You know the old cliche….when one door closes, another one opens. Well, I wouldn’t say that the door to my running career closed, but lets just roll with this analogy because I do have a point My body tried to close that door some time last May. I am certain that it was never meant to be a permanently locked door, but rather a gently shut door with a do not disturb sign on it. My body gave me warning signs to rest, and like any good compulsive distance runner, I ignored them. Running has been my freedom from insecurity, my companion, my sanity…..so much a part of my life that I didn’t even know or care about the how or where to look for another door to open. My solution seemed simple, do what I could do. If hills were bothering me, run flat. If speed was bothering me, run distance. Alter the training but never back down. Constantly keep jiggling the handle on the door. Wait for the do not disturb sign to come down so I could waltz back through to my happy place. Over time, however, the heat in the room started to build….the hurt and anger and frustration inside of me, the feeling of a lost soul not sure where to go to get back to normal ignited a furnace inside the small room. I spent time in therapy, seemingly chasing a rabbit. When one injury would subside, a new one would crop up. Undoubtedly the product of my running with some sort of altered gait, my subconscious protecting my injured part(s). I hopped from one doctor to the next, more time, more money, no permanent fix. The heat in my room swelled the door into the frame, the handle stopped even giving me so much as an encouraging jiggle, the do not disturb sign became tacky and adhered itself permanently like a lacquer. More frustration, more sadness, more confusion. I began to spin in circles and though I probably ballerina twirled right past 8,000 unlocked doors saying “please come inside and rest”, I ignored them all. Well, i’m not sure if I am drawing this knowledge from some action film, or from something I learned during the fire safety class in elementary school, or just some sort of common sense….but, if the heat inside a room becomes too intense over time, and the room has windows, the windows will eventually blow clean out of the frames. Am I being a bit dramatic over this? Maybe. But it all has a positive spin on it coming, so bear with me.
It is easy to become consumed with a routine. Especially when the routine you are in has a positive impact on you as a person, and there are measurable goals that you are improving on, new limits you aim to achieve. For years, my running routine centered me. I got used to certain limits, and accepted them. I knew about what pace I would always run a long run. I knew where my aerobic threshold was and what pace I would start to feel the lactic acid burn. I knew the mental point in a 5k where I tend to give up and decided “i’m not a 5k runner and I really don’t care about this race”. Breaking through any of those little barriers was always encouraging. A faster long run then normal with the same amount of effort, a short race where I decided to dig deep and was able to hang on, a marathon PR even! (I know, i’m not getting to my point, yet…sorry) These were all fine things to be focused on, but when my body decided it needed a break, and I didn’t take it….. I was no longer able to follow my routine, I was no longer able to exceed or even meet up with old, lesser goals and achievements….and yet I kept trying to press on the same old door. Everything that wasn’t running related was unimportant or insignificant. I don’t mean that as in people in my life, I just mean in my daily “what I do for me” life. I didn’t really have any goals or limits I was shooting for outside of running to make myself feel good about me. When the windows finally busted out on my “room”, I would love to tell you that some beam of light shone in from the heavens and all inner peace was immediately restored, that the stress of my injuries was whisked away, and that I floated through the window on a cloud while eating a chocolate brownie sundae that made me lose weight instantly. But that would be a huge crock of shit. I have been approaching the broken windows with timid caution, removing the fragments of glass from the frames, throwing down yoga towels to protect me from the shards, and stepping out into the sun. I finally had a talk with my coach and we agreed that time off from running was the one thing I really hadn’t tried. I have cross trained on elliptical trainers, in the pool (hate), and (once) on a road bike (i’m not so good at that). But never really true, solid, REST. Being that I needed to have some semblance of exercise in my life, I turned to yoga. I have done yoga before, but it was never a focal point for me. It was a preventative measure to try to help with my ridiculous inflexibility. Something to entertain me occasionally if I happened to come upon a free evening. I don’t mean to write all this to say that I am giving up running and going to take up full time yoga either by the way. But I had a moment today as I left my class, the kind of moment I have certainly never had with yoga….or with anything, really, outside of running in quite a while. In the (feels like 2 months) 10 days I have been off running, I have gone to 6 different yoga classes with 4 different instructors. I have done the kind of yoga that makes me sweat streams and I leave with quivering muscles, and the kind where I don’t sweat at all and just focus on relaxation. I think they all have their place. The common theme for me has been that while yoga is supposed to be relaxing, I haven’t necessarily found it to be so…until now. The postures that are supposed to be rest postures have been challenging for me, and I would find myself frustrated at my inability. I do realize that I probably sound silly right now talking like I have been enlightened in 10 days of doing yoga… and I don’t mean to. I am a total novice at it, and not good at it at all. But, it is successfully filling that space that for so long has had no substitute for me in the absence of running. Yesterday, I went to a class where for the first time I was able to maintain the breathing that is supposed to flow throughout the practice in rhythm with the movement. Today, I went to my second session of hot power yoga, where last week I almost passed out, and made it through feeling strong. I have found an awareness of which postures irritate my injuries, and know when to push those limits and when to back off. As I was driving home from today’s class, I realized I had that “runner buzz”…that feeling you get after a really killer track session, or your longest run ever. I had a little mini zen moment. I felt excited, and accomplished, and refreshingly tired (yes, that makes perfect sense!) Over the past 3 days, I have gotten out of bed for the first time in as long as I can remember, and experienced a strange sensation….nothing hurting. I have become so accustomed to the every-morning pain and stiffness associated with 100+ miles weeks, that it has been normal for me to very gingerly step out of bed. In the final few weeks before my break, I was being awakened in the middle of the night by pain in my back and legs. Over the past few nights, I have woken up and tried to figure out what was wrong…..until I realized that what was “wrong” was that I was comfortable. Don’t get me wrong in all this, I can’t wait to get back to pounding the pavement. I have my sights set on short and long term running goals ranging from a successful pain free 30 minute run to the 2016 Olympic Trials. But, the first thing I needed to do was get healthy, and get happy, and get grounded…. and I feel like I am getting there. It’s 60 degrees outside right now, and my legs are fresh and I want so badly to go for a run….but I am giving my body the time I promised it, and I am experiencing some new goals, some new limits I can test. I realized that I have emotional limits I can work on too. I feel like a fish out of water walking into yoga classes where the faces aren’t familiar…. it’s good for me. It’s good to peak out these windows, to open my eyes to other avenues to test myself and cross over new boundaries. Oh….and I called in a guy to remove the do not disturb sign from the door to my running happy place. Once it cools down in here a bit, I am confident it’ll open for me again.
Thanks for listening to my self reflecting ramble y’all. I encourage you all to go ahead and open your windows. Don’t wait for the heat to blow them out.