I reached 5 miles with a smile. I turned at the half way mark, a pedestrian bridge across the Fox River, and I ran back down the ramp towards the riverside path.
And then it happened.
My ankle buckled. I flew with the downhill momentum. I landed in a heap, with a bloody knee and instantly swelling ankle. And I sobbed.
I had spent 5 months in the biting cold of winter, one foot after the other pounding the icy pavement, and now I was two weeks away from the half marathon I had signed up for in an effort to hold myself accountable.
I needed the winter running to stay sane. I refused to spend months of cold gray skies huddled inside, depressed and agitated. And so I ran. And it was awesome… until it wasn’t.
Some time in April, I felt the resentment building up. I hated this. My feet were blistered. It was becoming harder to fit long runs into a schedule of work and life and 4-year-old-wrangling. I no longer enjoyed the short runs that I once loved.
So I almost quit.
After all, I reasoned, the point of signing up for the half marathon was to avoid seasonal depression. And here I was in the middle of spring, having survived. So did I really need to make that grand gesture of the final finish? Especially if I was hating it?
I gave myself one last long run before making a decision. It was two weeks before the big race. I laced up my shoes and prayed and ran. It was a quiet Monday morning by the river. All was going well. Until I flew. Until I broke down weeping next to the river, knowing that the decision was made for me. The pain throbbed through my feet and legs, and I felt simultaneously out of control and relieved.
I was being forced to quit.
I limped around busily for a week, massively underestimating how much I needed to let a sprained ankle rest. Maybe I felt guilty knowing how close I was to actually quitting. But the truth is that when I’m immobile, I feel useless. I’ve never believed I am worthy of sitting still and resting. So I kept busy, icing my ankle and popping some ibuprofen when the pain surged.
Not surprisingly, my lovely therapist called me out on my clear lack of rest. No, Jamie, I’m not listening to my body. No, I don’t feel rested. No, there’s no where in my body I don’t feel tense right now.
And there’s the problem: the tension wasn’t just from the injury. Sure, my legs and back were overcompensating and it’s no wonder they’re sore. But my lungs and chest? That’s anxiety. An old familiar friend I thought I’d managed to cope with, or at least numb out.
Because here’s the thing. Running for me is a lot like writing. It’s reflection. It’s prayer. It’s quiet and peace and rejuvenation. Without those things, I am driven to trying to control everything. And when I can’t control everything, when I can’t fix things, I am crushed by anxiety. It starts in my lungs and works into my shoulders and settles in my throat like a rock.
It’s the kind of reaction that paralyzes your rational mind, making you believe that you won’t feel sane again anytime soon. That you’ll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop whenever things feel comfortable.
But isn’t that life? In this case, the shoe didn’t just drop; it slammed into the ground at an obscene angle, tearing ligaments until my ankle was unrecognizable.
But despite this melodramatic attitude, I know it’s just a small hitch in the process. It’s not a roadblock. Healing may be exhausting and frustrating, but things will go back to normal, the way life always does.