After the fall
You want to hear something great? I’m invincible. I’m hardly sick, I rarely get injured, I ride my bike somewhat recklessly along city streets at rush hour with nary a scrape to show for it. Some months I travel every weekend and some weeks I have plans every night and some nights I can’t sleep for hours but still wake with the sun and face the day. See? Invincible. Or so I’ve always told myself.
I’ve really been putting this invincibility to the test recently. Nothing like a half marathon training schedule to hold that claim up to the light. I’d been running almost daily when it happened: I got a cold. Just a little cold, some congestion and wheezing and troubled sleep. Wednesday evening came and went, as did my running club, starting out on our weekly run along the sidewalk across from my house on a perfectly beautiful day. I watched them from my living room window, chicken soup on the stove and an aching in my heart.
A few days later, when my sniffles had subsided, I set out for a run with some friends. Five fast and sweaty miles later, I felt a strange twinge in my left foot, one that lasted for a few days. My nurse of a roommate ordered a rest, which I reluctantly observed.
I finally got back on my feet in time for a Saturday morning trail run, the first I’d done with my running club. It was a gloriously crisp, blustery fall morning, a chill in the air despite the cloudless sky. We piled cozily into cars and set off for the wooded trail head in a nearby park. We shivered as we peeled off our outer layers, gripped our water bottles, and headed off.
And this wasn’t any trail run. This was intense. We seemed to always be heading uphill or downhill. Again and again we were met by roots and rocks to hurdle over, sharp corners to turn, mountain bikers to dodge. My miles of road running on flat, wide, paved surfaces did little to help as I glued my eyes to the ground right before me, willing my feet to lift higher, feeling my ankles on the verge of rolling on uneven surfaces. The nine of us stayed in a single file line, talking little as we maneuvered our way past overgrown branches.
We had a couple delightful pauses, one to rescue two collarless dogs, roped together, that had gotten tangled among the trees. Our imaginings of a cruel owner abandoning them in the thick of the forest came to a halt when we soon discovered, having led them out of the woods, fancying them our new mascots, that they actually belonged to the nearby stables and had only just run off.
The next break came with a trailing pack of cross country runners, panting through the woods. We stopped to cheer and clap, watching the resolute high schoolers’ faces whiz by, too tired to acknowledge our encouragement. But I like to think we kept them going.
And then came the fall. It was maybe mile four or five, enough time in that my wobbly legs were less willing to spring up over every obstacle. Who even knows what caused it—A poorly placed rock? My own protesting feet?—but in the blink of an eye, I was sprawled on the ground, my dirt-streaked hands having caught most of the blow, and my right knee incurring a good scrape. Nothing like a little blood to make me feel like a real runner, I suppose. I picked myself up, urging my companions that I was just fine. We carried on.
What seemed like mere minutes later to my tired mind, I found myself flying once more through the air, this time skidding quite powerfully, my left knee taking the brunt this time. I just wanted to even myself out, that’s all. Dark dirt clung to my fresh wound, more blood peeking through its earthy outer layer. We only have a mile left, said our leader, words that were music to my ears. If I didn’t look down, I could hardly feel a thing. I powered through and finished with the pack, weary but triumphant.
A day later, I ran again. (Can’t stop, won’t stop. I may have a problem.) My tender knees couldn’t take the rapid bending and straightening, so I landed each step on the balls of my feet. My calves were the next casualty, and I hobbled around like a grandmother for days.
So, what gives? I want to be invincible. I don’t want to rest, to admit defeat, to change my perfectly laid out plans. I want to say yes to everything, eager to be hospitable and helpful and ambitious. You want me to babysit your kids? Of course. Run a 10k? Sign me up. Invite the archbishop to my house? Check. Host you for the weekend? Absolutely. Commit to a weekly activity that ends in May? Done.
But, my two successive falls have brought me down to earth, and not just literally. I’m starting to learn the art of saying no when necessary, my need to set my alarm an hour later once in a while, the time to forego the run of the day, even though doing so will cause me to veer off the ordered schedule I esteem so highly.
You want to hear something true? I’m weak. Weak and limited and, well, human. And thank the Lord for that.