated and angry. It seemed like nothing I did was satisfying and I found myself focusing on everything negative; griping and complaining about things that I should feel blessed about instead.
Friday night I packed a bag with all my race gear. I could not find my knee brace. I had remembered washing it and putting it on something to air dry (I found it three days later under the bed where I had apparently placed it over the bed post to dry and knocked it off on the floor).
I packed the new ankle brace, which I had attempted to run in earlier in the week and found too bulky to function for running; along with a roll of vetwrap (the stuff they wrap your arm with when you give blood) and a stretched out ace bandage, as well as an old neoprene knee brace I had cut into strips to make my own patella straps.
Both my watches had ripped apart at the straps, so I put the one strapless watch into the bag with a change of clothes, said a prayer I would be able to run the three point one miles and secretly wished I would blow away the competition and run faster than I had ever run a 5K in my life. Hope is one of my strong points, right next to a Disney-ish belief that all my dreams will one day come true if only I believe…
I woke up in plenty of time to get to the park early and run, but decided against it. My leg still did not feel right and I felt weak and shaky so ate two servings of banana pudding in the hopes the sugar and the potassium would help make me feel better.
It didn’t and I regretfully put on my headlamp and went out in the dark to feed the animals, washed off my feet, slapped on all the assorted wraps, braces and liniments and headed out the door.
Once at the park, I felt even more intimidated. I was not a runner and I was not prepared. I jogged about a half mile around the park feeling out of breath and straining. My leg felt dull and tight, but no real pain, so ran a little more and stopped to stretch.
After sharing greetings with the few people I actually knew in a sea of unfamiliar faces, I joined the pack and waited for the start. The pace was slow and I felt crowded and trapped. A woman tried to run between me and another runner to my side and I nearly took her shoe off with my foot. I apologized as did she and wove around the slower runners, wondering if I was pushing myself too fast and the slow runners, would only catch up and pass me later.
I neither felt good nor bad. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but it just seemed like the same old thing I had seen before.
I dodged manhole covers and curbs and tried to keep the pace, whatever it might be. Two men that I passed earlier now passed me, “and so it begins” I thought to myself, thinking I would soon slow to a crawl.
I was thirsty and shouldn’t be. I had hydrated well before the race, so much so that I had to make two trips to Tony’s Jons, whose logo graced the back of our T-shirts. The last T-shirt I got had toilet paper on the back of it and my brother teased me about that. Just wait until he saw this one!
About three squares from the turn around, the lead runner headed back our way. I had to laugh at the bicyclist leading the way. He almost seemed to be struggling to keep ahead of the runner who barely seemed winded.
I watched the next few runners over a minute behind him, pass us by in the opposite direction and started to feel like I wanted to stop and walk, which only made me mad and disgusted with myself.
I kept plodding along, angry and moody and wishing I could run faster to get away from myself and run with someone of more pleasant spirit.
When we reached the turn around at Johnson Square I started to speed up. I wanted to get back now. I was tired. My leg started feeling strained at mile two, but no real pain. Still, I was afraid to push too hard and break down and my breathing was labored. It felt really hot for some reason and I still felt weak.
A lady I had passed earlier tried to pass me. I was not in the mood for games and sped up enough to keep her at bay, then settled into a slower pace.
I was angry or upset, that no one called up time splits at the mile markers. I was upset that a police officer on a motorcycle cut me off at the Presbyterian Church and belched gas fumes on me all the way to Liberty before peeling off. Everything and everyone irritated me. Oh the joys of PMS and wicked hormones.
Two squares to go and I just wanted it to end. The woman tried to pass me again. I was irritated and sped up. I thought the finish line was near the fountain in the park, but it was actually just around the corner.
A friend called my name and I turned to wave, only to see the annoying woman speeding up, arms pumping, legs sailing faster… “I don’t think so lady…”
Whatever in me clicked and the adrenaline rushed from the back of my arms and into my head. My tired legs picked up the pace; faster, faster…
All of a sudden there was no pain, so sluggishness, no anger, nothing, just a rush of wind, a pumping of blood, an electric awareness of my own existence. I didn’t see the time clock, the people, the finish line, only the blurred outline of the woman in blue as she slipped further and further behind.
Oddly, even having sprinted the last tenth of a mile, I was not winded, nor tired. I was triumphant. I was grinning. I had beaten the demons that were holding me back, telling me what I could and could not do; telling me I was finished and would never reach my goals.
I had run a 9:48 mile pace, not the fastest 5K since I started training for the half marathon, but there was some victory. It was not great. I did not even place in my age division, but I had proven I may not have a runner’s speed, but I did have a runner’s heart.
I was not proud of my accomplishments, if anything I was embarrassed. My leg ached, but that flash of competition; that flash of refusing to give in; that momentary sense of flying as the world stood still around me was what motivated me to run. I had forgotten that feeling, so accustomed to running slow and getting left behind, of injury and setbacks and feeling not good enough, of letting my inner self convince me that I was not a runner and never would be and was only pretending.
There comes a moment though, in everyone’s life, where you feel like a champion, if just for a moment, a brief moment in time, and it feels good. It feels like something you were meant to do, but were prevented from doing.
You convince yourself that you were not meant to be a champion. You were not meant to be anything special and you feel like giving up and not trying.
It’s hard to overcome setbacks. It’s hard to watch the people around you excel in everything they do while you try and fail and fail again, but the secret is to not see the failure as failure. The secret is to see any improvement as success and any setback as a means to challenge yourself to find a way to keep going when everything seems to suggest you should quit.
The real race is not with the women in the blue track suit who keeps trying to pass you, it is with yourself and the demons that tell you that you aren’t good enough to be anything other than what you already are, when who you are is in reality, a pretty decent person with the potential to always do more and always reach deeper and never give up and never give in and always encourage others to keep doing the same.