Last Sunday morning, Matt and I grabbed coffee and bagels and cozily set up shop on the couch in preparation for our annual New York City Marathon viewing party.
Since we began our running journey, watching the NYC Marathon every year has become quite the morning party for us. (Matt was actually supposed to run the marathon in 2012 – and even had access to the TV tent! – but with Hurricane Sandy, he cancelled his registration right before they cancelled the entire race.) After putting ourselves in those runners’ Brooks PureFlows many a-times, watching the swarm of regular folks and elite athletes run 26.2 miles while we sit all warm and idle on the couch is almost like a guilty pleasure.
But as the gun went off, and the cameras panned out to capture the wave of runners leaping forward, a wave of emotions crashed over my head. Because as of three weeks ago, I’ve been sidelined. I am an injured, woe-is-me runner.
It happened out of nowhere, on an easy-paced ten-mile training run, training for the Savannah marathon. I felt a weird pain in my upper left leg, almost like a throbbing cramp. But it was a muted pain – one that I noticed, but didn’t pay much attention to. After all, I was out there on my favorite trail, passing miles of horse farms and endless landscapes of bluegrass. Leg pain could shove it.
Until the next day, when I woke up and could barely walk. What in the hell? I knew it was more severe than I was going to admit, but decided all I needed to do was take few days off from running, let whatever it was calm the frig down, and get right back out there.
Three days later, I was going insane. I’m not very good at sitting still as it is, unless of course there is something like a Saved by the Bell marathon or The Notebook on TV. So, I popped some ibuprofen, did some stretches and headed out. About a tenth of a mile into the run, I knew something still wasn’t right. I walked the rest of my plotted five miles with a big lump in my throat, totally defeated.
I went to the doctor. Got X-rayed, MRI’d, the works. Good news: no stress fracture. Bad news: no real, tangible, let’s-get-this-shit-healed-so-I-can-run-again answer. Pulled muscle? Possibly. Weak “psoas” muscle? Likely. Strained groin? Maybe. Alignment issues? Yea, it could be. With an anti-inflammatory prescription and a physical therapy slip, I was limping back out to my car.
The doctor told me that in three weeks, if I was feeling better, I could keep myself in the Savannah marathon running. A small part of my heart leaped but in my gut, I knew there was no way I was going from zero to 26.2 – or 13.1 – with no pain in a matter of weeks. I couldn’t even put my freaking running shorts on without wincing in pain.
Anyways, here I am. Race registration cancelled. Still in pain, but healing. And totally lost without running.
And when I feel lost, I over-analyze. (Okay, and over-Google.) I’m pretty sure my injury is not life-threatening, or “career-ending.” (Ha! You know I just do it for the free post-race snacks, anyways.) I know I will be back hitting the pavement eventually. And that of course, I know that not being able to run for a few weeks is about as big of a problem as buying the wrong kind of dish detergent. Which I also did three weeks ago.
Looking on the bright side, what all this stress has led me to realize is that running has impacted my life much more than I ever imagined it would. And that running isn’t just something I “do.” It is now something I am.
Kind of ironic, considering the fact that four years ago, you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to run 26 miles. But then I signed up for a 10-miler. Then a half. Then…a full marathon. But along the way, I don’t think I ever fully grasped how running had become a part of me. Hell, I used to dread those first long training runs, when Matt would drag me out for what seemed like endless steps of torture. There were many a moments where I mumbled under my shortened breath how much I hated running. How I would never do it again after this “stupid race.”
And then, race day came. And between mile one and mile 26, everything had changed.
Because there you are, in a crowd of thousands, together behind the start line, stretching and swaying and most likely, trying to keep warm amongst the early morning temperatures. Although you are about to throw yourself into a holy hell of physical and mental pain in a matter of minutes, you could not be more giddy. The mix of nerves and excitement and “holy shit, it’s race day!” coupled with the camadarie among your fellow racers and those who have come out before the sun to line the streets and wave funny signs and cheer louder than your high school pep squad…it’s nothing short of beautiful. The human spirit is alive and well and here you are, ready to show how much heart you’ve got under that race bib.
This wasn’t just a workout anymore. I realized, between that pre-race magical moment to the mid-race runner’s high to the mile 22 support group and all the way to the finish line celebration…this was something bigger than myself. And it didn’t matter if you were in the race or on the sidelines – you felt it. A feeling that swallowed you whole and made you believe that anything was possible, and that the world, even just for this moment, was perfect.
And as we watched the NYC Marathon, and that wave of emotions passed through me, I could not wait to be a part of the Savannah marathon, running or not running. Because as hard as it will be for me that morning to not lace up my sneakers, poke an unreasonable amount of holes in my shirt trying to get my race bib even, and start up my weird country-meets-90s-rap-meets-NSYNC playlist, the marathon, at its very core, isn’t about your ability to run. It’s about your ability to believe.
And boy, do I believe.
(photo credit: Jess Loughborough on Flickr)