For months (since about May – after I ran the Coastal Delaware 9K) I’ve felt guilty for not running more, not exercising more, and for not taking better care of myself. In the last two weeks I worked really hard to re-frame my thinking in a major way. I finally came to the conclusion that I haven’t abandoned my physical needs for exercise, or worse: quit, I have simply been on sabbatical for the last few months because I needed to work on other very important areas of my life….and that’s okay. I’ve needed an extended break from the effort and energy running takes from me and while I’ve missed it, I know that my body needed the time to sleep in, and have the brain space to think about other things. I needed to acknowledge my fatigue and burnout and give myself the latitude to run when I wanted, walk when I wanted, stay home and drink coffee when I wanted, go with the dogs on a trail when I wanted, any and all of it without any pressure or any schedule. It’s helped me tremendously that the Mamas have been so supportive of inviting me on runs, but not pushing me beyond what I’ve wanted to do or what I’ve felt my capabilities have been lately.
It was really two specific things that inspired me to get started again. 1) The school year for the kids is back in the swing so it’s time to get back in some sort of routine because a) routines are healthy and b) it hit me that it’s already mid September and I fear losing my endurance all together. The other thing that was my main inspiration was a little foster puppy named Judy. She’s been our puppy for about two weeks through Mostly Muttz Rescue. This past Wednesday we learned through a consultation and X-Rays with the orthopedic surgeon at a veterinary hospital that Judy’s pelvis was broken in so many places. We knew she was hurt because about a month ago she was hit by a mailman in South Carolina, before she was taken to the shelter down south. But we had no idea it was this bad. Judy had surgery on Thursday to remove both femoral heads (one broke completely off and was found in her abdomen the other was actually crushed through her pelvis). Judy has had to relearn how to walk in the past 3 days. Despite the pain she’s been in (for so long and even more so maybe post surgery), she has never stopped moving or finding some happy moments. She is a little beacon of light that has shown me what willpower really looks like. I love her and so, if she can start to walk after surgery and a crushed pelvis, then I can stop feeling sorry for myself and take my first uncomfortable steps back to the road of health and recovery as well. Yesterday after visiting Judy in the hospital I ran/walked 2.5 miles with the dogs (emphasis on the walk). We didn’t go far and we went really slow, but it was good to be out for 50 minutes moving my body.
Today I ran by myself with my headphones, around town like I used to do. I had no route, no plan, and nowhere to be for an hour. I promised myself I would do at least 3 miles and was hoping I’d feel good enough to do more. (spoiler alert: didn’t even come close to happening)
I’ve avoided this run for a long time, so I was ambitious even with 3. I knew it was going to be really uncomfortable. By myself, no distractions, and I wasn’t allowed to let myself quit. It was a mental exercise as well as physical. I started out slow and steady, opting for a downhill, of course. I was cautiously optimistic as I started down the block. I gave myself a pep talk and I knew full well that I couldn’t base my run on the first mile. My tin man joints needed to get good and warmed up, but dear Lord, have mercy! With every step I felt each muscle in my legs revolting at first, stretching, aching, creaking and groaning like an wooden old ship. Slowly they came around as I gritted my teeth and blocked out “the noise” in determination. Judy. My breathing was ragged and my body wasn’t prepared for this at all. Nevertheless, it was happening and it was ugly and I forced myself to swing another foot forward regardless of the Sole Blockers screaming in my head, and the discomfort radiating through my body.
I slogged past the park, I mused at the elderly couples walking, mothers pushing strollers and families walking dogs. I forced myself to speed up slightly out of sheer vanity. (Please remember this is all happening within about three freaking tenths of a mile.) At .4 miles I gratefully paused at a street corner letting the folks in cars make their turns and go on their way. But truly, I was trying to hide just how out of shape I really am. I was so close to my house and I was too embarrassed to do anything less than a spirited slog. But when I got to the end of that block, boy was I glad to stop and take a break. WTF.
This is gonna be a looooooong 3 miles.
At .8 miles I thought I had gone a million and officially wanted to quit running and life and everything else. I looked at my watch and hissed that it must be all wrong and everything is wrong and how could I not have even gone a mile yet? The anger set in really early on this one. It had seriously been about 10 minutes, but if you would’ve asked I would have likely said I’d been out there for an hour. WTF.
I picked a break point in the distance and started to head towards it thinking that it wouldn’t be so bad, two tenths of a mile at most. I promised myself the great reward of walking when I got to a mile. What seemed like 3 hours later, my watch vibrated against my wrist to let me know that I had completed that mile and I immediately stopped all together in complete disbelief that I had only been doing this running thing for less than 15 minutes. I looked at my watch, scoffed at the time I saw, and then told myself I didn’t even deserve this fancy device that could track my stupid time. But…
I refused to turn around, and I started to feel much better as mile 2 got underway. My legs warmed up, and I finally felt that disconnected feeling of where they are just moving beneath me but I don’t have to pay attention to them. I had waited for what seemed like an eternity for that feeling. Good feelings gone when I stupidly turned right on Apple Street and hit a wall of a hill- about 1.3 miles. I started my ascent and made it about 10 steps. It was a short, but steep hill and I wanted to at least get halfway, but the burning in my lungs and my hamstrings and my calves clearly had other plans. I slowed to a walk. You would’ve thought I was hiking Everest. I got thirsty and had to pee and wanted to quit everything all over again. WTF.
I got to the top of that hill and I just stopped. Stopped to catch my breath, stopped to be frustrated with those minutes, and stopped to take some selfies so I could be sure to show you all just how stupid this run was. I collected myself and realized I was halfway through the 3 miles I promised myself. This gave me hope. I started shuffling along the street again, looking at the homes on the block, but being careful to watch my footing. My breathing settled in and I was heading toward a nice easy downhill, life was good again.
See? Even my picture is sideways and I can’t make it right side up no matter how many times I rotate the thing…
I’d be lying to you if I told you the second half went better than the first. It didn’t. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about drinking 2 glasses of wine when I got home out on the deck. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t furious with my body because of being thirsty and needing to pee 15 minutes into this ridiculousness. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping that a friend would drive by, give me credit for “getting out there today” and then offering to drive me home. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t stop to curse out and stomp all over the spotted lantern flies when I saw a swarm like a plague on the sidewalk.
The whole time I wished that it hurt less, I wished that my endurance was better, and I desperately tried to convince myself that it wasn’t wrong to take my sabbatical. I spent a lot of time wishing life was easier all around. I was humbled yet again in 2017.
I worked really hard to combat those Sole Blockers. The only way to do that is chip away at whatever you’re doing. So that’s what I did, block by block I chipped away at the second half of that run. I walked when I needed to, but forced myself to run further than I wanted to, quoting A League of Their Own to myself at one point: THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!!!
Once I rounded the corner and I could see my house, all the self-pity and the sewage of my foul attitude drained away. I finally felt that sense of pride, relief, and accomplishment that I had been longing for today. I was sooooooo glad it was over….
It’s really hard to start over, no matter what area of life. Running, relationships, work, anything. Everything. All of it is hard, all the time, but especially when you’re starting over. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s always better to make the effort than to continue as is, even when every part of me wants everything to stay in the safety of sameness.
So, go ahead…. Hug the monster. Embrace the suck. Step outside of your comfort zone. Walk towards the discomfort and be strong in your heart, the part of you that knows the blessing is in the suffering. Or, take that sabbatical that you need. Rest. Think and do other things. Whatever it is, take the first step…and then take one more. Repeat…..for as long as you can. Then feel the pride, feel the relief.
If nothing else, please just promise yourself that when the sun is shining and the weather is beautiful you’ll at least go outside and spend a few minutes soaking in that goodness. Whether it’s that cup of coffee on the deck, a game of catch with one of your littles, to daydream, or a slog with yourself, be kind to YOU and know that you are able to start all over as many times as needed.
Together we go,
P.S. I actually wrote those last two little paragraphs for myself. I needed to say that out loud so I would believe that I could give myself that freedom. I need to remember to always offer the same forgiveness to myself that I would extend to anyone else I know. That’s (another) really hard thing to do!
So, thanks for listening to all that!!!