I ran a half marathon on Sunday. A lot like this blog, I’d been away from running for longer than I’d care to admit. As it turns out, going from 5ish miles to 13ish miles is a big step (or many of them, I guess). I didn’t expect it would be easy, I think I just expected it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad. The razor straight incision at the bottom of my sports bra re-opened making it so I felt every movement from about mile 10 or so onward. This particularly gruesome war wound from my marathon that I thought had healed was only, as it turns out, hiding. There are fewer things more painful than sweat dripping into an open wound that is simultaneously being rubbed by tight elastic (note to self: body glide, body glide, body glide).
Post marathon, I spoke of how much I enjoyed the experience. This is true. I even went so far as to hint I may attempt another, maybe even an ultra? I would think in the rose colored glasses of remembrance It’s uncanny to me how our brains block out the bad. Bloody, my feet blistered almost beyond recognition, with physical scars that could only hint at the deeper exhaustion and trial my body had endured over 26.2 miles, I still would do it again, without question or hesitation. Only here I was, mile 11 of 13.1 cursing the entire idea of running. Up a mile-long hill in shoes that will here forward be retired from distance running, I could feel the familiar heat of blistering and the tear-inducing strain on knees. “Screw it,” I thought, I was done. fin. I would retire from running. Of course I would. This was not the first bad run I’d had.
My two sisters and I had decided to race this half together. Our mission: to run my oldest sister to her half marathon PR. With her trusty pacers and pit crew by her side she would shatter her old time, and we ran out of the gates in formation like TIE Fighters out to destroy the Death Star. About the time I started to feel very resentful about the very idea of running, my other sister had started noticing foot pain. Keen that she was the only sister not to have sustained a running-induced stress fracture, she feared it might be her turn. My mind unwilling to go the distance, and my sister’s foot forbidding her, we slowed up the hill, and pushed my sister forward in our thoughts as we fell further behind.
I urged my sister to stop and walk, and periodically, we would. But this is what running does to you- she would not be stopped. Blazing pain burning through her foot, she paced me the last few miles into the finish. I wanted nothing more than to stop and be done, but she pushed, she ran, she sprinted through the finish line with a determination I know only she is capable of. I wanted to cry for her as we finally crossed the line, my other sister and family cheering madly on the side lines. This is what running does- no matter the pain, no matter the physical or mental obstacle before you, it channels through you the will to put foot before foot, against the odds, and finish. (And in some cases, to get yourself to the doctor for x-rays and serious pain killers.)
We will run again, all of us. My sister will heal, and will relish recovery runs. I will find a shoe store to sell me the Asics I’m used to and I will train for another marathon. The forgetting will come, willfully or subconsciously, as we fail to recall the acuteness of the pain we have sustained. We will be borne out onto the trails with complete, convenient amnesia and renewed hope. I’m not sure how, or why, but we will keep running. We will break our own records, as my sister did that day. We will discover new reserves of strength and quiet power. We will run towards big victories, and many, many small ones. The run must break you sometimes, before it can rebuild you, better than before. And I have a hunch it’s the imperfection of our memories that allows us to lace up again, to lace up and trust the run. We will heal ourselves in the very thing that has broken us, and we will run stronger and faster than ever.
**This post gratefully dedicated to my sisters: heal fast, run faster, and may we never run alone. **