A Sanctioned Affair

Sunday I ran 7 miles with my running buddy Sue, and we did it in 58 minutes.  It felt harder than usual, and I found myself apologizing for holding her back.  We tackled the big hill on South Street near the end of our run.  I made it up fine, but the last mile or so left to return to our start point was one of the most challenging miles I have run.  I slogged the final distance, my legs heavy; every step was laborious.  I checked the time and distance and was stunned to see how well we had done despite the extra effort it took.  If it was that hard, the next run would surely be much easier. Later in the day, I noticed a little pain below my knee.  It only hurt when I kept it bent for a while and then straightened it, but not otherwise.

It’s Monday, a cold morning, and I can’t wait to run.  I take off from the house, bundled up like a child who has been dressed by a worried mom.  I am wearing four layers on my upper body!  I decide to take the first couple of miles easy, sort of recovery-run style, and although sometimes that is an effort, to slow down, today it is an effort to move even at an easy pace.  I warm up.  The air is freezing and dry and I am happy to have worn my turtle fur scarf to cover my mouth and nose.  I hit mile 2, and pick up the pace.  I am back on the sidewalk, safe, and ready to take on another 7 miles.  Well, at least my mind is ready.  My legs beg to differ and the top of my right tibia begins to throb.  I back off a bit, and pay attention to my stride and foot strike.  Am I kicking out?  No.  Am I taking too long a stride?  No.  Is the music a little off today?  No.  It’s the same delicious ‘Runner’s Delight’ I have mixed, the songs in the same order.  I take the Nike + iPod from my vest pocket and check my pace.  Slow.  9:48 minute miles.  Hmmm.  Maybe I have been over-training.   I keep going.

I choose the route that follows South Street at the split, looking forward to my body letting loose down the long, slow decline of the hill toward Cape Hedge Beach.  I anticipate the feeling of my legs flinging forward of their own accord, to the deep, rhythmic breathing that comes with the increase in speed.  I can almost taste the corner, the steep little hill that empties out onto Pebble Beach, the feeling of flying and then leveling off and sprinting onto the soft sand on the road.  But the pain in my knee intensifies, and I jog down the hill, anger and frustration with my body tearing me away from my pleasure.  I slow down on the steep little hill and as I round the corner, I force myself to look at the water.  I scan the shoreline for the pair of swans who live here, seeking them out by the frozen edge of Camborne Pond, and not finding them there, I search the ocean shore.  I don’t see them.

The sun is up and it is a weak sun this morning, mimicking my own weakness.  The tide is low; the waves tentative as they approach the seaweed covered sand.  I am slow enough to actually gaze out at the sea, and the pale green color of the water makes me think of my sister’s eyes.  I trot alongside the beach, trying to think about how I will finish this run today.  When I reach the next incline, I speed up a little to test out the pain.  It’s not too bad.  I don’t want to walk!  I keep running along Penzance Road and when I reach Eden, I choose it intentionally, knowing I will come across lots of ice, some of it covering the entire road and I will have to walk.  I am choosing this road so I can take a break without making myself feel bad about it.  This section of my run is a slow incline, and I go easy, favoring the knee.  I pick my way carefully around the slippery spots, the awareness of the pain makes me particularly careful not to fall.  I have not heard many of the songs that are flowing into my head through my ear buds, have not been able to get that magical feeling that comes with the morning, the running, the music, the breathtaking views on my route.  All I can think about is how much my knee hurts, how long it will take me to get home, and what will happen tomorrow.

On the back loop home, I think about taking the long end of Marmion Way, to come in for a total of 6 miles.  I hesitate at the mouth of the street, thinking about the long slow hill down, then the even longer, slower one back up.  My head tells me to go for it.  I have run this route so many times I could do it blindfolded.  My body tells me not to be a fool.  There’s no need to be a hero, even if it’s only my own hero, that if I prolong this one run, I might not have another one any time soon.  That would be far worse that cutting today’s run short.  There’s nothing wrong with 5 slow miles.  I pass Marmion Way and in a quarter of a mile, believe I have given myself sage advice.  I finish the run, 5.2 miles, in 51 minutes.  I take time to cool down and stretch, gingerly touching the spot where the bone is tender.  As I stretch, I am already worrying about tomorrow.  Should I run?  Will I be able to run?  What is wrong with me?

Here it is:  running is like a secret lover.  I am exhilarated, excited, flying on that little chemical reaction in my brain that cannot be compared to anything less than an affair.  It is relief, release, freedom, power— and it is mine alone.  The thought of not running every day compares only to waving good bye to my true love each morning, knowing he will return in the evening but that I will have to spend the day apart from him, my heart aching for the way he makes me feel all day long until his return.  It’s bad enough that I generally feel that way when my husband leaves for work; to have to also feel that way about running is almost too much.  Yet this is the truth.  So I am making a plan.

I will run whenever I feel like I can without really getting hurt.  I will listen to my body.   I tell myself this not only as a passionate runner but also as a trainer.  In order to run, my body needs a break, both to absorb what it has learned and to heal small injuries.  On the days I don’t run, I will cross-train— ride the bike, climb the stair master, put more effort into strength training and core work. I won’t expect to feel the same way on those days.   I’m not going to set myself up to expect anything other than that ache of wanting, the feel of that release and power.  My knee will heal.  I will run.  It’s a sanctioned affair.

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2 Comments on “A Sanctioned Affair”

  1. Charlene Says:

    Sorry about your Knee! I can relate, my knees only allow my love affair with Body Combat 2 or 3 times a week. Other days I settle. Settle for weight lifting or spinning or a couple of days a week, no work out at all.

  2. Craig Reed Says:

    What a wonderful comparison, Elizabeth. This “sanctioned affair” opens up my understanding more to how you feel about your passion for running and the feeling it gives you. As well as how you dearly miss that connection on the days that you have to tell yourself “today, I must abstain.” People who follow your blog must really feel for you after reading this entry. I know I do, even more so.

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