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.

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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.