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Saturday, March 06, 2010

I (Still) Remember Running.


There are certain things that bring memories to the surface: music, food, old emails,  journals, photo albums, etc.  There are times when submerging yourself in the past is necessary, and times when prior melodramatic rantings make you laugh, make you cringe, make you relieved that in spite of what you felt at the time you are finally Grown Up.  Other times, however, there is only one word that adequately summarizes the act of reveling in the past: masochism.  As someone with a disease that precludes most of the activities that I enjoyed for the first nineteen years of my life, I'm generally cognizant of this and know that -- when I'm in a funk -- I should not watch a track meet on TV, or go to one of my student's cross country races, or look through pictures of myself prior to 1997.  There is one aspect of this, however, that no matter how much I try, I cannot control: the weather.  Track is a spring sport, and even though I was officially diagnosed with MS in the fall of 1997, there is no time of the year that hurts as badly as the first few days of spring.  I have lived through twelve springs since I last ran, and you would think that with the passage of time it would get easier.  At the very least, I hoped to feel less raw over time.  This, unfortunately, is not the case.

There are countless things I cannot do anymore.  Most of these are things that I grieve silently on a daily basis: putting my pants on in less than twenty minutes, reaching items off of a tall shelf, hanging my clothes before they are wrinkled beyond recognition, and -- though it might sound unfathomable to a healthy person -- I truly do miss vacuuming, cleaning toilets and mopping the kitchen floor.  These things, though, connote a certain level of dull (though mostly manageable) pain, and the pain is generally superseded by an ugly level of guilt.  Things that I no longer do are things that other people now do for me, and I cannot seem to accept -- despite continued reassurance from friends and family -- that this is okay.

Nothing, though, nothing at all compares to the grief I associate with running.  My friend Eric asked me once (a few years back) if I remembered what it felt like to walk.  The answer was, surprisingly, no.  He and I both agreed it was probably preferable to forget.  Why then, I wonder, do I still remember how it felt to run?  I can still feel my heels strike the rubber of the indoor track, and feel my quads burn through the last 100 meters of an 800.  I remember the moments between "Set" and the gun, when I'd take a half step forward, lean forward over my right leg and silently repeat the mantra "I can do this and I will do this".  I remember my high school track coach telling me he wanted me to run so hard that as I rounded the turn towards the final stretch I wished he would shoot me to put me out of my misery.  Let me be clear, I have no delusions: running hurt, and there were days (lots of days) when I whined and complained and wished I had one iota of the hand-eye coordination that other sports necessitated.  But I didn't, so I ran.  And though it occasionally made my muscles burn and my mouth taste like blood from the overuse of my lungs in the cold weather, it became part of my identity.

I've heard that people who lose limbs still have occasional phantom sensations: an itch, a twinge of pain, the sense of hot or cold.  Running is my phantom sensation.  When I face the window and close my eyes tightly, I can still feel it.  I can feel the miracle of my nerves making my muscles contract when I want them to, and feel the impact of the ground beneath my feet.  When I open my eyes this memory knocks the breath out of me, and it's all I can do to remind myself, in a totally different context, that I can do this and I will do this.  But there are no words: it is so damn hard.

27 comments:

Kim said...

OMG.. you are successful here in translating your "mind's eye" to paper. Not just what you say, but how you say it.. gifted.
And yes, it is BEAUTIFUL outside.
xoxoxo

FabuLeslie said...

You will always be a runner. And now you are running a different race. And inspiring people in different ways. What a blessing you are! I will think of you on my morning run and not complain. I will think of you as I say my mantra: "I am strong. I am lean. I am fit. I am a runner." You are a strong runner in ways I will never know. Thank you for your perspective. I have been so moved by your post.

Kelsey said...

Wow. As a runner, it is quite something to hear about the grief associated with the loss of the action. There has nothing I have wanted to quit more, and yet, nothing that has held my attention and devotion as much. Thank you, for the reminder that running is in no way a punishment, but an awesome gift. This was a wonderful post.

M. Sheldon said...

You said in your story for Stoop that you wrote a book, but its lack of publication lead you to stop calling yourself a writer. This post captures your memory and tells your story. Furthermore, it uses beautiful language that invites the reader to emotionally join you in your story. You are a writer. Thank you for sharing your gift with others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well. Tears. Silent gulping. The last time I did that was when I read an article about Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile and wept uncontrollably that I can no longer call myself a runner. Not that I could ever run a four minute mile.

And the time before that was seeing a picture of a certain spot on a Barr Trail, I will not likely see again. These all occurred after I was told that bone-on-bone osteoarthritis was not conducive to running and before the chronic back pain set in. But...but...but...I haven't been banned from it completely so maybe just maybe I'll buy some new shoes, find a flat track and at least jog to see how it goes. And, if I do, I'll think of you.

mig said...

i found this post via The Clothes Make the Girl. Thank you for this gift of your writing... you have a very special talent.

CherBearBlue said...

Your writing is so vivid...and makes me so grateful for my own health. I'm going to run twice tomorrow- one for me and one for you. Godspeed, and best of luck. Thank you for the motivation-please keep writing!

MissBrightside said...

When I sat down to read the blogs today I was tired. My legs were aching, my right big toe was throbbing and I felt dehydrated...I logged 3 miles in the burning heat and humidity...complaining all the way.
Tomorrow I will do it again, but I won't complain. I will think of you and run with gratitude and humility. Thank you for the perspective.

BreezieGirl said...

I came via The Bloggess and this was a truly beautiful piece of writing. My heart aches for your loss, but is also grateful for your strength and courage to share with such honesty. Thank you.

Melody said...

You brought me into your emotions, completely.

Your words are powerful, and so too must be your spirit. Thank you.

btc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
btc said...

A friend just sent me a link to this post - thank you for writing and what an incredible perspective you've given all of us. I know it doesn't help things, but I will absolutely be thinking about you each time I head out for a run or bike or start thinking that working out is *hard*. It's not hard, it's a privilege. I shared your post on my blog (with links to your site) to spread your story www.swimbikerunlife.com. Like FabuLeslie said "You will always be a runner." A sincere + grateful thank you.
- alison

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.

baker said...

that was a very moving post. thank you for sharing. one of my running friends forwarded it to me. i also really enjoy your writing.

Paula said...

Thank you for what you have shared in this post. Your passion shines through.

Never That Easy said...

Once I was no longer a child, I never ran anywhere, and now that I can't, I wish I had. For me, it's dancing. I miss the lift and fall and breath and grace of movement... I miss just that feeling of being free, being completely under my own steam and control. You describe it so well here, this is a fabulously moving post.

Holly said...

As someone who also has an autoimmune disease that leaves me struggling daily with the dreams I once had that will no longer be fulfilled, I thank you for giving me the strength to continue fighting one day at a time. There will always be things I miss, but dwelling on them means I miss the things that are still right in front of me. I love the way you put into words the things that I have been unable to explain. Your spirit is a breath of fresh air!

milebymile said...

Thank you. My husband was diagnosed three years ago with MS. He cannot play tennis at the level he once did, and watching him show up to cheer for me at my races is the most passionate way he can show his love for me. For you and every MS athlete, I pray the heart you trained for years on the field will serve you well as you run this new race. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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Jenny said...

Although you may not do it anymore, running will always be part of you. We believe God has ways that we can never imagine. Your Health Interrupted blog inspires a lot of people and you are really a great help.

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