“One day you might not be able to run,” she said…

“What will you do then?”

She sat back and eyed me.  I shifted in my seat.  It was as if she were prophesying disaster.

Last Sunday, her prophecy came true.  I sprained my right ankle during a routine training run with my son.  I’ve already told you about the sprain in last week’s post (see the link below if you missed it), but here comes the surprise.

For the first time in my life, when unable to exercise, I was calm.  Though other runners suggested swimming as an alternative, I knew it would just delay healing; doing anything involving my ankle would delay healing.

And yet I was calm.  Sedentary and calm.  Unbelievable!  I have been trying to put my finger on why, and I believe that the answer lies in a mental shift that happened without me even really noticing.

Once upon a time, like many women, I exercised for body shape.  I pursued that elusive idea of feminine perfection for mind-numbing lengths of time, on Stairmasters, treadmills, rowing machines, even those strange rollerblading machines from the early ’90s.  I lifted weights three times a week, three sets of 12 repetitions on every single machine I could find.  It took hours.  When I couldn’t exercise back then, it was a BIG deal.  I would do all sorts of crazy stuff to fit in my workouts, from swimming with pull-buoys with a seriously sprained ankle, to doing sit-ups while in a back brace recovering from a compression fracture of a vertebra.  I was seriously obsessed.  I wouldn’t have admitted that then; it would have been way too threatening.  I look around the gym today, and see lots of women doing the same things I used to, and it saddens me.

Because now, dialing the clock forward something like twenty years, I see the world and myself completely differently.  I focus on function rather than form; it is how I coach others, and what I have come to believe really matters.  Sure it stinks not to be able to run, to be sedentary for a week while I heal.  But I have not felt that strange compulsion that I used to.  I know that a week off won’t change anything: I learned this when I became a personal trainer; I learned it by teaching myself.

So last week, I rested.  And, to tell the truth, it did change me.  It allowed my ankle to heal.  It gave me time and space to clean my home (whoever thought plantation shutters were a good idea should have considered the problem of dust more carefully); it gave me time to calm, to watch the rain fall, to simply be.  Without the adrenaline of my usual life coursing through my veins, the world seemed quieter.  My cats came up for pets and sat on my lap.  My temper was not so short.

After three days, I started doing the physiotherapy exercises that years of ankle sprains have helped me perfect.  I have all the gear: the elastic bands, the dura-disk, the step, the instructions memorised from many a physio.  I walk back and forth in my office on my tip-toes like a ballet dancer and will the weaker ankle to keep up with the stronger one.  I begin eccentric Achilles training, practice my single-leg squats, and work on recovering flexibility.

And I am okay.  Perhaps that is what this time has been meant to teach me.  That running is a part of me, but I am no longer fleeing.  I am no longer chasing perfection.  I sit within my own skin, calm and certain.

Today, I went to the gym for the first time in a week.  I couldn’t go all-out; that would have been foolish.  I set the treadmill on a gentle incline, and gradually increased it to 11% (if that is what 11 means on the incline button).  I did not let myself run; I held on to the notion that I am aiming at this half-marathon in three weeks time, and to get there, I must be smart.

And perhaps therein lies the answer to my lack of agitation over this injury.  It is just another part of training, recovering from injury, using my learning to strengthen what went wrong, to fix the bits that are temporarily broken.

I see myself, in several weeks time, running along my favorite trail in the Dandenongs, the light filtering through the trees.  I close my eyes and I am there, smelling the sweet smell of the woods, watching for the wallabies that may cross my path, hearing the kookaburras chortle after me.

It is without compulsion that I run.  And that makes my running, when I can do it again, all the more sweet.

And to answer the question – what would I do if I could no longer run?

I would find solace in a different activity, perhaps in playing the piano, or painting beautiful pictures, or in doing Tai Chi.  There are many, many paths to soul.  I think, really, that’s what my friend was trying to remind me.

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