I have been running long distances for about 5 years now. Don't get me wrong, I've been a runner all my adult life but not heavy into the miles until more recently. This past year has been the most challenging year of my life in so many ways. Abandonment, betrayal, loss of employment, divorce, the death of my beloved dog, financial ruin... you name it, it happened. One full year later from the beginning of the end, I find myself in a much better place in most regards. Maybe not financially, but that's a tale for another day.
We all have ways of coping with stress and mine was running. I used running to escape, to avoid, to punish, to reward and to keep whatever small amount of sanity I had left. I hit bottom and when I did running was what allowed me to claw my way back up.
During this time, I trained for and ran lots of half marathons but most noteworthy were the two full marathons... my PR/ Boston Qualifier and Boston itself. Throughout the training and endless miles, some of which were the according-to-training-schedule kind, some of which were the late-night-by-the-light-of-a-headlamp-sobbing-my-eyes-out-no-idea-where-I'm-going-don't-care-if-I-ever-get-back kind. Many were somewhere in between. Point is it was crazy amounts of miles and never was there an injury. Never was there a twinge of an injury. God knows I was not kind to my body during this time. I didn't eat right, in fact I lost a good amount of weight from not eating enough. I definitely did not sleep well or enough. I drank. I didn't stretch. I never got a massage. How is it that staying injury free was even possible? I think my body and my brain made it possible. I sometimes wonder if there had been twinges or injuries but my body protected me and did not allow me to feel them. I do believe my brain was so overloaded with emotional trauma that physically, I hardly felt pain.
The human brain and body are amazing. Looking back it seems to me that I would not have been able to exist in that swirling cyclone of severe emotional distress without the running. Running allowed my brain to release endorphins, which are the bodies natural painkillers. Without the ability to clear the adrenaline that was constantly being pumped through my system, my body would have gone into overload. I think my body did what it needed to do to ensure physical survival.
Why do I think this? Well, time has healed many wounds and I am no longer a shell of myself. I consider myself happy (for the most part) and on the road to emotional health as well. I still run, quite a bit although I've decided the late night runs can now wait until daylight and I make sure I know where I'm going. I decided about 12 weeks ago to run another marathon. This time, my body decided not to cooperate. I. Hurt. Everywhere.
Why? I haven't changed my form. I eat fairly well. I get good sleep. I am more controlled and mindful of sticking to a training plan and not over training. My body continues to not play nice. It disagrees with each long run with aches, pains and sometimes a little swelling. I have always been one to listen to my body and if I get a negative response when I try to work through some pain, then I ease up. I have had to give up on the marathon that is now only a few weeks away, due to more aches and pains than ever.
See...I think my body knows I don't NEED running in the same way anymore. I am able to face challenges and remain whole instead of fracturing into a million tiny pieces as I would have before. I am in a more positive place now and the running serves many purposes but is no longer essential for survival. As frustrating as it is to deal with injuries and changing carefully laid plans, it is good to know that my body once again trusts that I can handle adversity and take on new challenges without wanting to drive my car off the road. My body is free to finally tell me, "hey asshole, that HURTS!!"
Looking back, I am amazed at what I was able to do in a physical sense. At what other point in your life would you run an 18 miler just because it was "something to do"?? Seriously! That's just not right!
So, I guess what I should be doing right now is saying "thank you body", indulging in some much needed rest and learning to be grateful that during a time of crisis and emotional turmoil, I was still able to take care of myself and find inner strength to get through to the other side...even if that act was totally subconscious. Cherish your body and what it can do because sometimes it's what it doesn't do that turns out to be the blessing.