Saturday afternoon I set out on the Emigrant Trail in Truckee for a 20-mile run with my border collie, Cap. The dog’s presence notwithstanding, it was my first solo long-run (if 20 miles can be considered long) since Pt. Reyes, and only my third of the entire winter/spring training season. I had lightened up the mileage last week with the intent of upping the quality, and using the rest as a springboard to just a few more weeks of hard training before beginning a late-June taper. The plan unfolded beautifully, and I felt great all week, with some high-quality speed and hill workouts.
In addition to loving the warm weather, Saturday was spent with my eye on the watch. Given that I have spent both of my races this year without much heed for time, this kind of thing was unique to training, and unheard of on a long run. If I was going so short, I wanted it to be fast, and I ran a beautiful sub-9:30 pace for 15 miles on trail. If you’ll recall though, the run was supposed to be 20.
Mile 15 is where I embarked upon what I am now thinking of as my “June tradition.” I sprained my ankle. Yes, the same ankle. Yes, the same tendon. Frustration, anger, depression. These are my bedfellows.
Also, courage and perspective. Hope.
I spent 2 ½ miles hobbling, crying, dragging my crushed spirit to a road where I hitched a ride back to my car. To say I was feeling sorry for myself would be a ghastly understatement. I do self-pity so well. I think, in reality, it’s a good thing that I was alone. What could another person have done, really? And the presence of another would have required that I maintain some semblance of dignity. Some pretense that my world hadn’t just come crashing down on top of me.
And who can put forth the effort of pretense when the world has suddenly been flipped and everything is wrong? So wrong.
As I limped my way down the trail, every now and then a fresh wave of tears would come upon me. Now it wasn’t just this sudden inability to run; it was everything. I found myself dwelling on a hundred things completely out of my control, everything from oil-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast, to the potential death of loved ones. A bit melodramatic, I know. But I find that delving head-first into the depths of self-pity and despair makes for a quicker return trip to “perspective.” It took me nearly an hour to travel that 2 ½ miles, and it was a physical and emotional journey I hope not to repeat soon. Still, all such journeys are an adventure, and a learning experience, and if I wasn’t in a fairly positive emotional place at this point, I doubt I would even be writing this.
Have you ever had a conversation with a 10-year-old and felt more understood that you are by most adults? As I shuffled from my desk to the whiteboard this morning, I shared the weekend’s setback with one of my students. I knew what her reaction would be.
“Oh no!” she wailed, springing out of her desk. “What about Friday cross-country?”
“I know,” I nodded in sympathy. We were of the same mind.
She commenced with further whining and stomping of feet, displaying emotions as only a 10-year-old can, but which a grown woman can still feel. It was almost a relief to see someone act out my own feelings for public display.
It’s not that other runners weren’t sympathetic to my plight, but their own situations remain unaffected. The running experience of my cross-country kids is inevitably tied to mine. I don’t run—they don’t run. It’s deeper than empathy when we can all be selfish together.
On yesterday morning's dog-walk, I noticed Cap had a pronounced limp as well. Closer inspection revealed a torn pad on his right front paw. Another aftermath of Saturday's run. We must make a hilarious sight, the two of us gimping our way around the block at a snail's pace. We're damaged goods, my doggie and me.
I don’t know exactly how big of a setback this will be, but I do know my season isn’t ruined. I’ve been in this place before, (every June for three summers, in fact). I have confidence that a week off will allow me to jump back on the trail, even if this weekend’s TRT training camp is a bit in jeopardy.
Still, when things get bad, when life problems get complicated and lead to the next and bigger problem, I run. That’s what I do. I don’t mean that I run away necessarily, but I do use it to cope. I use it to maintain forward momentum. To stave off the semi-mid-life crisis of a 36-year-old’s mind.
I think tomorrow, if this weather holds, I'm going to dust off my road bike.
For your melancholy listening pleasure, here is my favorite version of The Horizon Has Been Defeated.