My wish to run again came true, but perhaps I should have been a bit more specific. I survived the bone bruise. I survived the rehab. I survived hours of physical therapy and countless one-legged squats, and now I can run! Hooray!
Except not very well.
I’m back on the trail, but it’s ugly. Although I rationally knew that I couldn’t just pick up where I left off last April, the rebuilding process has been harder than anticipated. Through physical therapy, I learned about stride length, form, and cadence. This knowledge will help me continue running pain-free for years to come, but unlearning over a decade of muscle memory essentially means starting over.
While doing all those one-legged squats, I imagined myself running. I imagined myself racing. I imagined myself keeping up and catching up with friends. In all that visualization, however, I neglected some important details.
I had forgotten this part right here – the struggle part. The huff and puff part. The stop and walk way too often part. I’m running without pain, but it’s far from effortless. My body jiggles in new places and my mind thinks toxic, unhelpful thoughts, comparing my current ability to what I was doing in peak marathon shape. I know it’s not helpful. I know it’s not productive. But I don’t know how to stop it, not entirely anyway. I can do the temporary pep talks to shake it off, but the mental challenges of ramping back up are proving harder than the physical ones.
With time and continued effort, I trust that I will rebuild my base and be able to run comfortably again. I’ve had a few good days with a few good runs, but right now they are the exception and not the rule. This too shall pass, but until that day comes I am in a running purgatory filled with dualities. I am both elated and disappointed with my progress; both optimistic and paranoid about pushing myself further. I am back at square one while also being in uncharted territory.
As confused as I feel, I can’t rush my way out of the maze. The only way through it is carefully and patiently. Doing too much got me into this mess in the first place, so for now I just need to sit with some discomfort, which fortunately is only in my brain and no longer in my toes.
To cut through the confusion, it helps to focus on the constants: the support of the running community, the joy of being on the trail, and my commitment to my health. While these are manifesting differently now than they did a year ago, the core principals remain the same. Through it all, my love of running has not wavered. Its role in my life will continue to evolve, but I’m still here. I’m still trying. I’m humbled and hopeful, and learning to hold these contradictions as I navigate this liminal space.