Shortsightedness is a Virtue
It can be overwhelming to think about the massive effort required to maintain a consistent level of running performance. I’m a high-mileage runner, and the repetitive force on my muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones means that I have to take good care of them, especially as I age. The miles themselves are the easy part. Then there’s strength training, stretching, mobility work, core work, massage therapy, fine-tuning nutrition and keeping track of iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, protein, carbohydrates… Finding time for all of that can be difficult, mainly because running isn’t my career. It is possible to create a delicate balance, and I’ve found it before. Usually, it’s as simple as taking things one week, and then one to two days, at a time. My typical Sunday thought process goes something like, “Do I have any evening events this week? Okay, I’ll have to run in the morning that day. And I’ll have to be on the ball the day before, so I can run and eat dinner in time to get to bed early for the morning run. What does the dinner plan look like for the week? Do I have all the groceries I need? Are there leftovers for those early-to-bed nights?” From there, my… ahem… sanity is basically day-to-day. Monday is an easy run - no worries! Tuesday is a workout (usually intervals of some sort), and I will work hard that day knowing that I have a recovery run the next day. Wednesday is that great recovery run. Thursday is another workout (usually a long tempo run), and my favorite day of the training week because once I get through that workout I’ve made it over halfway through the week. Friday is another glorious recovery run, plus it’s Friday! Saturday is an easy run, usually after sleeping in a bit. And on Sundays I run long.
Again, the miles are the easy part. Everything is scheduled. It’s not a question of whether I will run, only when I will run. Occasionally, though, my mind wanders too far ahead or looks at a picture that is a little too big, and in doing so, I recognize the fragility of it all and the possibility of the system breaking down. This is what happened earlier this week. On Monday, a nagging sore throat became a painful sore throat, and by Tuesday my body ached too much to do more than shower and return to my pajamas. On Tuesday evening, I had to leave the house for an MRI appointment that I was unable to reschedule. Luckily, it didn’t take long to scan the bump next to my left Achilles that has been an annoyance for a few months. Then, straight to bed. On Wednesday, I was feeling well enough to go to work, but by the end of the day my exhaustion justified a second day off from running. Naturally, by Thursday, I was ready to lace up and pound the pavement. But that afternoon also brought a phone call from my sports performance doctor regarding my MRI results. He let me know that the news wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible. The scan showed partial tearing of my Achilles tendon (less than 10%), which was not enough for him to specifically recommend surgery to repair it, but enough that I can’t ignore it. We decided to do an analysis of my running form and foot strike pattern, to determine if my mechanics are the culprit and to work on adjusting them with re-training and specific strengthening. I felt positive about the news and the plan, until I hung up the phone and my thoughts started swirling around one statement from my doctor: “A 10% tear is not a huge deal, but I don’t want you to think it’s nothing. You could still rupture it.” That’s anxiety-inducing. And when I’m anxious, I run. Since I hadn’t run in two days, it wasn’t the most swift or the most relaxed run. That’s when everything came to a head - still feeling sick, missing two days of running, feeling slow, having a bum Achilles, hearing “you could rupture it” replay over and over in my mind… It’s startlingly easy for the delicate balance to shift and let negativity take over. “How am I going to find time for regular rehab and performance training, AND massages AND strength training AND work AND a ferritin check AND when am I going to make all those recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest?!”
When I get overwhelmed, I have to find my way back to the comfort of that one-day-at-a time shortsightedness. To do so, I need to take it a step further and zoom in super-close on a task, as I did that Thursday night when I made a big pot of soup. It demanded attention to mindless details - chop carrots, chop leek, chop celery, mince garlic, turn on burner, slice mushrooms… one predictable thing after another. And then, while the soup was simmering, I let myself sink to the kitchen floor and cry in the company of the dogs. As my sister Lisa has said, sometimes you just need a good cry. Conveniently, my pity party had a time limit; the soup was ready in 20 minutes. Ahh, warm comfort in a bowl. Later that night I stumbled across a video of a cat in a shark costume on a Roomba and watched it a whopping six times. Apparently sometimes I also need uninhibited laughter at ridiculous videos. Tomorrow is a new day, but in the meantime, mindless tasks and silly laughs help to remind me that my thoughts can be my worst enemy. The world is full of wonder and hilarity, and in the grand scheme of things I really don’t have it that bad.