My first year of running saw me rack up about 500 miles in just over 8 months. My second year saw me come this close to 1000. I enjoyed a meteoric rise in my ability to cover distance and run at speed and naturally it left me feeling like I could accomplish just about anything.
So when I suffered a pair of crippling injuries at the beginning of this year, it was humbling. I went from running 25 miles a week or so to being sidelined for three and four weeks at a time. I went from a long weekend run of 10 or 12 miles on average to barely finishing a 5k. For a guy like me who thought he was bulletproof, the injuries and my inability to bounce back from them were a blow to both my health and my ego.
I’ve tried not to think too hard about it, not to dwell and fixate and obsess over how much speed I’ve lost, how much my fitness has declined and how frustrated I’ve been. If you’re a habitual runner like me, I need say no more — you know the pain of not running. If you’re not, I’d liken it to having the flu for weeks on end. You feel weary, you feel caged in, like you’re just a drain on yourself and the people around you, like you’re asleep on your feet.
But then, a few weeks ago, a turn.
I’d been intentionally taking it easy; easier than easy, really, being careful not to push too hard and set myself back; for over a month, not running more than 5 miles outside of one 10k race (which did set me back). Then I had one run of six miles with a friend from high school and suffered no ill effects. Then the next week I ran five to be safe, and this past weekend I ran six again for good measure.
Well, what can I say? My feet feel healthier than they have since before my injuries. I’m not sure what the turnaround was, but I spent a few months after my podiatrist visit in a purgatory of not having serious pain but not feeling 100% healthy either. Last few weeks, the injured foot feels about 95% most of the time. It’s been a long road back, and I’ve been totally scattered: one moment I’m overly optimistic, lying to myself about my recovery to make it seem like it’s been better. Next, I’m beating myself up for pushing too hard too fast and I’m skipping a run or cutting one short because I’m scared of injury. Now, though, I can finally say that I’m getting back to normal.
For some reason I’m feeling more keenly than ever how tedious it must feel to a non-runner to read a runner’s writing about running. I mean, I hear the words flowing out of my fingertips (more or less) and all the athlo-babble about distance and biomechanics and injuries and pacing and negative splits and I almost want to punch myself in a mouth. Damn. How to approach this differently?
What’s a long run? I guess a long run is a distance that’s significantly longer than your standard run. Say 40% or more beyond your weekly runs. It’s the equivalent of locking the doors and unplugging the phone and turning off the computer and cranking up your music or your white noise machine or your internal monologue. If daily runs are your morning cup of joe, the long run is a series of espresso shots, dropping one just after the high of the first fades. The long run is the me-time that you chase but can never catch during the week. It’s the cherry on your sundae, the finish on your cigarette, the long dark tea-time of the soul. And I’ve been without it for MONTHS.
Well, I’m getting it back and it’s glorious. I feel more confident about my running than I’ve felt since the year ticked over. I feel like I’ve been pretending about getting myself back in shape all this time and now I can embrace it for real. I feel like I’ve got something to work toward vis-a-vis pushing my distance up again, rather than spinning my wheels in a weather-delayed holding pattern as I’ve done for months.
I picked out a route that I haven’t run since December because it’s just been too far and I couldn’t trust my feet. I didn’t just run it; I attacked it, setting a pace I’ve not set in half a year and finished, sweating and breathing hard and lurching in exhaustion up the hill to the house (living at the top of a hill SUCKS at the end of every run). I stretched and took stock and realized that I felt physically better than I have in months. I waited for a few hours and re-evaluated that impression: I’ve been so mental over the injury that I can’t trust myself. I think I feel better when I don’t. I want to feel better but I can’t. I feel like I can’t run that much but I can. Hours later, the evaluation held up. A switch has been flipped, and it feels like I’m back.
I’m burning to go for 7 this weekend but I’m going to do the “smart” thing and not jump too far too fast. I’ll play it conservative and do 6 one more week and then I’ll go for 7. I’ve no idea what pace I’m going to aim for or what’s even within reach, but I think the distance will be there. I think I can finally count on my body to hold up over long distance again.
It’d be time to start thinking about my next half marathon if we weren’t so broke.