This week marked 6 weeks since my last run. That’s 42 days… the longest time I’ve gone without running since 2002.
I think it’s fair to say that as I slowly start to pound pavement once again, I’ll be starting from scratch.
While I have tried to maintain my fitness with daily cross training and strength work, gym-based fitness just isn’t the same as running fitness. I needed to stop for a walk after just 3km into yesterday’s run, and after two days of running 5km and 7km, my hips are telling me I’m about 100 years old. I guess all those weeks without a pounding has left me a little fragile, not to mention softer around the edges.
I’m now 5kg heavier than I was on the Comrades start line (admittedly, that doesn’t sound like much but it’s more than a 10% increase in my usual weight). And while my face certainly looks better, less haggard, my clothes are snug and I’ve had to buy new sports bras. I’m not in a particularly good place.*
Nevertheless, I’m a firm believer that all things in life happen for a reason and while the reasons behind a particular event or set-back may not immediately be apparent, time heals all and gives us great perspective.
On the one hand, I think that 12 weeks off running post-Comrades has been a necessary evil. A good long break without any kind of training or performance pressure was the only way I was going to get over my “running burnout”. Even as a started running again 7 weeks ago, I dreaded lacing up my shoes, my anxiety rising every time someone asked me about my upcoming race goals. I just didn’t want to do it. Now, I can hardly wait to lace up and take Barkley out along the Braamfontein spruit once again.
I also needed time to heal – to do the rehab required to treat my back injury and to build up my strength and explosive power. Without being limited to a moonboot, I probably would’ve skipped out on these much needed exercises, running is a far more efficient form of exercise than gym or cycling after all.
And so here I am. The most unfit I have been in my entire life, and the second heaviest I have ever been. Starting from scratch. And in that I gain something else, another benefit easily overlooked. I gain empathy.
Despite tearing a hamstring, glute and calf muscle in the past, I have never broken a bone. I have never been booked off most forms of exercise for more than 3 weeks. This probably made me unsympathetic to athletes around me (and those whom I have coached) who have suffered similar setbacks in the past. I think I’ve just always expected people to bounce right back. How hard can it be to start running again, right?! Well…. now I know… hard.
But, it’s not impossible. Truthfully, picking yourself back up off the ground, slowly building up your fitness and strength, shedding those unwelcome kilos requires commitment, daily dedication and an indomitable spirit. That said, it really is as simple as asking yourself daily: “how bad do you want it?”
Yesterday, I thought very seriously about packing it in, throwing in the towel; confining myself to being a “when we”, a coach and team manager as opposed to competitive athlete. For a moment I thought that trying to make a comeback (again) would be just too difficult, too much hard work with absolutely no guarantee of success or reward. I told my coach that I had had enough. I was going to retire or, at the very least, take a sabbatical from which I may or may not return.
But this morning, when I woke up, my hips sore, my ankle blistered from the stupid lace-up brace I have to wear while running for the next four weeks, my gut complaining from the 2 glasses of red wine, cheese and chocolate I’d eaten to console myself last night, I asked myself: “Ann, how bad do you want it? Enough to give up wine, cheese and chocolate? Yes. Enough to run in that uncomfortable brace until my ankle is strong again? Yes. Enough to ignore my aching joints as I slowly (and heavily) pound the tarmac once again? Yes. Enough to risk failure and defeat, knowing that I gave it my best? Yes.”
And that’s really all there is to it. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way. And though the path may not be straight; it may be littered with potholes; and there is the constant risk of taking a wrong turn, ultimately if you set your sight upon your goal and move toward it every single day, you will eventually reach your destination. I should know, it took me 10 years to get a gold medal at Comrades.
I’m still figuring out how to navigate the road ahead. I don’t know if I’ll be changing the way that I train, the way that I think about running and racing, or the way that I deal with adversity. I probably have to. The one thing I do know is that I don’t want to stay where I am right now. And regardless of whether I’m running away from today or toward tomorrow… its time to start running.
*I’ve always said that to the extent that its true that people look like their dogs, I don’t mind resembling my sleek and slender German Shorthaired Pointer. But, having welcomed a beautiful French Bulldog called Baxter into our family two months ago, I’m starting to panic that I look more like little Baxter than Barkley!