When the great geneticist in the sky hands you a pair of legs like mine, you gotta put ’em to work. But how?
No, I never played basketball. Nor volleyball. There were no long jump and hurdles for me. I tried those and failed miserably. Just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you can fly. Or play well with others.
But, as I emerged on the other side of my awkward teens, I laced up some sneaks and started to think I might have found a decent use for my lanky sticks: running. “Teamwork” could be a team of one, I didn’t have to be that coordinated (good, because I’m not) and I didn’t have to have much gear money at all. All I had to do was run.
It felt good, too. The muscles in my legs got stronger. I felt in command of my body, which is something I never felt in my adolescence. And my mind got to dream and wander while I felt increasingly accomplished. Cool.
I started running for real when I lived in Colorado, working as a cook on a dude ranch (another story for another time). Despite the bucolic setting and my perceived potential for a Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, I was miserable. The hours sucked, my colleagues were mostly assholes (all angsty teenagers!) and I was pissed at myself for making such an idiotic move.
Hitting the hilly dirt trails with Nine Inch Nails blasting through my headphones was a welcome distraction, and the first time I discovered the runners’ high. Oh, that feeling of power! The endorphins and euphoria! “How great am I?!” I thought. I got out whenever I could, minutes stolen between dishing chili.
Upon my escape, I moved back to my Virginia home and kept running. My sister had started running as well, and we even planned to do our first marathon together.
Then my body let me down.
Apparently, I had ramped up my training too quickly, because it felt so good and I wanted to push it. Hal Higdon says you can’t do that, and he’s right. I fractured my fibula and ended up in a cast, missing what would have been my first marathon and my sister’s first and last.
Double dang. And Big Running Lesson learned: patience, grasshopper. So I waited.
Once I got the go-ahead from my orthopod, I hit the road again. I’d head out early several days a week to prep for my first marathon (finally!), the Marine Corps Marathon.
I thought running alone was great. But running with a crowd cheering me on for 26.2 miles was pure bliss. I felt loved, lauded and accomplished. I discovered the camaraderie amongst runners as I met and ran with other women for better parts of the race. As I summited the hill near Iwo Jima and saw my Dad hooting and hollering, I knew I’d do it again. Marathons are relatively physically painful, and lots of people claim they’ll never do it again upon finishing. Not me. I was hooked.
Over the next several years I ran more races: some marathons, some halfs, some 10-milers, some relays. There were successes and failures, but all lead to me becoming a better runner.
I busted my ass in prep for my second NYC marathon, running 10+ miles several weekday mornings. It would be my best race ever, I just knew it.
But a month and a half before the race, Dad died suddenly. He was here, then he was gone. Just like that. Only a week before, Dad had met me halfway through a long run to give me bananas and water. He seemed so amazed and so proud. We called it “The Banana Run.”
I was crushed and swirling the drain. How could I keep training when I couldn’t even get off the couch?
But somehow I did, and I did indeed kick ass. I finished the race in 3:44:25, which was fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
You probably know this: Boston is a BIG EFFING DEAL.
Knowing I had to train for Boston, and assuming running was a better way to drown my sorrows than, say, drinking all day, I pushed harder and harder. I got to the point where I was running 60 or more miles a week.
Then my body let me down. Again. And, seemingly, so did the universe.
I was diagnosed with a torn labrum in my left hip and a fractured pelvis. I had overrun, and broken my body pretty seriously. Remember my Big Running Lesson? Well I hadn’t. I had forgotten it altogether.
Running was how I identified myself: I’m a runner. I feel better emotionally and mentally because I run. I feel strong. I know how to succeed. And that was all stripped away, just when I needed it most.
I wasn’t able to run Boston.
I felt lost, truly lost. Who was I? I didn’t know anymore. And I started to not care anymore. That’s bad stuff.
After months of trying PT with no positive results, a hip surgery date was set. It was the turnaround I had been waiting for.
I got the go-ahead to run again after about a year, though I didn’t start running right away. I was seized with the fear that I couldn’t do it anymore. Not well, anyway. But finally, I got back in my sneaks again, despite my concerns that I would never be as accomplished as I once was.
Because running made me feel good, and that’s what mattered the most.
It’s been slo-o-o-o-w going since then. I run two, maybe three miles at a time a few days a week. I’ve got a running coach who keeps me going slow and steady, grasshopper. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, but — damn — it’s running.
You either love it or hate it. And I love it. Once a runner, always a runner. Maybe a slower one, maybe a less prolific one, but always a runner.
These great legs gotta continue to earn their keep, after all.