When I first started running, I believed two things that turned out not to be true: First, that running would make me thin, and second, that there is no such thing as a bad run.
Filthy, vicious lies, both of them.
First: Running, in and of itself, will not make you thin, not without an accompanying reduction in calories, a sacrifice I’m apparently unwilling to make past 11 a.m. on a Monday morning. I found this out pretty quickly, as I log mile after mile, year after year, with no significant change in my weight.
The second lesson took a little longer.
In fact, I’m not sure that I truly accepted it until this past week.
That’s because running is such a wholesome and cleansing and virtuous activity – the closest I ever get to a state of holiness – that it doesn’t seem possible for a run to ever be wrong. Even if you had to drag yourself out the door. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. I think the ultimate test of any endeavor is not how you feel while you’re doing it, but how you feel after it’s done. And 99.53 percent of the time, you’ll be glad you ran.
But, run for a decade or two, and eventually you’ll get clubbed by that nasty little .47 percent.
Last week, as I confessed in my training log, my previously cooperative back turned vicious, and retaliated for the years I ignored it while lovingly nurturing my hamstrings and quads. Instead of responding as I should have (with compassionate cooing and a good massage) I said, back? I don’t need no stinkin’ back, and continued to run in that fantasy world where we all like to live, that one where we control our bodies, not the other way around.
My stinkin’ back didn’t like that one bit. This elevated me on the classic Salty Inflammo-meter Scale to “Why me?” with some expletives that Cinnamon was too polite to add in her original posting.
As anyone who has ever gotten cancer – or a toenail fungus, for that matter – will tell you, our bodies are like sleeping lions that at any time can awaken, yawn, and then, without a scrap of remorse or emotion, proceed to eat you. This happened when I decided to keep running, despite my back pain sharpening day by day; when I chose to believe the articles I read that said inactivity is worse than activity when it comes to your back. I ignored the old truth that if you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream. Mine screamed three miles into a slow run, which, up until that moment, had been going so well that I’d decided to do six.
But that fantasy ended when the pain suddenly migrated to my left hip and bored into my hamstring, screaming, “Nope, you moron, you can go on, but we’re stopping right here.”
Defeated, I limped home in ignominy, considering whether it was the Worst Run Evah, or just a runner-up. There have, after all, been other times when I got a few miles out and decided I’d apparently contracted polio overnight, because of dead legs that refused to resurrect. There have been rainy days when I went too far, and my shoes got wet and my socks got soaked, and I was stupidly blistered when I sloshed home.
So I finally got the message, and stopped running, not only that day but for the rest of the week. And damned, if my back isn’t better. I’m resisting the urge to go out today, and will wait until “better” turns into “well.”
Regrets, I’ve had a few. But like anything in life, you take your lumps and you move on, listening more carefully for the whispers.
Salties, have you kept running even when your body told you to stop? How do you know when you’re being tough, or just being stupid?