a girl’s gotta run

It has been 15 months since I laced up my sneakers and hit the road for a run. 15 long months of being crazy because I don’t have an effective replacement outlet for my emotions. 15 long months of feeling bigger than my skinny jeans like me to be because running is the only cardio workout that makes me feel close to svelte. 15 long months of envy, agony and depression when I see other runners getting to do what I so miss.

Being in San Francisco drives my desire to run more than any other place. I love the fog. I love the temperature. Running along the Embarcadero, exactly four miles from my hotel to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, there’s an eerie morning silence juxtaposed by the companionship of other committed runners.

As I sit here and glare at the cross-training shoes I brought so I could use what passes for a fitness center at the hotel, I know that if I had my running shoes this morning, I’d risk increased back pain for the joy of running. I’d kill to feel the dampness of the fog on my face and to experience the exhilaration of pushing myself to a faster pace. Because of my training sessions at Fitness Together, I’m much stronger now than I was 15 months ago, and I want to test that out too. Would I run faster? Could I run longer? Would I be able to attack hills with greater ease?

Oddly, I don’t even remember the Last Run. I doubt I knew at the time that it would be the last one. I’m sure I got up one morning before taking the back procedure journey and headed out the door for my morning run assuming I’d do the same the next day. Then the next day, I most likely couldn’t get out of bed.

I feel like I deserve a Last Run do over. I deserve a chance to bid running adieu. The hardest thing about not being in pain like I used to is accepting that I can’t pick back up and train for the Boston Marathon. I can’t even do the Capitol Hill Classic, a 10k which in the past I found “not long enough” but would do “for fun.”

If you are the worrying type, stop. I’m not going to do it. I know my doctor would kill me if I went back to him and had to explain what I’d done. I know my cross-trainers would not give me the support I need to make the run pleasant. And I know that I’m so very lucky to have been relatively pain-free recently and that I’m lucky I get to wear heels.

A quick run down the hallway in said heels is going to have to suffice for now.

a miracle beyond explaining

Remember Beatrix the Back Brace?

You might have read somewhere that I have this back problem.

Over the last four years, varying degrees of pain from excruciating to consistently annoying didn’t always limit my activity (two marathons, multiple 4-inch heels) but it does tend to mess significantly with my sleep. It isn’t that I don’t have those nights were I zonk out into a deep and dreamless sleep (well, the dreamless part rarely happens). But chalk it up to a high tolerance for pain, a general acceptance of the situation even after so-called “surgery” to repair my torn disc earlier this year, or maybe a little avoidance too, on most days I don’t let it bother me and you wouldn’t necessarily see me after a rough night of sleep and know I’m running on fumes. (Or maybe you do and you are too polite to mention it.)

The latest diagnosis for those who haven’t been following my progress is that the disc is repaired (so I didn’t wear Beatrix for nothing) but I have arthritis in the lumbar joints around where the damaged disc resided. This realization was good news to my physical therapist – because the pain is manageable – even if admitting I have arthritis feels aging to me.

Under the watchful eye of my PT, for the last three weeks, I have stepped up my fitness routine. The positive aspect to be pain being as a result of arthritis is that activity helps reduce the pain. That is, while I was restricted with the torn disc, with arthritis I’m encouraged to be active. With that in mind, I signed up for a package of personal training sessions at Fitness Together, a gym that exclusively offers individual workouts. I have taken a number (okay, three, but the results are amazing so it feels like more) of ballet barre classes at Red Bow Studio. Back in my weekly PT visits, my suite of exercises has increased in pace and difficulty, and each sessions concludes with an extended period of “body work” (code for deep massage) followed by 15 minutes of electro-stimulation therapy under a heating pad. All that and I’m still taking a killer amount of Naproxen, which is an improvement over the muscle relaxants and narcotics my doctor prescribed the last time I saw him.

As I mentioned, collectively we have been plugging along with this routine for about three weeks. Then on Christmas Eve, I woke up groggily, feeling rather puffy-eyed from my melancholy of the night before. As I lie in bed getting my bearings, I suddenly was struck by a sensation I barely recognized.

For the first time in four years I was waking up to zero pain. Zero. Not an ounce of stiffness, not any low-level lingering discomfort. On the zero-to-ten-zero-is-no-pain-ten-is-the-worst scale I was a zero.

On Christmas day, same deal. This morning, maybe just a hint of stiffness, but otherwise, no pain. I don’t know how to explain how I went from waking up – on average – as a seven on said scale to waking up a zero, but for now I am attributing it to this new increased level of fitness training and activity.

I still miss running. I still feel pangs of jealousy when I see runners on the road on my perfect weather days. Today I am going to pack up all the winter weather gear and clear drawer space for the new indoor workout clothes I got for my birthday. But for now, I’m going to savor these pain-free days and nights. I hope beyond hope they continue.