I traveled thousands of miles to watch a race I will not run. If this seems like some sort of mental torture exercise, I suppose it is. And I suppose it is par for the course with running.
We train as runners to get better and better at going deeper and deeper to find our body’s limit. It’s as simple as that. As you gain fitness, you are rewarded with access to explore new levels of discomfort within you can operate. It’s kind of a shitty gift, really.
I’ve trained for three marathons in my life. Two have been taken away by stress fractures, and the third was marred by non-ideal marathoning conditions and now I have to whimper out the “PR” from that race which is really most unfortunate. Please, feel bad for me.
Back to the bones. I don’t really know what to write about the misfortune of injury other than it is a misfortunate mystery. The story was the same with both of these marathon stress fractures. I went from feeling extremely fit to extremely broken within one day. There were no signs of increasing pain. My body never tried to communicate with me and, for that, I resent it. Any good relationship is categorized as so because of solid, constant communication but when my body went rogue, it left me to my own devices. My own devices are masochistic.
I get greedy with the access. With those new levels of discomfort. I know that mentally and, usually, physically I can string together weeks and weeks of hundreds of miles with long, long runs, medium-long runs, medium runs, 18-mile fartleks, afternoon longish runs, post-workout doubles, etc, etc, etc. Because I’ve done that in the past, I can convince myself I can do it again and again. Even though it broke me before, I swore it wouldn’t and couldn’t do it again.
It is beautiful and it is cognitive dissonance.
And then, six weeks ago, I become unable to run. I was building up for the Frankfurt Marathon which will be run this Sunday. Finally healthy again after months of struggling with recovering from the 2017 Houston Marathon, I was beginning to hit the important groove of monotony needed in marathon training. And then, just like that, your friggin’ achilles pulls on your calcaneus and causes a stress fracture. I will tell you what, that’s some shit to hear a doctor say.
Confining someone to crutches two weeks can get a person to value and reflect on general mobility. This is what my musings came out to be, generally: it is nice. It’s nice to walk, run, hike, skip, jump, dance, hold coffee while walking. All good things. So when you can’t do that stuff, it really makes you wonder why you constantly giving yourself the opportunity to have those things taken away. I basically came to ask myself if running at this level was worth it.
Well, what the fuck is “it”?
Not running for six weeks can help you track it down.
For me, it is freedom to move. In the broadest sense, I love to move. Whether it is running around the Flagstaff trails with my girlfriend, skiing with my brother, playing tennis with my mom, cycling with my dad, or playing very badly at pickup basketball with my friends. When this is snatched away from you, you become sad. Hell. I might have been slightly more than sad at certain points the last few weeks. I began to weigh the costs of not being able to do anything except crutch around and ask people to hold things for me versus not training at such a high level but being able to hold things while I walk. The benefit of which is definitely overlooked by most people. Physically I was done with running for a bit and my mind was catching up. I was resentful of what was taken from me. (“taken from me”! Hello, I’m an asshole). I was getting into great shape at the perfect time before racing an ideal marathon for fast times. I was finally going to wash away that PR from Houston and replace it with something “respectable”.
But then those dreams were kaput and I was left with a broken heel and consternation about this sport. All in a day’s work.
This dichotomy I created was unnecessary, though. Pegging training seriously to injuries isn’t correct. All I have to do is look around at my peers who consistently train at high levels without severe injuries. It can be done. The three guys I was going to run Frankfurt with, Scott Fauble, Scott Smith, and Matt Llano, all survived an amazing training block and are going to let it rip on Sunday. They are living proof and it is beautiful. As agonizing as it will be to watch them race on Sunday, it will more serve as validation for the possibilities that exist in this sport.
As I move forward with my relationship with running, I want it to grow into something bigger than certain benchmarks I’ve laid out for myself. My body is more connected to my mind than I possibly could ever fathom and I think when I stress over racing, because of the time component associated with it, it probably brings undue strain, tension, and tightness into my body. Maybe this contributes to my breaking bones, maybe it doesn’t. Who knows? I don’t. You probably don’t either. But, my way forward in this sport, while training at a high level, is to be more disconnected from time. I want to run to move. I want to move fast. So I will train to move fast, and whatever that means on the certain day I decide to race will be good enough for me.
My proudest moment in racing hasn’t been my fastest. It was actually that terrible day in Houston earlier this year. I was isolated and alone for the last 14 miles of that race. “Isolation is the gift.” I remembered my coach had told me that a year or so before. After willing my mind to allow my body to finish in a time I was not impressed with, it took a while to interpret the results of that day. The fight that day was the good fight. A fight between the story I told myself and the reality playing out in front of me. The fight between doing running for a time that was clearly now passed, or running to run.
It was a good fight, it’s the only fight there is.