Joy in the Unexpected

22 Apr

Last December, during a whirlwind business trip to Florida, I assessed my goals for 2012.  The fitness ones seemed logical, predictable, and attainable.

  • Birthday Marathon
  •  A fun summer post-graduation with a smattering of half marathons, triathlons and bike rides
  • Culminating in a 50-miler ultramarathon
  • Then a fall building up mileage for November and December marathons

Instead, my years of not stretching and resting properly caught up to me. I found myself in a cycle of twice-weekly PT appointments (lots of wisdom but lots of pain) and a leg peppered with bruises and a stripe of kinesio tape. Every morning, I woke early to do all of my PT stretches (not fun, often tedious) because I was determined to get better.

My mindset slowly changed from “When will I get better? I need a timetable!” to “My body is healing itself but I can’t rush the process.” If you ask some people, they’ll say this mindset change was much slower than for the average person.  I learned that the confident determined healthy me becomes quite moody and desperate for positive words and compliments when I’m injured.  One day, I even had to ask a coworker for a hug after a particularly discouraging PT session.

From my PT’s perspective, I was a prized pupil. I listened, I obeyed, and I didn’t push my limits (which rarely happens with a Type A runner).  From my friends’ perspective, I was dogged and stubborn and refusing to accept the truth – that what I could do and what I should do exercise-wise were completely different.

I rested. I resisted. I came back from PT encouraged that I was healing.  I came back from PT sure that I would never run again. I ranted. I resolved to be patient. I began the entire cycle again.

But now, after a more “normal” week of running: a 5K race on Sunday, a 5 miler on Tuesday, 4 milers on Wednesday (hills) and Thursday (speed) and a 7 miler on Sunday…now that I feel I am healthy and slowly building mileage…now that I am down to one PT appointment a week…now that my easy slow runs are actually faster than my pre-injury ones…now I finally am able to look back on these past 4 months with gratitude.

  • I found joy and challenge in strength training.  I love the routine of strength training. I look forward to it and find it fun. It’s better with friends but also doable on my own. I have a routine and I thrive on routine: Press Day (Light), Legs/Biceps/Back (Heavy), Core, Press Day (Heavy), Legs/Biceps/Back (Light), Core, Rest Day.  Some things I am very good at (calf raises, leg press, lat raises) and some things I am very bad at (back tucks, assisted pull-ups) and some things I dread very much (certain crunches that involve my legs going straight up in the air).
  • I couldn’t run my marathon but I got to run some miles of it with my friend.  And she finished.
  • I ran the 10 Mile Cherry Blossom Race mostly pain free, and without having run 10 miles in a row for 4 months, and with a wonderfully new mindset.
  • I ran the BAA 5K after being pronounced “healthy” by my PT and I ran light and loose and without adjusting for an injured leg.  And I was not happy with my time. But I was pain-free and knowing that I could run back-to-back days with good posture felt awesome.
  • I did not gain weight while I was injured. And although I weigh the exact same that I did a few months ago, my body fat as dropped and I finally like the way I look thanks to building more muscle.
  • I am learning a new skill (efficient freestyle) and it is challenging (breathing is hard, I am not good at spearing the water aggressively) but also rewarding (I no longer dread the chlorinated pool, the swim caps, the speedy swimmers zipping past me in the fast lane).
  • I appreciate my runs because I know what it feels like to mentally want to run, to physically be strong enough to run, and then to experience searing pain – pain that makes you want to throw up and tear your leg off. And I know what it feels like to lie on your side on a PT table allowing yourself to be put through nearly unbearable pain just so you can one day run again.  (I know, runners are strange.)
  • I have survived passing out Gatorade to 22,000 runners at a marathon that I did not qualify for and could not have run. And I survived holding water and warm clothes for a friend as he ran 5 miles in a time that I would kill for in a completely healthy never-had-an-injury body.  I cried. But I survived.

This past week, I began running again with a coworker that I used to run almost daily with.  In a strange twist of fate, he stopped running while I was injured and we are beginning this adventure again at the same time. And I feel so grateful.  For bodies that rejuvenate and IT bands that loosen up and legs that heal.  For people who stand beside us when we are miserable and help us see the light.  For friends who let us ask dumb questions and spot us as we lift weights and laugh at us when we get grumpy because we want to lift more than we can. For PTs who know the right things to do and the right things to say so we leave encouraged that progress has been made but not naive enough to think we are ready to run again yet.

Today I ran in the rain.  I was grateful to be able to run in the rain. I liked the number that showed on my GPS at the end of the run.  And then I went inside and I lifted.  I was grateful for the amount that I could lift.  And the definition in my shoulders and the lines of muscle wrapping around my arms. I liked the form of my crunches as I counted each of them out: 75, 75, 40, 60, 50, 50, 40.  And then I knew that I was done exercising for the day.  And I was grateful that I am learning when to stop and rest and reflect and anticipate the unexpected challenges that will come tomorrow.

Like attempting to swim in the pool, while following all the coach’s instructions, without swimming into another lane and loosing my flipper.  And then making someone else dive for it.  Yes, I dream big.

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