June 28, 2016

Health : Injury & Healing

At 18 miles, I ran my longest run of my life last Sunday morning.  It was pretty hard for me, in large part due to the fact that I chose to do a trail that ran steeply uphill for the first three miles. But mostly because my legs got tired and I got really hungry during the last hour and had forgotten snacks. I had to stop and walk a lot, and I kind of hated the last half of it, especially the last two miles that felt long and tortuous.

Overall, I don't look forward to the long weekend runs, or the amount of shorter runs during the week, that are part of the marathon training process.  I don't really like running this far, or this much.  I love the expanse of time that long runs give, the meditative quality, and the transition from effort to ease that surprises me each time. But because I'm not used to this distance, I have to drag myself out of bed to do it instead of looking forward to it as a time to recoup and gain energy.

Since I haven't been enjoying it much, naturally I wonder why I'm doing it. And actually, the answer comes pretty easily.  One of the goals that guide my actions are to experience as much life as possible, life being defined broadly as the spectrum of nuanced feeling and awareness.

Running has given me this in a very physical way. It's made me more acutely aware of when my body is and isn't functioning. When you're young, you think you'll always be able to run.  It doesn't take any skill or conscious learning to make the motion.  Being fast is a different story, but most everyone can run. It's one of the things I like about it.

But I wrote my last post in the midst of an overuse injury that made it somewhat painful to just walk. And I could tangibly see my body as separate from what my mind tells my physical self to do.  As a generally abstract and emotion-oriented kind of person, it surprises me sometimes when something visceral overcomes my will or feeling. Injury is so interesting in the way it changes your daily experience and reminds you of what you did to yourself in the past.

After several days of rest and ice, wrapping my foot, and getting new shoes, the pain actually went away.  I tell so many of my patients the same advice, and it's somewhat dissatisfying advice because I know people just want something to help them get back to activity right away. And I never know how soon things like this do actually get better. So when it got better, it felt a little bit like a miracle, to be able to feel concretely the effects of caring for myself.

I'm not sure which sensation was more jarring--the presence of the injury, or its absence.  When the pain went away and I could run comfortably again, I kept having to ask myself every few minutes into a run: is this how I normally feel?  Am I really not feeling anything in my foot?  I couldn't really remember what it was like to be pain free.  Feeling the absence of pain was a new sensation, a different normal from how I felt before the injury.

So all in all, I felt like I got to know all these different environments my body can inhabit: injury, healing, and a settling back into the space that injury once occupied.  This isn't to say that you should run to injure yourself.  More that--being open to difficulty gives way to more experience than just the difficulty itself.

And fittingly, running these distances has pushed me to seek out new terrain, and get views like these, to stand above and look down to fog below.


  1. As one foot injured person to another, I feel you! Literally. There was a point in recovery where I dramatically thought it was never going to go away and that I would limp for the rest of my life. (That's when Brian rolled his eyes at me and told me to just rest, ice, stretch, and wear sensible shoes. Turns out you and he are right!) But the absence of pain has been a weird one too--worrying it's coming back. Glad you're feeling better and getting back out there!

  2. I can relate to the worry of it coming back! It's hard to tell what's normal and what might be the start of something. I'm glad you're not limping anymore and already starting to climb!

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