Last Wednesday night I got to do something I'd yearned to do for weeks: I plugged in my Garmin.
Unused since Dec. 4 it needed a charge because I had a run in the morning.
I can't accurately express how happy I was to be able to state that: I have a run in the morning.
I last ran on Dec. 29 - last year, for Pete's sake - after a three-week hiatus, courtesy of the whole back thing.
That day I took an easy, 30-minute treadmill run to assess how I felt. I felt great. Oh, God, how I missed running.
Then, about 3 hours later I was stiff as a board and in pain. Back to prescription ibuprofen and Flexerol. A great chiropractor worked out my kinks over a few sessions and I felt good, but he cautioned that the stress of running may put me one step forward, two steps back in terms of my glute problem.
I decided to take the entire month of January off to really give it time to strengthen and rest.
I've been able to resume bootcamp to continue strengthening, and time on the elliptical was a Poor Man's sub for a good run, but it also kept me from medication and pain.
It was so hard to abstain for a month. Given we've had an unusually mild winter, I'd see my running brethren out in force. I'd drive by them, a little jealous and a lot sad. That should be me.
I also really missed what running did for me metabolically: Burned crazy calories. Even a short, 30-minute run was like a calorie-burning furnace. By 7 am I'd be done with my run and face the day with a great sense of personal accomplishment. But, for January, that was on hiatus and I had to make hay elsewhere. I wasn't a fan.
There were clear roads and relatively warm temps. There were miles to run and races to prepare for, and, hell I wanted to get back on with it already.
Finally, the month was over and it was time to try again.
Wednesday night I went through my pre-run ritual. Finding my clothes, my sneakers, my cheap-but-effective hat and gloves. Headphones? Check. Nano? Charged. New playlist? Arranged. Reflective gear: Located. Weather: Clear and cold. Sunrise? 7 am.
Earlier that week I posted a question on Jenny Hadfield's Facebook wall: How do I get back into running without reinjury?
Hadfield is a veteran running coach, author and expert, and her advice was awesome:
Basically, go back to where you started: run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes and repeat for 20 minutes. Gradually build up your time and slide the ratio until it eventually it's all running.
That made sense. After all, I learned to run with C25K, why not go back to a similar setup to rehab my legs and endurance into running shape?
Now, when I thought about the day I could run again, I assumed it would be at the gym. I hadn't planned on a mild winter and clear roads. When I got up Thursday and looked outside, it was criminal to head to the gym.
My best rehab would be on the road and since there was no snow or ice, why waste time driving to the gym and getting a treadmill when I could run my old routes? This is amusing because less than a year ago I was petrified of running outside.
So I did just that. My chiropractor cautioned me that a key to continued healthy running was improved strengthening of my core (hello bootcamp), stretching and warmup. I did my regular bootcamp warmup and stretching, then walked for 5 minutes.
The Garmin counted up: 4:57, 4:58, 4:59, 5:00. And I was off.
I made sure to take it easy and loose. I'd check my watch and as soon as the 2 minutes were up, I'd stop for a walk. Rinse and repeat. It seemed to be over quickly, I went home, did my usual bootcamp cooldown and stretching, and I was back in the running game. Or was I?
Even when I was hurt, it didn't hurt when I ran. It was the 6 hours or so after when I stiffened up like a board. I spent the rest of the day almost waiting for the other shoe to drop or, really, back to stiffen. But it didn't. I felt OK.
Sunday was my next scheduled run day. It was brilliantly bright, sunny and a seasonally-appropriate 15 degrees when I headed out. (Note to self: Capris are not cutting it, get full-length running tights). Did my warmup and stretching, walked for a bit then headed off.
It was so great to run outside again. It was cold, but gorgeously sunny. My legs felt strong as they pushed off and landed. My arms pumped smoothly and my breath came out in big, beautiful plumes of white. I felt lean, light and loose as I quietly ran through my old haunts, by bare trees, brown grass, and barely iced over little streams. My favorite running music blistered through my headphones, broken up by the scratch-scuff-scratch-scuff of road sand shifting beneath my shoes.
It felt poetic and just right. And I was so very grateful to be able to enjoy what I love once again.
I came in the house and after stretching I headed for the bathroom to shower. I caught my reflection in the mirror: My hair was matted from sweating under the hat. My face and shins were pink from the cold. My torso looked flat and lean in a long-sleeved white running shirt and my legs, oh God, my legs looked - pardon my French - fucking fantastic in my running tights.
I hadn't seen that woman in a while. I couldn't help but smile like an idiot at myself. Welcome back.