Wednesday, March 23, 2016

the spark is tiny

I flew back to DC to spectate the first race I would be DNS'ing on the year.  I had athletes racing the full and the half, plus one of my closest friends was having a baby shower than weekend so it was great timing for a trip.  
I decided that the morning of the race, I would wake up early and run from where I was staying to the Lincoln Memorial which was mile marker 2/3 of the race.  I jogged up the Mount Vernon Trail that I have run so many times in my life, it made for a slightly squishy and emotional little trek.  The first time that I ever ran more than 8 miles was on that trail, I trained for ironman on that trail, I ran with Graham on that trail when he was young & before he got sick, I ran alone and with friends, I still know every crack in the asphalt and every turn.  My heart rate was low and pace was steady and everything was quiet.
Something I realized a few weeks ago is that training is part of the way that I take care of myself.  It's time that I spend almost entirely alone, in the quiet, decompressing.  Even when I'm working so hard on the bike that I want to puke or blowing send-off after send-off in the pool, I still recognize that I need this time to take care of me before I can do a good job of taking care of anyone else.  I haven't been training much these last few months; what training I've been doing has been holding-my-breath oh-god-what-hurts-now walking-on-eggshells trying to get through sessions without making anything worse.  Which is not exactly stress relief.  So even though getting in a run on race day meant I had to set my alarm for 5-something which was actually 3-something to my poor confused body, it was 100% worth it to have that hour or so of centered quiet, it gave me what I needed to be ON the rest of the day.

I got in about seven miles - at least half a mile doing laps around the Jefferson trying to figure out how I've never peed there before and did not know where the restrooms were - before meeting up with Liz and flipping the switch into race spectator mode.  We saw a few athletes there, barreled across DC to catch them again at mile ten (this is the fastest mile I've ever run with a backpack on! said Liz), then flew down to mile fourteen, where an athlete & very close friend running the marathon was struggling so we hopped right in with her, backpacks and water bottles and too many layers of clothing and all.  And there was no hesitation.  It was the hardest I've run for months and months but being able to do it, even as I turned to Liz and made a silent horrified face because I did not want to shriek out loud, EIGHT MINUTE MILES ARE HOW I AM GOING TO DIE TODAY (so much for heart rate being low), I realized later that it was such a tiny, personal, did-not-matter-at-all-at-the-time not-even-close-to-the-point-of-the-day victory for my body and everything it has been through recently.  
We ran with Allison for a while, then finally our lungs gave out so we hopped on bikeshare bikes to scramble over the river and see her after 20 miles, she was doing much better by then.  I jumped in again with a quarter-mile to go and I half-stepped her the whole way to the finish line, (sorry!) explosively happy for her success but still trying to help her dig, dig a little more, deeper, all the way until she crossed and saw what she had done (huge PR & first BQ).  And at the end of the day I realized: just like that, my spark had been lit.  By her, by all of my athletes that raced; to be there in the face of it, to watch them fight and struggle and then find achievement, I feel like I'm starting to wake up from a deep dark sleep.  Like I might be able to think about the future, to have one as an athlete that goes beyond the success of an hour-long run without pain (Let's see if I can take a selfie of us on the sidewalk with no helmets while moving without spilling my coffee!  The internet will love it!).  
Despite my crazy unplanned spectator interval workout and actually running fairly close to the thirteen miles that I thought was way out of reach of my fitness (27 new records! proclaimed my Garmin when I finally shut it off), I wasn't completely wrecked.  I was sore, so sore that the light pressure of the blanket on my calves woke me up the next morning, but I wasn't in pain.  I spent the rest of my trip catching up with the handful of precious friends that are really the only thing I miss about living in DC, and it is abnormal still, to feel so normal.  This picture makes me think: wow, when did we turn into grown-ups?  
I had a third round of prolotherapy scheduled for once I flew back to Colorado.  Riding high on my successful weekend of not evaporating into dust from running a little bit hard, I cancelled the appointment and then promptly un-cancelled it (at least I am a consistent pain in the ass) after conferring with a trusted physical therapist and also knowing from so much research that the third treatment seems to be the charm.  I'm starting to feel impatient which is how I know I'm starting to feel healthy again, I want to move and run and have fun and go on adventures but logic is always the way to talk me into things so one more round it was.  It's been a setback, although I think a pretty small one.  I took a few days easy, I swam a little bit to get moving and also because somehow I've decided to swim every day this month except for the day I had the actual treatment, but didn't really do much else.  Every single workout started out like they have been for weeks, I'm just going to do ten minutes and see how it goes.  The first few days that was enough, but by the weekend I felt okay enough that my run went from I'm going to run one mile out and one mile back to I'm going to do the three - no the five - mile loop to I'm going to run the ten mile loop I haven't run since probably October.  And it's just about the happiest I have felt in a long, long time.  I don't think there's anything wrong with the fact that training makes me happy, that moving my body feels like freedom.  Not every day is magic but on Sunday morning, the sun was bright and the air was clear, I kept my heart rate in the 130s and every step felt exactly like the step before it and I couldn't believe how quickly I rolled around back home.  Starving, tired, but also, whole.
I love instagram, as ridiculous as that may be.  Sharing photos is my favorite way of sharing my world, it's all golden retrievers and selfies and running shorts, it's nothing special but it's mine.  At some point I realized that when I look back at the photos I've shared over the last three months, there are none where I am smiling.  Until about 2-3 weeks ago, right around the time I really started to be released from chronic pain.  Subtle, maybe, or just insignificant, but another small way that I can see how much happier I am when I can fill my life with all the crap I love.
It has been interesting, both to go through this and to now - hopefully - have the worst of it in the rearview mirror.  I still don't understand how I existed with that much pain for so long, it seems insane to me that people do it all the time, that I did it for even a short time.  I suppose it's like anything else: you do what you need to do to get through each day and onto the next and you don't really think about much else.  It's been good for reflection, as well.  I don't think that a huge amount of my self-worth is tied up in my performance as an athlete.  I couldn't tell you most of my PRs without looking them up except for the time I ran an 18-minute 5K (tiny possibility that the course was short) in a leprechaun hat and that I definitely have been able to hold a handstand for longer than three seconds at some point in my life.  But I do think that part of the happiness that I have found in the world is directly tied to the ability to move my body, to swim bike run.  I'm sure I've said it in the past but goddamn, when you find the thing that you love, the thing that makes your heart explode with joy, for no other reason than existing in the moment?  Then you should move hell and earth and all the mountains and ROAD CLOSED signs in the world to chase it down, you should always put up a fucking fight for whatever it is you love.  That run I did last Sunday, somewhere in the middle miles I looked around and felt breathless with how peaceful, joyful, content I felt.  Lucky.  That simple moment made all the weeks of doctors and pain and unrotating my lower back and cracking my pelvis and how much ibuprofen should one person really consume in a 5-day period and sixty billion bridges and needles and gritting my teeth and breathing through yet another horrifically painful procedure and x-rays and sleepless nights and however many medical providers I have now sobbed all over, worth it. That moment gives me hope.  The spark is tiny.  But it's there.