What is a runner if she doesn’t run? How much run-less time passes before she isn’t a runner anymore? How many spin classes and bootcamp sessions before she’s become gym rat instead; how many bike rides before she’s a cyclist; how many spasmed muscles and cracked bones before the sport that taught her how strong she was dissipates from her veins and sunsets itself?
Chronic injury is not something I expected to deal with. To paraphrase Amelia Boone, my body had always cooperated so well, had carried me through so many adventures. Even when I didn’t do everything it needed of me, it still did everything I needed it to. What is it signaling now, with its hotspots and bruises?
We used to rise every morning hours before dawn; we had a routine. We had neon-colored shoes lined up in neat rows, tights and arm warmers and hats and knuckle lights. We broke the foggy seal of sleep with my best friends, laughed and flew and sweated and burned, we exploded the morning wide with our joy. We posted impressive race times and earned medals. We ran longer and longer, learned how to be tenacious and unyielding. We were so able.
The other day, I went to a lecture by Ariel Levy, one of my favorite writers (of whom I have many, now that I’m reading all the time). She wrote an entire book, aptly titled The Rules do Not Apply, about growing up believing on some fundamental level that they don’t. That the rules about sexuality, gender, marriage; the rules of biology and age and parenthood, can be shirked. That if she was determined enough, she could do and have whatever she wanted. I used to believe this about my body and my sport.
When she signed my book, she remarked that I had a hardcover copy. I told her I bought it before the paperback release. I had been desperately snatching up books to save my injured soul, I explained. “I’ve had a lot of health issues this year,” I said, thinking of stress fractures and tendonitis and depression and anxiety. “So I’m reading a lot.”
“Oh no,” she said. “Have you had to be in bed?”
A new question.
I have not been in bed; would I survive that? I don’t want to think about it.
She signed my book, “I hope you’re running again soon.”
God, so do I.
A physical therapist suggested maybe my body was just breaking down. A podiatrist told me my feet were weird (?!). My sports chiropractor told me I was strong and that this is not the end. My friend has had chronic ankle injuries since infanthood, and once told me she might have to give up running for good. But she hasn’t.
Who can tell me what to do about my body?
I read another book, So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, in which the protagonist is an athlete who gets diagnosed with MS. The control, the teamwork of body and mind, that she had enjoyed without realizing it for her entire life suddenly burned away.
Would I survive something like that? I don’t want to think about it. Should I?
What if I’m broken?
I think about Amelia Boone a lot. She had two stress fractures in a row and then ran an entire loop of the Barkley marathons, and she talked about it with such reverence and joy.
The trees and the mud and the deep sky and the muscles and the bones and the effort. The shoes, tights, lights. The blown-open world. The run.