farewell to running

At breakfast after the last race I ran: the Capitol Hill Classic 2010.

Today is the day of one of my favorite races, the Army Ten-Miler. It is also the day of the Chicago Marathon, a race I had planned to run as my qualifier for the Boston Marathon. It’s a beautiful day in DC, perfect fall running weather, and I’m imagining the same for Chicago, where my friends Corry and Jeff are running their annual marathon. This morning, I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to make my way to the start line at the Pentagon like I have in years past. Instead, I slept in. Then I took a walk. An hour walk over the streets (read: hills) of Cheverly that I used to run every morning. An hour into the ATM, I would have been just over two-thirds of the way done (if I count by the time I set the last two times I ran it, when I clocked the exact same time for each race). But that was before my back betrayed me. That was before I had this conversation with the doctor on Thursday.

Me: So essentially what you are saying is that I can never run again?

Doctor: You can do whatever the fuck you want, but I highly recommend you never run again.

It’s true that I had been nursing this fantasy that one day he would say, “take a short run, Chelsea. See how it feels.” And I wouldn’t care how slow I felt or how hard the 5-mile course I used to practically do in my sleep seemed after a ten-month hiatus. But I’ll never again organize my day to the beat of my feet hitting the sidewalk. I’ll never again take aggression out on [fill in the blank] by charging up a particularly steep hill. I will never again be able to judge the outcome of a day by whether or not I managed to not step on any sidewalk cracks on my final sprint home. I will never be able to rely on a week of 5-mile runs to ensure that my favorite jeans will fit just right before the weekend arrives.

Well, I could do these things, but for a price. I assume it was accidental (and not some cruel calculation the doctor made to give me a preview of what I look forward to if I don’t take his advice) but joining me in the waiting room the other day were two people in wheelchairs and one man with two canes who sat in his chair moaning in agony until he was ushered into an examination room. My steady pain-level of three, while annoying and throbbing and limiting at times, seemed nothing compared to how these people felt.

I know there are other sports and activities, but I need time to mourn running. I was never a team sport person (unless you count cheerleading, which I know you don’t unless you were once a cheerleader too) and my horrible hand-eye coordination makes options like tennis and golf not impossible but a challenge (I have thought I could get really good at tennis though if I had a hot instructor). But those aren’t sports you jump out of bed at 5:45 and do for 45 minutes and come home ready to face the day.

So I accept my doctor’s advice, though not without tears and not without envy at all those runners setting PRs or just enjoying the camaraderie of a race. After all, the end of our conversation could have been worse.

Doctor: Your shoe choices don’t help your back any, but I know better than to tell you not to wear heels.

I don’t have running, but at least I get to keep shoes.