I was oh so optimistic. I was going to “roll with it”, not worry about the Two Bays 28k Trail Run, just build slowly and conservatively, focus on remaining injury-free. It sounded so good and balanced and wise.
Trouble was, I forgot who I am.
Forgot that if I dangled a goal in front on myself, the little gremlin inside of me wouldn’t let it go quite so easily. I also forgot the challenges that awaited me during school holidays, and neglected to think how I was going to cope with them.
So, a week or so after my last blog, when I posted on Facebook asking my friends in the Dandenongs Trail Running Group for advice, I was really seeking permission. Permission to up the distances further than was wise, to close my eyes to potential dangers, and to try to make that elusive race. To give myself something great to look forward to.
And like all (insane) runners, I took the advice that most suited what I wanted to hear, and tried a quick 13k. (Someone had said if I could run 21k, I’d be able to complete 28k. I kept hearing that in my mind. It was almost a subconscious thing.) The day I went for the 13k run, I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I was going to run 8, 10 or 12k. But we all knew what I was going to do, didn’t we?
Not 21, that was out of reach at the time. But 13? That was just over the bridge, to the end of the concrete path by the Barwon River. It wouldn’t even take me up onto the Bluff. A short, little 13k. And if I didn’t admit out loud or to myself that that is what I was up to, I could ignore the dangers. Stick my head in the sand.
Oh, it felt good at the time. It felt wonderful. To nail that distance after so many weeks in recovery. To come alive again to the runner within.
The punchline? Well, you can guess the punchline. Two days later, my right heel started to niggle. Of course, I stopped running straight away and iced it, rested for a week.
Yeah, right. I did one of those “it feels better after a little bit, so it must be okay” things. Because Two Bays (that I was so calm about) was still impending. I kept noting “right heel pain” in my training diary, until it was so constant that I stopped even writing it down. And yet, I hadn’t pulled out of Two Bays yet.
I ran and it hurt; I ran and it hurt.
It was school holidays; the gyms were closed; my kids got ill with a terrible flu, and then got well, and then got monstrously irritable. I was quickly losing my mind being at home. I ran to stay sane, even though I knew I was doing damage, even though every single step hurt. Sometimes I cried as I ran because of the pain in my foot and the pain in my gut for the way life was going. It sounds melodramatic here, but at a deep level, my soul was howling for the pain to stop, and I was stopping it the only way I could.
Finally, two weeks later, I saw the physio, who knew me well enough not to tell me to stop running. He gave me advice and ultrasound, and I kept on running. The gyms opened again, and I began the slow process of rebuilding my foot and glut strength. It began to hurt (a little) less to run, except the pain had now shifted to my right ankle and left Achilles. I continue physio and trying to improve and staying sane and driving my family nuts.
It makes me sigh to think how little I have learned in my 49 years. Except at least I know why I am doing this, why I have done this. To cope. Because life can be so painful, the downs like the plummet off a cliff without a parachute, unexpected and scary, and sometimes the only way I can catch an updraft to save myself is by running, even if it hurts. Because it hurts less in my heart and soul then, even if my foot hurts more.
The Roller Coaster Run is coming up. I’ve managed to run 18 of the 21 kilometer course at Mount Dandenong, my usual training ground. It hasn’t been pretty. But there was this exceptional moment.
I had climbed the Dodd’s Track section of the run, run uphill to School Track, and had begun a lovely descent through (possibly snakey) long grass. I hadn’t been here for at least a year. There is a clearing part-way down this trail that I call my soul-place. I don’t know why, but it takes my breath away. It is like my cathedral, and I had been so long away. So long, that I’d forgotten exactly where the clearing was.
Suddenly I was there!
I came to a sudden halt, and my eyes filled. This place I’d dreamed of (I always see it in my mind as filled with wild horses) – I was there. Alone. The sky was the bluest of blues. The gum trees bordered the clearing and made it feel magical and safe. I was there! After surgery; after being unable to walk around the block alone; despite all the turbulence and pain and tears of the last year; despite my foot hurting. I was there. Home.
I stood still and soaked up the moment, twirled in a circle with my arms overhead.
In the midst of recovery, of physio and rehab and pain and icing, of trying on every one of the seventeen pairs of trail shoes I have and finding running hurts in all of them, I hold onto that moment.
Because running is about joy.
It is my religion and my cathedral and it saves my life and makes the tougher moments bearable.
It is the clearest pathway I know to peace of mind.