Laura is training for the Monumental Half-Marathon coming in November…and I was tired of sitting in bed binge watching Breaking Bad. Last weekend came on the heels of legitimately fall weather, that beautiful coupling of sun and low humidity that allows runners to begin cashing in all that summer training that seemed to be getting them nowhere. I, right now, am not one of those runners, but couldn’t help at least putting myself out there, to experience that shift in the air that marks something important, something great, an anticipation of success only so many of us truly understand. Plus…I was tired of laying in bed. I suggested we head to the trails of a close State park.
After locking up the car, Laura jogged off to the trail head and I began a short walk to a different trail entrance point, watching other runners go through their paces, mountain bikers zipping past open spaces in the woods, and feeling compelled. I was only going for a walk, I told myself. I wore dead racing flats, jeans, a t-shirt and heavy sweatshirt. I was truly only going for a walk. But then I stepped onto the trail and began winding through the snaking dirt, around trees, over rocks, and…well…this wasn’t working. I’m not accustomed to walking through the woods. It feels awkward. It feels forced. And admittedly, I was out here to progress my recovery. Walking just wasn’t going to do it.
After looking over my shoulder to make sure I was relatively alone, I started a very tenuous, gentle stepping through the curving trail. Not fast. Not forceful. I just wanted to see how that would feel. Then I kept going, because it felt…just fine. I wasn’t RUNNING so much as just lightly jogging, but it was enough to stress my lungs, which admittedly, takes little to no effort at this point, but still, I didn’t need to back off. My legs were fine. My abdomen was fine. My lungs were, well, not fine. But that was, in part, why I was out there. To begin pushing them back towards their normative levels. There is only so much sitting around and waiting for the body to fix itself before one must take the initiative to help it along, to stress it, strengthen it, build it back up. I’m not one for waiting, so this little walk quickly turned into a very casual, intermittent jog.
It wasn’t a run though and it was barely a jog. My lungs suddenly reeled back in my efforts and I started walking, then jogged some more, then walked, then jogged, then walked, feeling the accumulative stresses building each time I started up again, unable to catch my breath almost the second I started pushing myself each time. I was suddenly relegated to just walking the rest of the way back to the car, up a steep set of hills mind you, but still walking. I made it back to the car, somewhat surprised and thoroughly fatigued for what would, under normal circumstances, amount to nothing even close to a run or workout of any kind. Laura soon found her way back and we drove off for breakfast and coffee.
I wasn’t sure if I had started running again. It was encouraging, yes, but also very soon. I have a leftover suture still visibly protruding from my neck where a 6 inch tube was inserted just over a month ago. Sticky residue from bandages remains visible on the inside of my leg where no water or friction will wear it away. My incision is hardened scar tissue, my internal sutures just now threatening to poke through like spring weather sprouts, as they did last year. The scabs where my enter/exit chemo tubes pierced my body are still the size of bullet holes and, sorry for the TMI, staining my t-shirts with fluid and leakage. My insides…well…who knows what’s going on in there. Still, I can run. I can do that, to some degree, so that’s what I’m going to do. If we can call it that.
I woke this morning, already resolved to run around my neighborhood…this time intentionally…just to see what happens. It’s a 2 mile loop back to my house and I had already chosen my outfit for the day, actual running clothes. I woke with the same resolve and built my confidence through the morning, forcing myself into running clothes before I allowed the motivation to wane too far. I stepped out into that distinct fall weather, and although I wasn’t going to cash in any previous training, I at least knew I had no extra external obstacles to manage on top of everything internal I had to deal with.
Precariously I jogged down the street, not even attempting to push myself, but let each leg swing past the other at it’s own meter, my head down, paying attention only to the effort of my breathing, which this time STARTS as if i’m FINISHING in the death throes of a failed race attempt. It is hard. It does not get easier. It is barely fun, or encouraging, or inspirational. It is just work.
I try to breath in rhythm, but feel as if I’m breathing against myself…which, I am. I can not bring full breaths into my lungs, in part from depleted red blood cells, but also from the internal scar tissue of my incision. My lungs can only inflate so far before they push against the calloused skin, the inflamed intestines, and I’m left to take abbreviated breaths for as long as possible. I do so for the first mile, my watch mocking me with a ticking 9:30, before I bring my legs to a halt and start walking up the street, letting my lungs rest for the next effort.
Looking ahead, I make a deal with myself.
“Walk this block, then jog all the way to 11th. At 11th you can take another break. You can make it there, at least, right?”
I agree and do just that, finding my way to another intermittent finish and let the relief of a halted effort fill my body, holding onto my hips like I just finished a 5k and let my lungs ease back to neutral, except they never do. They are taxed and will stay this way. I have no other option but to make more deals.
“Walk this block, then jog the next two.”
“Walk this block, then jog the two up the incline.”
“Walk this block, then jog home…that’s all you have left.”
Somehow I agree to my demands and am able to reach each one, with lungs increasingly worn from the effort, the two miles feeling embarrassingly long and unlike any effort I’ve had to exert at this distance before. I’m still unmotivated, uninspired, unencouraged…but I had to make it home.
On the porch I still didn’t feel accomplished…just done. I tell myself not to bend over, knowing standing back up will risk a light headedness that will bring me back to the ground. Ultimately, I ran 2 miles, if you want to call it that, and glad to have done it, but not filled with a comeback attitude…that will come later. Right now it’s not about BEING inspired, but just putting in the effort, still in suffer mode, tired of remaining horizontal, too impatient to let my body do the work. This is the time that I have to begin helping things along, speeding up the recovery process and getting through it until the passion comes back, and the excitement returns.
I want to say this…whatever I’m doing…is where I start. I want to say this is where running begins again, but I have no idea. I don’t know what is to come of my body and my abilities in the next few weeks. We start with movement, then a mile, and two…and at some point see where it ends. Call it what you may, but it can’t be denied that it’s at least momentum. I’ll take it.