Sunday, January 25, 2009

always starting over: running (part 2)

The first time I started over was in college, junior year. Senior year of high school, I set the goal to run a marathon without really knowing what that would entail; I spent the summer after graduation heading out for an hour and a half, two hours of running, feeling a new strength. Three years later, I'd gained thirty pounds and ran only sporadically during summer breaks and, occasionally, when I felt nostalgic for wind and sweat. And those runs were brutal: five or eight miles looping through my campus reserve after a few months of ordering Papa John's at two a.m. and eating Chinese take-out for breakfast. I'd finish, gagging, and not want to run for another three months.

But junior year I remembered I wanted to run a marathon. No time like the present. I started out slowly but was soon racking up the miles and dropping the pounds by autumn of my (first) senior year.

Running hurt. I'd had shin splints in high school but this was excruciating. I swallowed four or five ib profen before getting out of bed, like some people smoke their first cigarette of the day with their head on the pillow, and limped downstairs for breakfast. Before heading out for a run, I'd have a couple more ib profen. The first few minutes of any run was knives stabbing up my heels, along my shins. It was difficult to breathe, it hurt so much. I kept at it.

Five years later, in June 2006, an MRI of my legs showed a dozen healed stress fractures and two new ones. I had barrelled into running that autumn of my senior year, rarely taking a rest day. My legs were shattering and I just mapped longer runs.

Eventually the pain subsided but would return every few months, always in the same spot: my lower right leg, maybe five inches above my ankle, between my tibia and fibula. I began to think of this injury as seasonal. Once a winter for a few weeks, once a spring for a few weeks. I could live it and I wasn't limping anymore. Yet.

Oh, but I loved running. I made enlarged photocopies of pages from the Wisconsin Gazetteer: all the country roads to explore! I taped the maps to my wall and marked routes with different color markers. I ordered a Camelbak and bought running gear beyond old tee-shirts and cut-off sweatpants. I picked my first marathon: 2002 Grandma's and my aunt Peg, who competed through college, decided to train too.

Training was great. I liked the neatness of it, the organization of laying out a plan to get me my 26.2. And I can still name some of my favorite routes: Casimir to Second Street, North Point Drive through Park Ridge to Church Street, County Highway P as far as I wanted. Long runs were wonderful. I didn't know my body could do that. When I lost a couple of toenails, I thought: wow, a real runner. Running felt wild.

And running got me through. Any runner knows the value of that time alone - thinking, dreaming, praying, letting your mind unwind.

To be continued.


DC Running Mama said...

I, too, fell in love with running during college...and ran so much that I got HORRIBLE shin the point that I was on crutches because they hurt so badly...only to find out during a bone scan 5 years later that I had a stress fracture! Dang teaching hospital! I've learned through many injuries to no longer run through the pain....with age comes wisdom:>

Joie said...

I'm finally catching up a bit on your adventures, although I didn't read everything yet... I was mostly in search of pictures of my sweet niece! (hint hint...) Anyway, miss you lots and I look forward to reading more of your posts when we get home soon. Love you!