I run. I don’t run with elegance, but dammit, I do run.
At the age of 17, filled with strength and an unrelenting desire to make a dollar, I pulled a muscle in my lower back carrying a big tray with too many laden dishes. I shrugged it off. In the years since, I have battled back pain through youth, pregnancy, raising children, digging dirt, weight gained and weight lost. I found relief through exercise, eating nutritious food and managing my stress. Then two weeks ago, the familiar pain that starts from above my left buttock, traveled down the back of my left leg, behind my knee and to the midpoint of my calf, made itself known.
And for the last two weeks, I nursed my back – walked, iced, heated, stretched and massaged – but have been unable to find relief from the constant, persistent ache. Two weeks ago, I was maximizing my miles on the road, adding speed and distance with the intent of hitting a 10k by summer’s start and a half marathon by summer’s end. Two weeks ago, all I could see was moving forward to hit a goal. Two weeks ago, my world was where it should be.
Last August, I took a job. A big job. One that challenges my wits, tests my patience and pushes the limits of my endurance. My physical fitness has taken a back seat to reports, staff meetings and staff management, late night emails, and early morning cash flow projections. Sleep eludes me. Again. Stress has become a constant companion. Stress likes to worm itself into my back and erupt with heat and pain.
Did I mention that I love my job? Well, I should mention that I love my job. The challenge, the daily change, and the hope that my day to day is making a difference for someone, somewhere. I’ve never been one to do things the easy way. Kind of like my love life, but that is a story for another day.
So for the last year, life has been moving in a forward motion, even if that motion has been stressful and chaotic. My favorite kind of motion to be honest. And running all winter in order to maintain fitness had finally given way to ramping up my miles, my strength and my speed. I felt like I could do anything.
Two weeks ago, I went from adding miles to outright stopping. I have tried, but not succeeded, to find relief from the constant ache that shoots through the left side of my body. I put running aside for long walks. It’s not the same.
Then yesterday, unable to resist the warm afternoon and the sun on my skin, I set out for a run. Not a tempo run, where I sped along at race pace, pushing my limits for the duration of my workout. Not a speed or interval run either, where I pull myself through short spurts of speed, pounding the trails with strength and rhythm. No, I set out on a slow, plodding, graceless run, feeling the weight in my legs and pain in my back, shoulders hunched and chin tucked. I ran with intention. Willing away pain, tucking in my core, seeking out the flats. It sucked.
But in spite of myself and wallow in self-pity, I relaxed and found my mind pulled out to the birds singing, the whistle of wind in the trees and the sound of people talking as I lumbered past. My shoulders sank away from my ears, my chin lifted and although the weight in my legs still felt cumbersome, I found myself grateful that I could move my body through space, even if that space had felt more welcome in days past. I reveled in the sun.
So, I ran. I didn’t run well and I didn’t run fast, but I did run. And as I ran, I sought out peace. Peace with standing still instead of moving forward. Peace with taking a step back when I desperately wanted to take a step forward. Peace with my fears of aging, illness and my place in life. Peace with the choices I’ve made. Peace with running for the sake of running.
And that was enough.