I was running in the woods the other day and I fell. Hard. The kids are away for the week visiting their grandparents, all summer I’ve been waiting for this part of August to get here: visiting time, next week back to school time, back to regular running time.
I have been running for about ten years now. I started after my oldest was born- he was born in December and we would bundle up and go on these epic walks that just naturally evolved into runs. I would push him in his stroller and feel so tough and so proud of myself: look what I could do! I ran desperately hungover, exhausted, rested, feeling fine, in the rain- it was my one thing I hung on to. If I could run I was OK. If I could run I wasn’t an alcoholic, or a bad wife, or a bad mother.
When I got sober at the end of 2012 one thing I was really looking forward to was being able to run not hungover. Then the reality of being newly sober set in and it was all I could do some days to just get through the day much less get out for a run. Four months in I did a trail run that I shouldn’t have done but did anyway and ended up with a nasty case plantar fasciitis that took me over a year to recuperate from.
I had other things I needed to concentrate on anyway- like learning to breathe and not drink and be in the world. Then when I tried to run I wasn’t very good at it anymore. I used to be able to run ten miles and now I couldn’t run one. So I gave up trying. I saw people out running and just wished I could be like them. “Oh, I wish I could be a runner again,” I would think wistfully in my head, “That used to be me.”
Now, this year, 2015, I am finally running again. I think it took me a long time to sort myself out enough to be able to give in to something again. To trust myself to not make it disappearing but a therapy: a part of my practice. To give it what it really is: a run. To not make it into something that saves me but something that soothes me. I don’t need it to be crutch, I need it to be a thing that fills my soul but also a purely physical thing that reminds me of how beautifully my body works- and it does.
It does because I finally got patient enough to practice. I finally pushed my damn ego out of the way and started going out for walks. I would dress in my running gear and stick in my headphones and go out for a walk and it wasn’t long before I was running a little bit. I remember running and feeling like I was flying and looking down at my GPS watch thing thinking I was just as fast as before and seeing that I was running four minutes a mile slower than I used to. Four minutes!
So I laughed and kept going. Because, really, fuck it. It wasn’t important how fast I was going- the important part was that I was out there running- even when I was walking. Practicing.
I’m up to three miles now. I can run without stopping for three miles. I go run to the woods and I jam out to music and run fast and run slow and hug my tree and find bits for my altar. I cry and pray and laugh and dance and feel real-er than I’ve felt in a long damn time.
If you’d told me at the end of summer last year that I’d be running again this year I would have never ever believed you. I was waiting to see the neurologist. I was weak, tired all the time. Stressed. I was sober but I wasn’t paying attention to the next things. Finally after I saw the neurologist in December and a clear CAT scan showed I wasn’t suffering from a big honking brain tumor or dying I could let it go- I could not be afraid and go run. I could have more tests. I could face what was coming, or what wasn’t. I could stop being paused and start again.
It’s funny, the stories we tell ourselves. How things happen at just the right time: I shake my head at how things have lined up and played out over these last couple of years. I look back at last year at this time and then this year and I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown and changed. I think about how last year I wanted and planted a garden but didn’t tend it and this year I only planted tomatoes and they’re big and all over the place and they take some time but not all the time. How last year I wanted to say things like “I’m training for a half marathon” but wouldn’t even go out for a walk. How next fall I want to do my favorite ten mile trail run again but how this fall three miles feels like a miracle.
When I told my mom that I fell running in the woods the other day she said I should think about not running in the woods anymore. That maybe it was time to just stick to safer paths. What if I fell again? But I can’t listen to her story about me, I have to tell my own. It’s taken me a long time to be brave enough to say that.
I used to feel so frustrated that I couldn’t ever reach the end- that I never seemed to be “cured” or “well” or “recovered”. That I wasn’t happy all the time, and zen. That I wasn’t doing it right since I have sad days, or mad days, or days when I just can’t be the woman I want to be despite all my best intentions. But that’s the it of it: the story just goes on and on. I am the woman I want to be in spite of my intentions. Every day is just practice: and every day is the big show- the show is the practice.
So the other day I was running- welled up, full of delight- running as fast as I used to. I forgot to pay attention to the rocks, to the roots, to that voice in my head that tells me I look stupid, or that I’m tired. I flat out forgot to be and just ran. I don’t know what I tripped over, and it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that one minute I was flying and then next I was on the ground. In ten years of running I have never ever fallen even though I spent most of my life falling down.
I breathed and laughed a little and thought I might should cry but the dog looked too confused for me to make her feel worse. I wanted to be so mad: here, out on my first day of my new running schedule, I’d fallen and fucked it up. Instead I did what life is really meant to be: practice getting up, practice dealing with what happens- whether it’s a root or a rock, a day or a year, a recovery, or a skinned knee.