Life’s a roller coaster – running eases the drops.

Two weeks and one day ago, I sprained my ankle. I have spent the time since in full rehab mode, first resting, then stretching, then strengthening. It helped to have a race goal to focus on – the Salomon Trail Series Silvan 21k Trail Race on 25 August.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at last year’s Silvan Reservoir Race

Today, I managed to run for twenty minutes on the treadmill, pain-free. I ran in my monster feet (Vibram Five Fingers), and was conscious of each step. So conscious in fact, that I changed treadmills three times before I settled (like Goldilocks – this one is too angly; this one has a toe-catching hole in the belt; this one is Just Right). I wondered what the other people in the gym thought of me (nothing – no one in a gym notices much except themselves).

So I began. I put the treadmill on 5 km/hour, then jumped it to 8, 9, 10. Ten was as far as I got on Friday before the ache began in my ankle, and I was forced to walk again. Today, it didn’t ache. I pushed up .2 every minute, until I hit 11. Eleven is my usual recovery pace when I do interval training – I was thrilled to be there again. I held it at 11 for a minute, then cautiously, testing, pushed it up to 11.2, stayed there for 2 minutes, then 11.4. Ah, delight; it did not hurt. Bon Jovi, my running partner of many a treadmill session, was with me, an old friend, singing all my favorites, lifting my feet for me. I was cautious though, acutely aware that a mis-step would be deadly. When I hit twenty minutes, I noticed I’d also covered 3.45 km, so of course, had to keep going until I hit 3.5. Because I am ready to start adding up the km’s again.

Did it feel good? It felt scary. Knowing what running means to me (freedom; power; the opposite of depression), I was afraid to hurt myself by doing too much too soon. It is a fine line between recovery and re-injury. Thankfully, I did not cross it today. The stability work I’ve been doing (eccentric Achilles work; standing on a dura-disk on one foot with my eyes closed; ballet-toe walking back-and-forth across my office) has been paying off.

You might rightfully ask, why all this focus on running? In the two weeks I have been unable to run, I have found I can be peaceful without it, but I think this peace is mainly because I still have a goal – recovery.  And peaceful is one thing; inspired, elated, joyful, well, that’s entirely different. I only get there through fast runs on solitary trails, and God, I have missed it.

In the meantime, I have used the extra time to get a new host for my website, to finally get my PayPal system working, and to figure out how to put photos of my books and a way for people to buy them on my blog (because my website designer told me he didn’t know I had written any books, and that the header on my blog looked just like a pretty picture – duh, that should have occurred to me). The thing is, I am against the hard-sell, the “buy now, last in stock” stuff. I don’t want to hit people over the head with the fact that I’ve written a couple of books, though it would be nice to sell some. My goal is to inspire, through my writing, through my coaching, through media work when it comes my way.

And anyway, last week, I was nearly frightened into silence by a mean-spirited post on Facebook about how narcissistic everyone is, how much of what we write is of little interest to anyone but ourselves. What an effective way to silence voices. It made me pause; made me quiet for a day or so.  I won’t reprint the post here; I don’t want to give it more airspace. Because I don’t want to contribute to silencing a single voice.  Here’s what I thought later.  The people who climb Mount Everest, who cross the ocean in a one-person boat, who trek across the desert for charity – they are inspiring, for sure.  But sometimes these things are so out of reach to the average person, it doesn’t inspire them, they just think of the others as superhuman, and turn the page, and don’t do anything themselves.  To read about a single dad’s first attempt at a 10k; a person overcoming the challenge that to most would seem rather un-extraordinary, but to that person is an Everest. That is what inspires me.  So please keep writing – we need to know that normal people can do things beyond their own comfort zones, so we will too.

I have yet to decide if I’ll make it to my race goal in thirteen days time.  In some ways, it seems dumb to attempt it.  But I won’t make that call yet.  Because many things I have done in the last ten years have seemed out of reach, until I went for them.  Here’s the race profile – it looks similar but easier than my usual weekly 21k, but I’ve not been out there for a month.

This year’s elevation profile for Silvan.

In the meantime, I am aiming for my first twenty km week this week, after two weeks of notching up 0 and 3 kms.  Little steps; baby steps.  Soon, I will be running.  And the lows on the roller coaster of life won’t seem so low then.

And the highs?  On the highs I can see forever.

seeing forever

seeing forever (Photo credit: DanielJames)

“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.