Sunday, February 21, 2016

The jerk store called

Today I got caught. I was being a silly, whiny jerk, and I got called out.

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.
I gave my calf a little extra love
before trying that first post-rehab run.

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.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Walk, don't run

Now in my eighth week off of running, I admit that I'm sort of coming around on this whole walking thing. Don't get me wrong: I am terribly eager to begin running again, and it's probably the fact that this brief interlude is nearing its end that I'm beginning to feel some tenderness toward my captor. But I love bipedalism in all of its variations, and over the last two months, have realized that there are some distinct advantages to walking, and not running.

1. The stink factor. I've always enjoyed "running" my errands when I can: running to and from the market if I just need a small item or two, running to the library to pick up and drop off my books, or even running to and from a concert at a nearby club. I almost always run to my polling place on election day, although this favorite tradition has probably alienated me from most of my neighbors. I'm not one of those people who delicately glistens when I run: I sweat. It takes a lot longer to get everywhere by walking instead of running, but I'm not a gross mess once I arrive, and it's been sort of nice not having to apologize when I get into elevators.

Two feet. Four eyes.
2. I can see where I'm going. I'm near-sighted and have worn glasses my entire adult life. Every year I tell myself I'm going to get a pair of prescription running sunglasses made so that I can see while I'm running, but I still have never done it. Because glasses will not stay on my face while I run (see "sweaty mess," above), I've just learned to run while unable to see clearly. I can see well enough to ensure my basic safety, but am always missing quite a lot of what's going on around me. But as a walker, my glasses can stay on my face, and in spending some long hours over the past two months in places where I'm usually running, I've realized just how much I usually don't see. I can get a better look at the flora, the architecture, and the public art as I pass by, and I can read the signs! And because I'm going slower, I seem to just be paying more attention. Last weekend I passed by the runway of the airport, which I do regularly (I live 2.5 miles from it), and saw lots of activity going on as I went by that I've just never noticed while running.

I seriously love my glittery tights.
3. The clothes are much cuter. Because I don't get so hot when I walk, I get to bundle up when I head out for these long walks in ways that I just can't when I run, even in winter. Despite being a lifelong runner, I've just never had those lean, muscular runner legs, and look and feel far better in a pair of tights than I do in a pair of running shorts. I (and surely everyone I encounter during my morning workouts) have been deeply grateful for the chance to don my knit caps and gloves, puffer vests, and my favorite sparkly long tights. I usually wear pretty ratty running clothes, but am starting to see the wisdom in investing in some warm-weather running items that make me feel cute.

4. I can touch my toes. It's amazing how much more flexible I've become in just seven short weeks. Decades of running (and not paying enough attention to flexibility as I've grown older) have left me with hamstrings like tree trunks, literally unable to touch my own toes when standing with straightened legs. Since stretching my calf muscles and ankles has been an important component of the rehabilitation from this injury, I've been more regular in getting to a weekly yoga class, and doing stretching exercises on my own. The other day I found myself grasping onto the balls of my feet while seated with legs straight, and wanted to jump for joy. But jumping is still strictly off-limits. <sigh>

5. I've even lost a few pounds. Over the past couple of years, some extra pounds have slowly crept their way on. I'm far from overweight, but for a small-framed marathon runner, an extra 5 or 10 pounds has consequences. As a person who's always had good exercise habits and a naturally healthy diet, I've never really concerned myself with the volume of what I eat or drink. This has mostly worked okay for me until recently, but apparently even marathon runners are not immune to shifting mid-life metabolisms. So when I began this rehabilitation process, I made a conscious decision to adjust my attitudes toward indulgence when it comes to food. Being unable to use my usual excuses for that extra slice of pie or another beer ("I'm in training," or "I ran six miles this morning," or "I'm running twenty miles tomorrow"), I'm instead paying more attention to how hungry I actually feel, and a few pounds have easily come off, even though I'm burning far fewer calories through exercise than is typical for me.

I'm hopeful that, once I'm back in the warm embrace of running, I won't forget the lessons I've learned over these last couple of months. Maybe I'll buy myself a new running top or two, and finally spring for those prescription sunglasses. Hopefully I'll maintain my improved eating habits, and keep showing up at yoga class. But, sorry neighbors: I'm still going to stink in the elevator.

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Rehab update: Seven weeks of rehabilitation are in the bank, and I'm feeling healed and so completely ready to get back at it. Last week I walked 11 miles, did some strength and stretching sessions, yoga, and was back on a stationary bike for the first time since the muscle tear. All has felt great, and even when I'm walking fast up hills, everything seems back to normal. Last weekend, I felt 100% ready to start running again, so in light of my clearly limited insight and poor judgment, I decided I should wait one more week. :) Anxiously awaiting that slow, easy one mile run next Sunday morning. Valentine's Day.