Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Leave Everything Behind.

About a month ago I injured my right foot when I tripped during an obstacle course 5K that I ran. For the week following I hobbled on crutches and was bed-ridden with ice, elevated foot, and pain killers. (And Dexter.) A familiar scenario for me. Last year I injured this foot pushing myself too hard during a 5 mile run through the mountains by my grandparents house, and the year before I injured this foot falling up slippery-from-rain stairs on a UGA bus. I know this feeling of running myself into the ground very well.

So I took a month off my foot. I did some weight lifting, and one yoga class. But each passing day without a mile of pavement and wind underneath me the darker my soul became. I just am not the same person when I am not running. Not a single other thing feeds my heart quite like running does. It doesn't matter that I'm not fast, or that I don't run every day, or that I can't run more than 4 or 5 miles on a good day. Because when it's just me and my running shoes; my legs suited in tight black shorts lunge-ready; my chest wrapped tightly in anticipation of the pounding against the pavement, concrete, rocks, whatever comes my way; and my hair haphazardly pulled back however I can; it's the most alive-and-well I've ever felt.

I know that as a runner, injuries are to be expected. It's normal; running comes with risks. As an athlete, any type, you must know that rest and recovery are often even bigger players in your game than the work itself. I think that's a huge part of discipline that is underrated in athleticism. I hope that one day I can become less threatened by the days, weeks, and months that must pass as I heal from the regular aches and pains of the runners life.

But despite that hope, I admit that it has been a difficult month. I cried on multiple occasions, like the morning after that yoga class when I almost fell on the floor when I tried to put weight on my right foot. Healing is an unhurried process. (And I am not as patient as I wish I would be.)

Today when I went to the gym, I didn't plan on running. I'd anticipated some weight-lifting, maybe an arm-and-ab workout. But as I surveyed the gym and asked my body what it wanted, what it needed, an alarm sounded in my core. I had to run. I searched my body to see if it was ready. I stretched my foot, turned and turned my ankle cautiously, plugged in my ear buds, and stepped on a treadmill. And I went. From the initial stride I felt something go tense and release inside of me. I got chills on every inch of skin on my body. My lungs sucked ravenously inward, my muscles stood at attention and began their functions peacefully, beautifully, gloriously. A well-oiled machine. I didn't even begin to break a sweat until 3/4 of a mile in. Somehow the very low-impact weight-lifting and daily dog-walking had kept my body in peak enough condition to run that 1 lovely mile with hardly any effort at all.

This is a painting I made last year from a running shoe advertisement I found. I think it appropriately visually depicts what it is I'm trying to really convey in this post.

But I felt every step. Not in my foot, but my heart. There was a beautiful suspension in my life as I listened to old songs that were my anthems exactly one year ago when running was just a baby, graduating to toddlerdom, for me. When The Intro by XX came on my MP3 player, I grabbed the treadmill with one hand to steady and guide myself, and then I closed my eyes. There in the middle of a florescently lit BodyPlex, I went somewhere else in my soul. I was suspended from the reality of my heart that was weighing so heavily inside of me in that moment. I was suspended from the truth that tomorrow marks two years since I've been in a room with my mother and brother at the same time. It marks the beginning of the holiday season, the hardest time of the year for anyone familiar with family heartache, loneliness on any level, and any history of depression. Those were the largest truths I escaped tonight. It elevated me not to a new place, but back home, to a world where it has always just been me and my thoughts. Me and my words. The words and worlds that exist only when I let them breathe and stretch and ask questions while my muscles go on auto-pilot.

(And on a side note, I think it's appropriate that it was this day I ran again, because last year it was the night before thanksgiving that I injured myself on that run.)

So at home I now take an intermission, before I dive headfirst into this holiday season fearlessly. Because this year isn't sadness and regret and fear and worry and guilt. This year is pie-baking with my boyfriend's beautiful daughters (a gift in my own life), and hand-holding with that man as we celebrate what an entire year can do to change someone's life, and loving the family I do have around me--my father and his first holiday coming to my house; my sisters-in-heart who breathe life into me when I feel empty and when I feel whole, always finding room for love in me when I didn't even know I needed it; and even still, the distanced individuals who share my DNA who are freckled across the continent and will doubtlessly think of me in some regard, all of them, no matter how many days separate us from communication and embrace.

I hope only that you, dear reader, can feel this amount of peace in your heart as we find meaning in the following 40 days or so. Winter can be harsh. Our culture only makes things more emotionally stimulating to the point of exhaustion. But I wish you still the happiest of seasons yet. And we're in this together. So eat, drink, and be filled with happyheart, friend.

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