I love running! I ran my first race in college and I fell in love with the sport. Running was my way to explore places I lived or visited. It has a low barrier to entry; all that is needed is a pair of tennis shoes and the willingness to try.
I have never been an awesome runner, but I was consistent and made steady improvements over the years clocking times that showed my hard work and it gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I can remember the first time I ran a 10K. It felt hard, my lungs hurt and my legs were sore, but I did it. I loved the comradery of all the runners on the course: whether fast or slow everyone cheers for one another.
After completing that first 10k I was hungry for more. I began training for half marathons first with friends and then with training teams. Each Saturday I would wake up earlier and earlier as the runs got longer. Each of the runs pushing and preparing me and my teammates for the grand finale of 13.1 miles. Over the years I did many half marathons; they marked the seasons and dictated our family’s schedule.
2015 started out like any other, train for a spring race then pick back up in August to train for the fall race. But something changed as I was preparing for the half marathon in November, I started to experience some numbness in my left leg. I consulted Dr. Google and began trying various types of treatments to quickly heal my pain and help me be race ready. The race approached and I wasn’t ready, but my desire to be out there with my friends and experience that familiar comradery was so strong I attempted the race. It was not my wisest move, but I did complete the race by limping along the course.
I gave up on Dr. Google and saw an actual doctor and learned that I had ruptured disc in my lower back. I was facing back surgery and the doctor strongly encouraged me to stop running.
The crazy thing about the situation is that my husband, also an avid runner and triathlete, had back surgery just a few months before and was still in a great deal of pain and also facing the idea of a changed set of athletic abilities.
In the months prior to my injury I stood in front of my hurting husband and delivered many grand speeches about everything happening for a reason and that running isn’t your identity and something about how the elliptical machine isn’t that bad. Not surprisingly, these were words he did not want to hear.
Those great speeches I practiced on my husband didn’t provide any comfort once I was facing this reality myself (sorry Honey!) The news was devastating. This WAS my identity. I had a closet full of running gear and bumper stickers on my car. WHY ME? WHY THIS CHANGE? WHAT ABOUT MY FRIENDS?
Some couples get matching tattoos, we opted for matching scars. Our recoveries have been slow and sometimes challenging. We eased back into being active- opting for the elliptical or bike and cautioning each other not to overdo it.
I have big goals for 2016. These are not the same exact goals that I would have set in previous years, but big for other reasons.
My entry back into running will be to support a favorite organization, The Healing Place (THP), an addiction recovery center for homeless men in Richmond, VA. THP is the only long-term recovery program in Virginia which provides services regardless of a client’s financial situation. The focus is not just on sobriety, but on rehabilitation back into society through life and work skills training.
For the past five years a group of runners, some who have never even run a mile come together for 10 weeks to prepare for a spring race in the Richmond area. My husband and I will once again be among a group of coaches that will join a team of residents from The Healing Place each week and together we will prepare for a spring race. Our runners will vary in age, fitness level and stages of their recovery. We will face cold mornings in January and February as we work towards our goal. The coaches will work together to raise funds for shoes and athletic clothes to support our new teammates. For many of our runners working towards this goal of running 6.2 miles and achieving it will bring an important sense of accomplishment to their lives.
I will face challenges during this training program; I will be starting over in my running fitness after a full year off from running. I will experience the hurting lungs and aching legs alongside our team of runners as our bodies adapt to achieve our goal. I am hopeful and eager and excited and nervous all at the same time. I am looking forward to the experience … after all, all we need is a pair of tennis shoes and a willingness to try.