For the first time in eight months I had that feeling. It was just the faintest sense, a mere glimmer. It was fitness. I knew it was there because I felt compelled to do something I hadn’t even dreamt about all year: I checked my weekly mileage (a whopping 49.7 miles, not quite half of what I typically will hit in training). I knew my fitness had caught the slightest of flames because, on Friday night, I set aside my running gear, Body Glide, and, yes, even a water bottle and some calories for Saturday. After five weeks of consistent running I planned to “go long.” I felt that mix of nerves and anticipation that typically comes before a race.
The run was to be bookended by my responsibilities as a father: my older son, Cooper, had a makeup soccer camp session from 9:00 – noon, so I would drop him off, leave from the field, head to the vast trail network of the Western Greenway and return three hours later, shining in long-distance glory (and, I suppose, sweat). I wanted to hit twenty miles and the early miles were fine, so good in fact, that I ran without even thinking about my left knee, the one that had been injured in December, operated on in April, and seemed to not want to get better until the middle of July. It was a beautiful day. About two miles from my planned turnaround it was still a beautiful day. I, however, was no longer feeling so beautiful.
It happened first on the little downhills. There was no distinct moment of reckoning, no misstep or epic fall. Instead, what felt like the top of the right side of my butt just started hurting. It felt fine on the flats and ups, but running down I had to sort of limp. It felt like a muscle and came only when my weight transferred to my right side and then pushed off. I shook it off, at one point smiling thinking about how this literal pain in my ass was nothing compared to the figurative pains in my ass and the literal pain I’d had the first two or three months post-op. Still, the bravado didn’t last too long, and, as I made the decision to turn around, I started worrying about my ability to get back to Cooper in time. And then I started worrying about that steep hill I’d have to run down, on a sidewalk. That was really going to hurt.
By the time I reached this hill of destruction (Mill St, in Belmont, for those in the area), even the flats hurt. My teeth were gritted against the absolute pain, but I still chuckled (on the inside at least), thinking about how much sweeter this pain was than the pain post-op. I began to think I would try to get down the hill as fast as I could, almost sprinting. Upon attempting said strategy, my leg basically buckled, I clenched my jaw and grimaced. I was relegated to a walk that, in a different setting, a person could have mistaken for swagger. Suffice it to say, I got no swag’.
During the last two or three miles of the run a sentence played on infinite repeat in my mind. It was Araceli Segarra, from the IMAX film Everest, in her Catalan accent describing the last push to the apex of the world: “It was the longest hundred meters of my life!” I may not have been scaling the world’s highest peak, but those last couple of miles put a hurt on my body and mind like few others have. I grimaced. I laughed at the absurdity of situation - just weeks after returning to running, I was clearly hurt. Again. I worried what would happen if I couldn’t make it back to the field in time to pick up Cooper. I struggled, both physically and mentally, knowing my “comeback” to running was being further thwarted with each step.
Practice was just finishing when I got back to the park. I smiled to myself for the dual pleasure of having made it back on time, despite what was now something very much wrong with my body, and for being able to sit down on the rail at the end of the field. I was not smiling when I attempted to stand and nearly fell over for the pain and the fact that those muscles in your lower back/upper butt have a lot to do with your ability to move your legs. I smiled again when I made it to the minivan and sat down in the driver’s seat, almost instantly extinguishing the pain. I did not smile when we got home and I tried to walk into the house, each step onto my right leg causing the pain to return in earnest to my right butt/lower back. I didn’t smile much for the rest of the day.
Eleven days have passed since that last run. In many ways it was good I was hurt, as the family went to northern Vermont and New Hampshire, and, being unable to run, I spent more time with my nephews and niece than I ever have before. Nine days after the first flair I ran a total of about 100 yards during a coaches vs. kids scrimmage at Cooper’s practice. The effort was near crippling, nad “graciously” I offered to play goalie for the coaches where I could at least pretend to play whilst looking like one of those blow-up tube-dudes you see outside carwashes and wireless stores. Last night I rode my bike. The leg felt great. Until I got off. Today I was able to hit the stair-climber at the Y and made it to the top of the Burj Khalifa tower. I was able to walk afterward, albeit with more of a limp than the swagger I had a couple weeks ago.
If these last eight months have taught me anything though, it’s to be patient. I believed I was being patient in my return to running – keeping the effort and mileage in check – which has caused this newest set back to weigh more heavily on my mind than any of the difficulties I faced earlier this year. It has taken me much longer to accept this injury and the limitations it has currently placed on me – limitations that were made abundantly clear when my family spent this last weekend in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and two of our three days featured bluebird skies on the high peaks. Limitations that have prevented me from playing soccer or tennis with my kids. Patience. Tomorrow I see Tom Karis, the witch doctor (aka, orthopedic massage therapist), as a first step in seeing what’s wrong (update: he thinks it is the sacrum that got out of line. This update comes on September 25th. I still ain't really running). And, on the bright side, at least my knee feels pretty good! Running will always be there. I’ve gone through this before. In fact, this is how I've spent all of 2014. Here’s to getting better.