Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Small Step in 2012

The Confucius saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." With that in mind, I began my first run of 2012. The sun disappeared behind the woods-lined track in the late afternoon dusk, and I cinched up my laces extra tight, paused at the starting line, and took my first step around the oval.

The step is only significant in that it’s my first determined step since spraining my ankle just over three weeks ago. While the coloring and shape of my foot has returned to normal, I’m just now able to walk without the lace up brace I’ve relied on so heavily over the past 24 days (who’s counting?).

January 2 has been the date circled in my head that would mark my return to running since being relegated to the couch.
In these 24 days, I've written the alphabet backwards and forwards, in uppercase and lowercase, in cursive (remember cursive?) with my right foot. I've done tight circles and long lazy circles with it while watching TV, watching traffic, or simply watching the world slip by. There's been no heat, moist heat, heat from the steam room, the sauna, the shower, ice cubes, ice packs, and icy hot. I've hopped, hobbled, and walked (forward and backward) around the house, up and down stairs. I've poked, prodded, and massaged the swollen areas.

Everytime Saturday came around again, I marveled at the progress and imagined with great hope and whimsy what it might look like in seven more days.

My wife and I took our dog to the track and began speed walking to get things loosened up. When we reached the back stretch, my confidence rose with every step I took without pain. Gone was the tightness in my Achilles, the quick, sharp pain at the top of my toes, and the dull ache that lingered on the outside of my ankle.

Memories of races past and hard fought interval workouts on this very backstretch began to whisper to me as the wind bit at our faces.

When we hit the quarter mile mark, I chickened out and decided one more walking lap was in order. My wife urged me on and laughed as she dropped a few steps behind me and mock chased me as we sped around the turn.

A small pit grew in my stomach as we took on the final 100m that would mark a half mile. This feeling, at this moment, on this track, was familar. It's the anticipation of the next interval, when the first 100m of recovery feels like there's an infinity of rest to be had. At 200m, the breathing returns to normal, the stinging in your muscles recedes, and you think that, "Hey, this isn't so bad." But after 300m, when you steer around the final turn and stare at the final 100m of straightaway that 90 seconds ago seemed to go on into eternity, is suddenly approaching at warp speed, and though the stinging may have receded, the body never forgets.

“I’m nervous,” I finally said out loud.
“Don’t be nervous,” Rachel said. “You’re going to be fine, whether it’s today or another day.”

I crossed the line, took a deep breath, and said, “Here we go.”

My first footfall on the injured foot rattled with pain. I grimaced and trudged on in a slow jog around the first turn. My foot felt like the heavy, yet delicate tree limbs encased in ice after a day’s worth of wet snow. With each step, the casing began to crack and my foot gained a wider range of motion. Like Forrest Gump, the braces fell to the roadside, only instead of getting faster, I grew more uncomfortable. My foot felt like it lacked the up and down flex it needed to complete each stride. At 50m, the pain grew too great on the inside of my foot and throughout my Achilles.

“I have to shut it down,” I said, and I returned to a brisk walk.
“I’m proud of you,” Rachel said.
“For what?”
“For not pushing it and letting it heal correctly.”

We forged on until crossing the line for the fourth time to mark one mile, the first of the new year. Rachel carried on while I moved to the outer lane and worked on my core. At least I could keep getting stronger so that when I can finally run, I’ll be ready.

“Are you disappointed?” she asked as we made our way back to the car.
“Not as much as I thought I would be,” I said, actually believing that answer. “It’s my second full day without the brace and I can walk pretty damn fast and my ankle actually feels better that all the scar tissue is breaking up. I’m not thrilled but I’m optimistic.”

So, where to go from here? I am a walking, foot-flexing machine! To the dog’s delight, I am trying to get in three miles of walking a day and will see if I can pepper in some Gallo-walking. It’s 11 weeks until my first goal race of 2012, the Rock ‘n Roll DC Half Marathon. Will I hit my sub-1:20 goal?

One step at a time.

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