As you may have noticed, I've been thinking, talking, and writing nearly nonstop for two months now about the rehabilitation of my right calf muscle, which I tore during a December marathon. I've found some unexpected joy in the process of healing, but for the most part have been anxiously readying myself to run again. And last weekend, after eight weeks of walking, stretching, and gently regaining strength, I got in one first glorious mile of running. I tried not to favor my right leg, and although I ran slowly and with some hesitation, it was a joy to be moving like a runner again. I forced myself to stop after I hit that one mile marker, although I felt like I could have run for days.
This week I resisted the urge to veer off of my rehabilitation schedule, dutifully kept up with the walking, stretching, and strengthening exercises, and kept my three runs to just one mile in distance each. With every run, I've become a bit less fearful that the muscle is going to re-tear, and today during my Sunday "long run" in the park (a 1-mile run followed by a 6-mile walk), I felt confident enough to run that mile like my old self. I comfortably ran a more normal pace, jumped onto and off of curbs with ease, and let my stride lengthen back out. When my mile of running was up, I slowed to a walk, and headed downtown for the remainder of my 6-mile walk. Downtown running (or walking) means frequent stops for traffic lights, so I use those opportunities to stretch. Bent over in a standing fold at the edge of the sidewalk during one of those stops today I noted, as I frequently do, how tight my hamstrings felt. "Ugh," I thought to myself, "after all of these weeks of rehab, I'm still so inflexible? How frustrating." I started up with the familiar mental kicking of myself for not getting to more yoga classes, not doing more foam rolling, not spending more time stretching. Blah blah blah blah blah.
And then in that moment, gratitude appeared in the form of a middle-aged stranger who walked up next to me at the stoplight. "Do you know what would happen to me if I bent over like that?" he asked me with a laugh. "I'd fall down in a heap, and you'd never get me back up." The light turned and signaled us to cross, and we walked and talked the length of the next block together. He was a former runner who had to give it up many years ago due to some chronic health conditions, and shared with me how much he misses not only running, but just being able to be active. He was out walking this morning for the first time in several days, and was hopeful that he would be able to keep at it and build back some of his strength. We were stopped again at the next stoplight, and when it turned he waved me to go on ahead of him, and thanked me for the inspiration.
How easily I'd forgotten to be grateful for everything I can do. How quickly I'd turned from the joyful appreciation of my slow return to running just a few minutes prior into a self-critical and ungrateful jerk who expects even more from these two legs. They just made a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous, mending from a nasty (and by the way: self-inflicted) tear, and now they have to be bendy, too?
Thank you, kind stranger, for today's lesson in humility and gratitude. As I continued to walk the streets of downtown San Diego this morning, I noticed with more clarity than ever the number of people making their way through the world with a variety of chronic disabilities. I hope I'll remember that man at the crosswalk the next time I'm being ungrateful for the good health I've been granted - and my ability to recover when I lose it - and that he'll help me to keep my whining in check.