Monday, April 13, 2009

Complain, but take nothing for granted

Complaining is a time-honored tradition among runners. We complain pre-race (tired, under-trained, not enough sleep, bad day, etc.), we complain mid-race (too crowded, idiot in front of me can’t keep steady pace, volunteer dropped water cup on my foot, etc.), and most of all we complain post-race (sore/injured, disappointed, should have run harder, should have gone out faster/slower, wore the wrong shorts and got chafed, feet blistered, etc.). We engage each other in a subtle game of one-upmanship at each stage, to us it’s just part of the ritual. To others, of course, it’s just more evidence confirming that we are out of our collective minds.

I ran a 10k road race on Saturday. I could complain about it for a paragraph or two without even thinking too much. But if age and experience were to bring you only one thing, it should be a sense of perspective. Once in awhile, I actually find some.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in a hospital emergency room with a completely severed Achilles tendon, the result of an ill-timed leap for a rebound in a rec league basketball game (what was I thinking?). The thing was just shredded, like a rope that had been pulled too hard and just ripped apart. The on-call physician stood shaking his head and told me that I’d probably never run again (yes, all I was asking about was running, I didn’t really care about much else). Okay, it did happen more than 5 years ago now, but the terror of that on-the-spot prognosis still sends shivers down my spine.

Running has been the one constant in my life. Running has been there for me through the turmoil of adolescence and the ambivalent emotions of growing older, through successes and failures at jobs and relationships, through times of loss and grief, through times of growth and celebration … I’m not certain who I would be without running. The threat of losing running as part of my life was nearly overwhelming.

Luckily, I found the right surgeon, who promised me that my Achilles would look rather lumpy and ugly but that he’d put me back together so that I could run, IF I followed all of his advice on accelerated rehab. I did, and I’m here today running and blogging about it. Thank you.

So, about that race … okay, so it was cold and rainy and windy and way-too-crowded, and my training has been all wrong for this type of short road race. Okay, so I only finished in 143rd place. Okay, so I used to run much faster when I was younger and I always feel just a little bit embarrassed at my road race times these days. Whatever. In the end, I was able to run hard for just over 37 minutes and cross the finish line strong (I actually finished 6th out of 348 in my age group) then stumble into the warming glow of the bright smiles of my teammates who were all happily and breathlessly buzzing about their own races. As one after another crossed the line and joined the impromptu huddle, there was a clear sense of pride over having ignored the elements together and given it our best. How can I complain, really, when so many people couldn’t even dream of doing what I’d just done, and when I myself have been threatened with losing that ability forever?

I think it’s important not to take for granted this running thing that we all love so much. It can be snatched away at a moment’s notice. It is precious, like so many things in our lives that we value deeply but too often treat as if permanent and not worthy of acknowledgement. We should never forget that everything is temporary, which is why it is so vital to embrace each moment of our lives.

The next time you hear me complaining about some silly little thing (“that fourth mile marker was at least 4 meters short!”), look me in the eye and smile knowingly. I’ll shut up fairly quickly. Then again, if only I hadn’t gotten that little blister on my heel during the race I think I could have broken 37 minutes …

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