I’ve been trying for months to write about how not being able to run feels. In vain. I had a writing-about-running block.
A runner who can’t run — because of injuries, sickness, pregnancy or other unforeseen circumstances — is a frustrated runner. And frustration has a great potential for writing material.
There was the aching to go back to running, the disappointment of missing my club’s fun runs, the fear of losing my fitness level and pace, and the urge to blow it all and go running through pain anyway. There was anger at myself for a lower-leg injury, angst that I would never go back to my prime, sadness when the weather was perfect for a run, and the misery of joyless sessions on the elliptical machine at the gym. I was seeing the world through the grey-tinted glasses of a runner who can’t run.
I wondered why I couldn’t just take advantage of the injury to take a break, give my body a few months of rest from the pounding and have fun with something else — such as yoga or pilates. I wondered what I liked so much about running and why I was craving it.
Angst, fear and misery should be sources of inspiration. Yet I couldn’t write.
It all started during the training for the 2012 Boston Marathon. I felt a persistant pain in my left tibia. After the pain failed to go away when I cut my mileage following the April race, my sports doctor found a stress reaction: the outer lining of my bone had become inflamed because of a repeated overstress.
The good news, the doctor said, was that it wasn’t a stress fracture (when the bone cracks) and that I should be back running normally in 4 to 6 weeks. The bad news, he said, was that if I didn’t dial back on my running dramatically, it would become a stress fracture. He didn’t tell me to stop running, so I prided myself for being reasonable in May: 2 real runs for a total of 13 miles. (“Real runs” exclude elliptical workouts and 2-3 mile slow jogs with my dog on weekends.)
Feeling good and cocky, I ramped up to 39 miles in June, still lower than my mileage for just a week before the injury, and 124 miles in July, which included two weeks of vacation. The pain came back, along with the frustration. For a month and a half, I ran just twice.
“I haven’t run since Aug. 22.” I repeated that fact to whomever asked about my running. It was the equivalent of my last cigarette: the date was seared in my addicted memory.
Did I miss running because I deeply enjoy the sport, or did I miss the endocrine secreted during the runs in the same way a smoker craves the nicotine of a cigarette? The answer was both. Some of my runs are not as enjoyable as I would like to believe: some are uninspired, some hurt and many are disappointing because I didn’t meet self-imposed goals. Running feeds into my obsessive-compulsiveness mind: I will go for a run because I had decided to run, not because I want to run. And I will only relax when the day’s goal is reached — at which point I will set a target for the next day. Pleasure isn’t necessarily part of the equation, and non-running, for such a mind, is a source of great stress.
But there’s more to running that just clicking “done” on a sets of goals. I don’t get the same pleasure out of other workouts or sports — with the notable exception of cycling in my native French Alps, which actually trumps running. There’s something special about running: the floating feeling of freedom, the relaxation of the mind and the contentment state when it’s all done.
So yes I’m back running. A little. And writing about running.