About two years ago now, I think it was, I walked into my doctor's office just a month shy of my first 5K race with a calf about 10cm bigger than it's nearest neighbor, and a pain that went from what I called my hip down to my foot; sometimes sharp, sometimes numb, always there and always uncomfortable. My calf was particularly painful, waking me up in the middle of the night. I'd start every morning limping, then force myself to keep a stable gait as I headed out for a run. The run would be a limping disaster. I'd crawl home, blaming myself for this obvious weakness of personality or character that made me too wimpy to run. Before this happened, I was averaging 8-9 minutes a mile on a lazy day - not bad for an old lady new to the sport, who'd spent her whole life insisting running was torture, only to discover it's really near-heaven when those endorphins kick in. I was proud of what I'd done - I was a couch to 5K success, and I had plans, baby, plans! First a 5K, then 10, then the World (literally, Disney Princess Half Marathon, which I thought would be a fantastic birthday present to myself). My doctor, a former runner herself, shook her head and said "You've got a pretty severe calf strain, and some problems with your SI joint...this one feels loose, and that's probably putting pressure on your sciatic nerve which is causing the leg pain...or it could be priformis...." She drifted off and looked kind of sad, which made me say the words I needed to say - "Can I run again?"
The answer, she strongly felt, was no. She referred me for pt and recommended I learn to swim, which I did. I swam a mile or two a day for over a year, until we moved here (where the pool at my gym just doesn't do it for me). But when she said "No" to running, although I think I heard it, and I know I SAID it out loud to more than one person (including, but not limited to, a drunken sob-fest in my back yard around a fire in which I begged my daughter in law to run "for me, because you can..."), I really didn't accept it. I sought alternatives. I rested and iced and compressed and elevated. Over and over. I went through a course of PT. I saw a host of people from spine to sports med and back again. I was x-rayed, prodded, poked, MRI'd, and massaged. I did two rounds of pt, following the instructions to a T. Every now and then I'd throw a run into a walk, just a short jog. Or on vacation I would run from coaster to coaster. Or maybe find an excuse to run across a parking lot. Anything to try. Every time I'd get hit with pain, and every time I'd tell myself I was an idiot. Stupid. Slow learner. Any negative thing I could throw at me.
Then came the bargaining with God: "Lord, just let me run, and I'll do whatever you want. I don't even want to win. I just want to run." or "Why can't I run? Is it because my running doesn't glorify You? Then show me HOW to do that, and I will! ANYTHING!! JUST LET ME RUN!!". This, of course, then turns into the self-loathing voice of the enemy "You suck. That's why God won't let you run. Because you are a horrible human being, and not worthy of running. You suck. You're weak. You're worthless. That's why."
Over and over and over.
I've sat on the hill here and watched the end of 5K's with a rock of bitterness in my heart. I've thought mean things about women who look about my age who run by, all thin and smiling. I wanted to smack them, steal their shoes, and RUN AWAY. RUN. Just let me RUN, GOD WHY CAN'T I RUN?
All this time it's been about punishment. I have, obviously, pissed God off SO much and He is SO mad at me that He is going to just stab me in the ass (literally) and chew on my calf until I have been punished thoroughly. Because it's all about me, and all about my failures, and all about my weakness of character.
What if I am wrong? What if there's a bigger purpose to my NOT running than to my running? What if my not-running has led me down a path that I never otherwise would have followed, and brought me to people and places I never would have come to know? What if I'd never met Ann at the Y in Greenfield, who's 83 and mostly blind and swims every day? Or John, my favorite life guard? Or Marcia, who's Dad was also a Mason, and who taught me to swim in the first place? What if I'd never been compelled by the lack of running to fill the space with strength training and dancing lessons, and met Caitlan at the gym and Angel at dancing school? I love those people and I love that I've met them.
This weekend Gene and I were slated to walk Grumpy's Cranberry Harvest 5K. And when I say walk, I mean walk. I was all prepared to avoid temptation. I chose a "race" that had a clear "walker-friendly" vibe. I ate a big breakfast, and drank coffee, and topped that with the cranberry chocolate bar out of my swag bag just before we started. I never eat before I run. I wore my super baggy pants and enough layers for a fall morning walk - but WAY too many for a run. I wore my weakest, lamest sports bra. I took Gene with me - a man who's life motto is "Gene No Run". We crossed the start line and I was set in my head for a relaxed 5K walk. No big. I can do this.
But then the day seemed too perfect, and the substrate was so blissful (soft dirt and sand, not concrete or blacktop which have particularly been forbidden me) and I thought "Maybe I can get Gene to just jog a little...not a real run...". I pointed out this little kid that was ahead of us and said "We can totally take him if we just jog a little...." We alternated jogging and walking, passing specific targets.. Girl with pony tail. Lady in tutu. And so on. Each time I'd think I should stop, there'd be another target on the horizon, one more person to pass. This went on until I felt a familiar snap and a sharp zing from my calf up to my butt , or from my butt to my calf - one or the other or both? Calf strain, or sciatica? Who knows. I slowed to a walk. I walked backward up the hill toward the end.
As we approached the line I just couldn't do it - I let go and I ran. Not full throttle, but enough to send my leg into a very dark place. I crossed the line, walked around a little, and laid down on the pavement to try and stretch out my SI joint, relieving the pressure on the piriformis, and sending sensations of a slightly better nature down to my foot. Sunday I checked my calf - only a half a centimeter bigger than it's neighbor. Since then I've rested, cancelled plans for a long drive, stretched, foam rolled, stretched some more, strength trained the things that didn't irritate it, and so on. It will be a week or so before I feel up to a full 3 mile walk with the boys, if I am careful. It will be longer before I have any desire to sit for more than five minutes! So now I pay the fiddler for my short, short dance in the November sunshine.
I've pondered gratitude a lot since Saturday. I am so grateful for having been there, proud for having tried, thrilled that Gene jogged with me a little (even if Gene No Run). It was a beautiful day, and I am so grateful to God for it. Maybe a little bitter watching women my age smile and laugh and take their prizes, knowing that a couple of years ago I ran that fast if I worked at it, knowing I could have at least kept pace with them, but mostly, overall, grateful.
This morning as we headed out for our walk, about half of our usual 3 mile loop, I warned the boys that it would be a short one. I said, out loud, "Sorry, boys, but mommy was stupid Saturday, and now she's got to pay for that."
And I heard a still small voice inside of me, the one I have come to recognize as God, whisper "No. Mommy challenged herself this weekend, and now she is experiencing the consequences of that."
It is amazing how God can, in one millisecond, change years of wrong perspective. I'm not being punished. I'M BEING GROWN!