Why We Rest: Injury

Sitting in frustrated pain, I’m elevating my foot. A week before a race, a race I’ve been planning for for months, training for through a harsh winter, running for indoors just to get the miles in — and a simple, stupid misstep means I’m going to miss out.

Injury happens.

In over a decade of running I’ve sat out a half dozen races with pulled muscles, tweaked knees, cramped calves, inflamed arches, or stinging sciatic nerve pain. It can be lingering in the background, warning of impending failure. Or it can sneak up and leap out of a dark corner of good intentions and leave you angry and frustrated at the lack of warning.

Today I’m nursing a bruised — maybe even broken — toe.

I don’t know for certain. I could — should — go see a doctor and have an x-ray done, and perhaps that is even the most sensible thing. It’s not pride or laziness that keeps me away. I’ve been here before and they’ll just say “stay off it for a couple weeks.” So instead I’ll just look at the purple, tender tarsal that is ringing up my leg with pain with every step I take and realize that I probably just need to rest. No doctor required.

History tells me more bad news: this means the chance I’ll be in shape for a half marathon in five days is deeply, sadly, frustratingly unlikely.

Injury happens, and rest is often the only recourse. “Stay off it for a couple weeks.” Forget about running, at least.

Tackling some household maintenance, I stepped off a stool and clipped the edge of it with my pant leg. I watched in slow motion as the stool lost its balance and rocked over, landing with a crack on my big toe. Blood. Pain. Some PG-13 language uttered in the presence of my daughter. And a day later I’m sporting a purple shade and barely able to pull a sock over my foot, let alone walk.

This just means that racing through icy winter roads to do a half marathon is on hiatus this year.

It also means that I need to remind myself that sometimes the most important part of training is taking some time off. To rest.

How to Injury (with Style)

  1. Yeah… “stay off it for a couple weeks.”
  2. Take up a low impact sport for a change: swimming or some light spin.
  3. Write about it on social media.
  4. No, really… “stay off it for a couple weeks.” It sucks but you’re injured because you’re [insert one: tired, sick, over-training, imbalanced, clumsy] and probably need a few days off.
  5. Adjust your diet: injured doesn’t mean sit on the couch and each nacho chips instead of working out.

Why We Run: Footprints

If I were to let the snow get under my skin, metaphorically speaking, I would quickly grow fat, lazy, and boring in this winter city where the frost holds dominion for nearly half of the year.

Cold — brutal, toe-freezing, shivering cold — is my reality for at least two months each year. Those two months are fringed and spastically punctuated with just a lingering, discomforting cold, but for two months furnaces blast a hovel of safe warmth through the wood and insulation of my small prairie home just to maintain a glimmer of protection against the deadly outside.

I do have a personal rule about just how much cold I will realistically tolerate. It is a gut instinct really, though calculated based on time of day, length of run, strength of wind, trail conditions, precipitation (usually frozen), just how far into the season we are and how much my tolerance has been leveled, my overall mood, and if there is anything good on Netflix.

That means if something falls outside the comfort of these rules, I hide in my house. If it doesn’t? I make footprints in the snow.

It has been many years since any deep or abiding fascination with true path-finding through my city clung to my conscious purpose in running these trails. My early running career was one of seeking new routes, entering unfamiliar trail-heads, and breaking with the known with a careful expectation of adventure. Curiosity drove me to reveal many paths.

The unfamiliar quickly mingled with the everyday. After a couple years, finding new paths became a rarity mixed among the plodding necessity of race-training.

Fresh snow changes that.

Trails, routes, paths are all trampled with a quantitative measure of feets. The more prints, the more common the path. The more prints, the more people have already found a particular route through the wilds of the city.

Untrod branches in the path beckon. No prints tempt of the allure of something less common. Perhaps we are not the first to go this way. It is unlikely, in fact… but there are few enough that to break through a fresh snowfall on a trail feels closer to exploring than just plodding along in the cold for mere mileage.

Why We Run: Resolving

Forty-eight hours into a brand new year and I can already feel the motivation slipping.

I set a thousand and one goals as the hours ticked down on last year: eat better, run often, write boldly, worry less, post clean, capture moments, and dig deeper. Resolutions writ bravely upon a fresh new calendar, and all of them seeming abruptly ambitious now that the hours press into days and soon into weeks.

The very first thing I did on the morning of January first, however, was the same thing I’ve done every January first for a decade: I’ve run a five klick race.

I woke up, drank coffee, pulled on my shoes, and driven to the annual Resolution Run. We traipse into the cold of the new year, be it minus forty or a balmy barely-sub-zero as this year. We linger at the start. The anthem is sung. The other new years clock counts down to the 11 am and we run the first run of the year.

Five klicks through icy, oatmeal, mashed-potato’d streets and cold. A new year and a new resolve, and over a pancake breakfast on the floor of a small recreation centre gymnasium we ponder our distance totals from last year and our grand ambitions for this new one.

After a depressing December of too much food and dwindling motivation, we dash into just another day with a kind of renewed appraisal of this sport, and resolving to set grand goals in the blur of it all.

How to Goal Set (using your head)

  1. Set simple, manageable goals. Y’know… things that you can actually accomplish. Sure, there’s glory in shooting for the moon, but very few people actually get there.
  2. Make yourself accountable to someone (besides yourself).
  3. Write stuff down. Measure. Track. Record. Make a spreadsheet or keep a journal. Take photos of your ass in the mirror. Something. Your brain is fickle and will convince you of failure unless you can present it with hard evidence of success and change.
  4. Don’t wait for a special day to start. Go live today.
  5. Remember that incremental change (and success) is worth celebrating.

Why We Run: Coffee

I have just sat down at a crowded table in a crowded cafe nestled in center of an even more crowded recreation complex. It’s Sunday morning. I don’t know many of the people milling about in the building or even the cafe, but the table is ringed by chairs full of sweaty people who I’m delighted to call some of my closest friends.

We’ve just run. We’ve just laced up and plodded for some distance, maybe long, maybe short, around the vast suburban sprawl and along the winding, tree-lined asphalt trails and then, eventually, back to the shelter of the glass and steel complex which, as it turns out, was our most honest destination: the coffee purveyor and a crowded cafe in the middle of that very building.

I’ve been asking myself for ten years: why?

Why do I wake up early on Sunday morning and rush towards a long, painful training distance run?

Why do I eagerly lace up after a hard day of work just to climb up and down concrete hill repeats?

Why do I pull on my warm layers of moisture-wicking fabrics and beat down snow covered paths just to accumulate some mileage on an otherwise quiet morning?

But then I find myself at that crowded table, warm coffee in hands, and understand that without the run there remains no excuse.  Without the run I’m am outsider in this group.  Without the run I have not earned the beverage.  So I run, and then I buy my medium-sized paper cup filled to the brim with a nutty, dark roast brew. I pull up a chair… and I take a sip. 

Coffee, it turns out, is one of those social lubricants that eases the distances between groups of people with vast gaps between their personalities. We may slog through the streets together week after week after week, but bring us together around a few wobbly cafe tables and the nuances of those relationships emerge.

Construction workers mash minds with computer scientists. Receptionists relate to elementary school teachers. Retirees sip brew across from university students.

In a world of oh-too-many claustrophobic relationships built inside silos of perception, we run… and then consume hot caffeinated drinks alongside people we’d be otherwise unlikely to encounter.

We run for fitness, but the coffee is the metaphorical whipped cream upon the sundae of strengthening our bodies and shaping up our health.