the other 4-letter word

I give infinite credit to runners who can seemingly move their bodies into gazelle-like gallops day after day, year after year, at any time, under any condition, no matter what physical stress is ailing them. Those run-streakers you see on Instagram that are hash-tagging Day #846,435,3537 are simply incredible to me. You are beautiful genetic freaks of nature, and I bow down to your super-human abilities. 

I have not been blessed with a “runner’s body.” At least, not a long distance runner’s body: Instead of long and lean, I am short and stocky; thick with dense muscle and built for quick bursts of speed, jumping high onto stacked boxes, and dead-lifting bars piled with heavy weight. But my spirit is all Runner, and I have pushed this body year after year through long distances against its will. And like any relationship spanning 20-something years, I have loved it, hated it, and loved it all over again. 

My immune system is a fortress of strength for 10 months out of the year. But every year, right around Thanksgiving, under the stress of the approaching holidays, a month of heavy travel in October, and the abundance of social gatherings to indulge in, that fortress very literally crumbles to dust and I can spend up to 2 months piecing myself back together. So this year, when I got sick, I took off my Saucony’s, put on my slippers, and obediently climbed into bed and did not move until it was safe.

Ok, not exactly true.

I cried, I stressed, I poured over Instagram getting serious FOMO watching runners complete blissful 3, 5, 10, 15 mile runs. I asked for feedback and help for reassurance that I was not just being a wimp, that I was doing the right thing sacrificing fitness in order for my body to heal. Why is Rest such a stressful thing for many runners? We joke that it is a 4-letter word, but seriously- why is something that is so good for us when it is needed make us feel so guilty?

For me, the roots of this stress are somewhat deep. I have gone through two major depressive episodes throughout my adult life which made it difficult to motivate myself into personal hygiene, no less physical exercise. During this last bout, I gained over 40 lbs. Getting back into a fitness routine of any kind, running or otherwise, was extremely hard. I was heavy, out of shape, and frustrated that I had ever let it get so bad. It’s taken over 2 years to come back to a steady routine, and now that I have the life back I so desperately wanted, I’m terrified of falling off the wagon again. 

In my mind, I know the rest itself is not failure, but it’s the not getting back up once I am well enough that is. And knowing exactly when that is can be a challenge. 

I leaped from my bed this morning like a child on Christmas morning, wide-eyed and anxious to see if Santa knew what a good girl I’d been all year. After 10 days of dutiful rest and copious amounts of forced extra sleep, I had finally made the decision last night to that I was going to dip a careful toe in the running pond and see what happened. 

And like any good runner, I was prepared for all the conditions.

  • I dressed the part, wore all my favorite winter running things: Teal REI shell, cozy grey cowl neck mid-layer from Reebok, North Face thermal tights (Black, of course. Because slimming), Balega socks, fully charged Garmin. 
  • I stretched all the stretches.
  • I prepped i.e. blew my nose for about 15 minutes straight to ensure proper breathing. Being sick is so gross.
  • I knew I wasn’t going to be running long, so I defaulted to the standard “Favorites Mix” on Apple music that refreshes every Tuesday. 
  • Pet the cats. Kiss the boyfriend. Out the door. So ready!!!

Guys, it was hard!

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy- I had done my best to maintain some strength doing body weight exercises, core work, and some yoga poses daily but I was very aware that my breathing was going to be compromised. And was it ever! I found myself having to alternate between nostrils and my mouth to get breaths. I was sweating almost immediately. I couldn’t get lost in it like I wanted to because I had to focus on the logistics. 

It was one of the longest miles I have ever run, but it was an important mile for me mentally. I broke the seal. I am back. And I feel really awesome and immediately less sick than I did before I ran, because that run confirmed that the rest was really rest and not the early stages of giving up. 

Tomorrow my plan is to do some easy cross-training, maybe the elliptical or the bike and some light weights and then another short go at running the next day. One day at a time, right?