About fifteen days ago I stood at the top of my street, shivering in the cold dawn. I felt awkward and afraid and a single thought kept spinning around and around in my head …“What if I can’t?”
This is the moment nearly every runner faces at some point in her career. I call it “the first day back.” It’s that point at which you’ve followed all your doctor’s orders, done your exercises, developed an intimate relationship with a bag of frozen peas and…completely stopped running for what seems like an interminable amount of time. You’ve paid your dues, taken time off- but now THE DAY has arrived.
Invariably, your butt is flabbier, your thighs and middle larger, a muffin top has appeared above the waistband of your tights and you feel a strange self-consciousness that normally never dogs you when you run. At least, this is the way it always feels to me.
I say “always” because this is definitely NOT the first time I’ve been here. Since becoming a “masters runner” I’ve had a couple of extended layoffs and every time I’m certain, absolutely certain that I will never heal and be able to run again. It’s my own personal nightmare really – because I simply am not myself when I’m not running. The thought truly frightens me (to say nothing of what it does to my husband!)
I push the button on my Garmin and vow not to look at my time…I will simply run and feel my way through the speed on a small distance – just one mile.
Oh God! I can’t breathe! I can feel my butt jiggling. My calves feel weak after just a few minutes and I can’t seem to relax my neck and shoulders. Keep your head up, keep your arms moving, don’t slouch…oh, and by the way…how is that previously torn ankle tendon feeling? It’s torture, pure simple, utter torture. Hey, I’m big enough to admit it. But this is the way it is. This process of starting over is the inevitable consequence of injury. It’s so tortuous that you’d think it would prevent us from overtraining, from pushing too hard, from skipping the strength training. But no. Most of us find ourselves back on “day one” at some point in “I’ll never regain my training” land again.
Now, eight runs or so later, things are starting to get a little easier. I’ve been very gradually increasing my mileage and did three and a half miles this morning. Each time I run I can feel the improvement. The jiggle is a little less pronounced, my calves don’t scream AND I even made it up The Beast this morning- albeit very slowly, but I made it nonetheless. Yeah, baby…I CAN do it. I’m coming back.
To cap off my triumph, I’ve decided to pick a goal race – the 5K at the LA Marathon, which I will run for speed – hopefully a PB at the short distance. It will just be a confirmation of what I already know. I’m a runner for life and sometimes that means meeting the beginning over and over again.
How To Start Running Without Feeling Like a Failure