I should smile more, I thought, as I swung my right leg into the car, which–due to recent injury–was just a bit more clumsy than the left. My hip brushed up against the car console and I felt a slight twinge of pain, a reminder of that lingering stress fracture that just won’t go away.
You know, like those happy runners always do.
I sighed, and put the car in reverse, then drove off towards that flat piece of trail waiting for me at the bottom of our road. Boring, yes–but flat, which is essential when you are healing from two femoral neck stress fractures. Maybe today I could get a short run in without any pain. I was doubtful. It had been 8 months with no luck.
Maybe that’s my problem, I thought, I should smile more, like those happy runners do.
Because let’s be honest, there are two types of runners in this world.
There are those that reach out to other runners and join local running groups.
They run to meet new friends, and for the pure love of the sport.
They high five during the races.
Their enthusiasm radiates as they run down the race course.
They don’t obsesses over finish times, they don’t ignore their bodies when it is time to rest.
They don’t puke before the marathon starts.
Then there are the other runners.
They need running like drug addicts need their fix.
Sometimes their obsession can turn dark and ugly, beating themselves up over bad finish times and injury.
They push through pain, they push through injury.
Their world revolves around finish times and workout times. Times, times, times.
They are never happy during the race, they are only happy when its done.
They have injury after injury, but won’t stop looking at the watch.
As I pulled to a stop at the entrance to the trail, I was already mentally beating myself up. What kind of runner was I? Looking back on the last year, I already knew the answer. Let’s face it, I brought these two stress fractures on myself. Now, I had missed the Boston Marathon and spent most of the year not running at all. Each attempt to begin running again had just brought on more failure. How had I let something that had once been so beautiful in my life turn into something so ugly and resentful?
Here goes nothing, I thought, as I got out of the car and hid my keys.
It had started to rain, and I tucked my sleeves into my hands to keep warm, covering my watch from view. The Garmin beeped, and I began my run. And there it was, that same throbbing in my right hip like always.
Only this time, to my surprise, after about half a mile, the pain went away.
I felt surprisingly good. My watch was still covered by my shirt sleeve, and as the rain beat down, I decided not to check it. My feet felt light and airy for the first time in months, and I began to dart over the rain puddles. I was soon caught up in a quick-footed game of puddle hopping as I headed down the path. I began to sweat from the effort, and raised my head to the sky and welcomed the cool raindrops showering down. Looking out across the path, I gazed out at the Columbia River, and watched the waves become increasingly choppier. I could see the massive Hood River Bridge in the distance–the fog billowing up from all sides like it was a gateway to heaven. Was it always this beautiful on this trail? I couldn’t remember.
The rain pounded on, and I could feel my body’s rhythmic breathing inhaling and exhaling to the the cadence of my feet. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a well-oiled machine. As I turned around for my final mile, my legs were burning more than they should have been. Clearly, I was out of shape after months of no running, but the burning felt good, like an itch that was finally getting scratched. Oddly, my whole body eagerly welcomed the fatigue in my muscles and the strain on my lungs. It was like I had just hopped on a bicycle for the first time in years, and was happily peddling along down the trail. I pressed on, picking up the pace and dodging the puddles faster and faster as the rain came down.
My watch was still covered with my sleeve, but for the first time in years, I had no urge to check it. All I knew was I loved the sensation of my muscles working hard and my heart pumping rapidly. It made me feel alive and happy and whole again.
And then it happened.
I smiled for the pure joy of running and the way it made me feel at that moment. I smiled for being alive that day, and finally coming off of 8 months of injury. I smiled for the beautiful view and the feeling of my blood rushing through my veins. I didn’t know my pace, and I didn’t care.
I just smiled.
You know, like those happy runners do.
There it is. My run, recorded on Strava that day. It certainly wasn’t my fastest, but by far, one of my favorite 5K’s ever.
Runners, be thankful for every run.
And don’t forget to smile.
That’s what its all about.