“Five more minutes passed, then ten, Louie’s arms began to waver and go numb. His body shook. The beam tipped. The guard jabbed Louie with his gun, and Louie straightened up. Less and less blood was reaching his head, and he began to feel confused, his thoughts gauzy, the camp swimming around him. He felt his consciousness slipping, his mind losing adhesion, until all he knew was a single thought: He cannot break me.” –Lauren Hillenbrand, Unbroken
* * *
We all know that break-ups typically lead to a serious workout regiment (or at least, for a month or two). Well, take a nearly-eight-year break-up and you end up with an entirely new lifestyle.
For a girl who has always had some sort of issue with her body/ weight/ face/ etc., this was almost a blessing in disguise. I finally had a legitimate reason to wake up at the crack of dawn and run 6+ miles before class or my internship. Everyday. Every. Single. Day. For 6+ months. (Casual.)
In High School, I would run a mile and call it quits (read: before the mile was over). Now, running 3 miles at a time seems ‘not enough.’ Runner’s high became my form of therapy. It was my way to cope with a broken soul, a broken heart, and a broken spirit. It gave me a daily escape – a few minutes to think about …well, nothing.
They say it takes as many years to recover from the amount of years you spent emotionally invested in a relationship. Maybe I’m really just screwed for eight years (four down, four to go!), but who really knows?
After graduating and moving into Manhattan, running remained a means of escape; a few minutes every morning to clear my mind.
When simply lacing up was not enough, I started racing. Training gave me purpose. Now I was running towards something, instead of away from it.
* * *
The racing bug bit me hard in June 2013, when I ran in NYRR’s Pride Run. (From dying after one to five whole miles! Who would’ve thought!?) Later that summer I signed up for what is now my favorite race every year – Women’s Health’s Run 10 Feed 10 – a 10K that raises money and awareness for hungry Americans.
And so to make the humid summers pass by quicker, I would sign up for a few races, making sure they were spaced out enough to keep me satiated until it was too cold to be outside anymore.
This year, I decided that I was going to run 4 races and I was going to PR in each one. I had three goals: 1) a 10K under :50 minutes; 2) to run Central Park’s outer loop 2x without stopping; and my longstanding goal, 3) a 5K in :21.
Several weeks and one friend training for the marathon later, I had 8 races under my belt.
I had decided to sign up for my first half marathon: Grete’s Great Gallop, sponsored by Memorial Sloan Kettering. After watching Severine, my running partner, lose summer ’15 running to cancer, this was my way of telling her that I run for her, too. Races became part of my training; and honestly, it was a fantastic summer to be a runner. I ran my fastest 5K, clocking in at 24:04! One week later, I finished my beloved Run 10 Feed 10 in my best race to date: 49:46. Euphoria doesn’t even begin.
And one week prior to my half, I did the Central Park double loop. My very last training run – a glorious 12.2 in 1:42.
Two days later, I was jogging my last medium distance, when my knee started to send some SOS signals. I wrapped up that morning early – not even finishing one full loop. A little foam roll, ice & ibuprofen and I was all set.
Except the knee wouldn’t stop crying out for help.
Google tells me it’s a mild case of ITBS, or, runner’s knee.
I hung up my shoes for the rest of the week. Biking, icing, elevating, I tried it all. Via suggestion, I even rolled out on a lacrosse ball, making sure my muscles were truly being treated.
‘Better,’ I would say when people asked me how I felt. ‘But not 100%.’
* * *
So tangent: I have the most amazing friends.
Paul and Leigh (and our cheerleader, Ashley) came in from Boston and DC to say peace out to cancer with me this weekend. I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it is to be able to stand next to these two seasoned runners. Cross country veterans, I only started my relationship with the pavement a few years ago. To be able to even keep up with either of them is truly humbling.
Sunday morning, I woke up feeling very good. I had spent the last several days thinking about the power of mental toughness and listening to the perfect half marathon playlist. I knew it would put me in the right mindset to reach my newest goal: 13.1 in 1:45. I had a new mantra: if you have the right music, you can do anything.
We had breakfast and headed over to Tavern on the Green and jogged our mile warm up. I was fired up. After Severine’s diagnosis, I had forgotten what it felt like to have friends to run with.
Post-battle with the women’s bathroom line, Leigh and I hustled over to the corral, hands over hearts, midway through the Star Spangled Banner. A few words of good luck and a moment to honor Grete and Fred, we were off.
I was feeling really good – and how could you not, if your opening song is One Direction – and according to Strava, was keeping pace for 1:45. Looped around the lower half of the park and I was keeping it steady.
Then came Harlem Hill. And right on cue, my knee gave out.
* * *
I had spent the entire week making sure I was mentally ready for the worst. If it hurt, I had to stop. Walking – typically unacceptable for myself during any race – had to be an option. Shake it off and try again.
So I walked, shook it off and tried to run. Absolutely not, my knee said. Ab. Solutely. Not.
I thought of Louie Zamperini and the beam above his head. Months of enduring physical, mental, and emotional abuse and he held that beam with every ounce of his frail, nutrient and sleep deprived body. Pure will.
But all the will in the world did not let my knee carry me more than a few inches. I had only made it one-third of the way.
As dramatic as it sounds, I limped, with tears streaming down my face, to the medical tent. I had quit – my personal equivalent of failure. Months of hard work that ended in an epic burn out.
You are no Louie, I told myself.
* * *
Who knew that a sport could break your heart so badly?
* * *
I’m still licking my wounds (read: my knee/ IT band & my pride), but I couldn’t and wouldn’t let my ending ruin the moment for anyone else. While my personal attempt for 1:45 collapsed with my knee, it didn’t affect the hours of hard work that Leigh and Paul put in too.
So I became one of those obnoxious sideliners – cheering my little heart out.
To my fabulous friends, congratulations on your incredible race! Your enthusiasm and tenacity are truly unmatched.
* * *
Running and I had a talk, and we’re going on a little break. We looked into
a little couple’s counseling booking a doctor’s visit and can only hope for the best.
It’s how the story goes: our love was just too great. We didn’t know how to handle it.