It is nearing the end of the month, which means time for reflection on the last four weeks and intention-setting for the upcoming ones.
This month was hard. I started January feeling strong, increasing my distance in running and entertaining the idea of signing up for a mid-winter half-marathon. I even bought a pair of pricey cleats to keep me from falling over on the ice-filled sidewalks. I was ready for winter, and ready for more running.
And then I happened to mention one day to my boyfriend that my back hurt. And that the pain happened to be a bit severe at times, and located near a previous stress fracture. My boyfriend is practical, more attached to the idea of my health than to increasing the length of my weekly long runs. And so he suggested I stop running until the pain went away.
I am not always practical. I am stubborn. And so I took three days off from running. Days in which I biked for an hour on a bike with a frame too big for my torso. Days in which I went to work as a waitress and carried heavy trays of food. Days in which I did nothing that resembling rest, except perhaps a little bit of foam rolling in the evenings (when my back was coiled in tension). And then I decided I was healed.
Three days is an awful long time without a run, therefore, my reasoning went, it must be okay to run again. Surely my body had ample time to make the necessary repairs (painful feedback from my nerves notwithstanding). So I ran on Saturday. And on Sunday. And again on Tuesday. (Monday, big surprise, my back felt tender, and so I practiced yoga.) By the end of Tuesday night, I could not stand up straight. The muscles in my back were spasming in a futile attempt to protect my bones. I decided to listen to my boyfriend.
Three weeks later and the pain has subsided for the most part, as long as I don’t bend too much, carry anything too heavy, or stand too long on my feet. In lieu of running, I have rested, practiced yoga, and biked on my indoor trainer (using a properly proportioned frame). I have also started to write daily.
I am so grateful that I chose writing over moping. Introspection over pity. I have uncovered a lot of truths about myself during this month. Perhaps the greatest of which is that the world will not end if I do not run every day, or even most days. I am still productive. I am still creative. I can still think and plan and hold a conversation. Without running, I am still me. I feel this truth in my core; this deep understanding of who I am is a revelation.
Below is an excerpt from a reflection exercise created by Nicole Antionette. (I highly recommend signing up for her weekly emails.) My response to the prompt is my attempt to separate running from my identity, without losing my passion for the sport.
The lesson I learned and am carrying forward with me from January is:
I want to learn how to be a runner, lowercase “r”. To me, this means patience, mindfulness, listening to my body. It means only running as far or as hard as I want on any particular day. It means running when I find joy in the act, and staying home when I know that it will be nothing but a grind. There are some days when running does not seem like the pleasant choice: when it is too hot, too humid, too cold; when I am too tired, too restless, too afraid of being out in the world alone with my own thoughts. There are times when running just doesn’t seem fun from the vantage point of my bed. But in those times I know from experience, that all the negative emotions can fall away within the first mile or two. That I can find my flow, enjoy the connection to my body. Sometime it doesn’t work, and the good feelings do not come until I am done, and can revel in a sense of sweaty accomplishment -the joy of pushing my boundaries. But I also know that I have completed enough runs, both good and bad, to tell the difference between the days when the run will be a horrid slog ending in a tired and horrid day, and when the run will be an uplifting and affirming experience. If I were to sit with the decision to run before heading out the door each morning, I could predict (with high accuracy) the run’s outcome. I won’t be cleared to run again until the end of February. When I do resume, I would like to carry with me a spirit of intention before every run, so that it becomes a sport of joy and not one of injury. Until then, I would like to enter each morning with intention, exercising as my body needs, and not necessarily as my mind (which is always eager to go longer, harder, faster) would like.
My intention for February is: to be patient with myself, both in terms of my healing process and my writing practice.
Although I cannot predict how February will unfold, I can be mindful of my intentions and work, every day, on becoming a kinder person to myself.