Over the past 14 years I have run, off and on ... never fast, never far, never very well. I think 9 miles was the most I ever logged in a single run. I have had all sorts of weird injuries that caused me to lay off for a while ...stress fracture in my foot, neuroma in the other foot, severe anemia, broken shoulder, some bizarre fainting episode ... but I always got back to it. Until this winter. I went back to the Couch to 5K program. I set a goal... a 5K race on May 21. It seemed totally do-able. I went slow. I added distance in tiny, tiny increments, rested in between days. But throughout this, my knee started to feel very strange, unstable, painful. I'd rest, ice, go back again, figuring if I babied my way to 3 miles, my knee would get the message and come along.
I went out a few weeks ago and did 2.5 miles. It felt fine. It felt GREAT. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing. It was spring in East Lansing. But when I stopped, the knee did too. It puffed up like a balloon and I limped home.
I got my MRI report today and a referral to an orthopedist. There's significant arthritis, in addition to a meniscus tear. The tear will heal. The arthritis ... not so much. I'm thinking the day has come, the day I always knew would come when I took up running in middle age. I would joke, "Someday a doctor is going to tell me my running days are done, and I want to have HAD some running days before that happened."
And I am surprised at the depth of my grief. I was not a marathoner, or a competitor in any real way. But we are embodied beings, and my runs have somehow locked aspects of my life into my bones and muscles, through the combination of muscle movement and the songs on my running playlist. And as I remember my running days, I remember what running did for me. It gave me sanity. It provided me a place to think things out, to wrestle with my life, to pray. This isn't about losing running as a form of exercise. This is about losing my safe place, my processing process, and my prayer time. This is about remembering the gifts that running gave me that have nothing to do with health, fitness, or losing weight.
On that first 5K so long ago, I met a woman at the finish area and we struck up a conversation. She said she took up running late in life as well. "I ran through my divorce," she said. Without running, she didn't think she would have made it through.
And so today as I think about not running anymore, my body, my mind, my heart vibrate with the memories of what I have run through, the things running helped me deal with, the ways running kept me sane.
I ran through:
My father's illness and death.
My mother's illness and death.
My rector's retirement and my year as interim rector.
My childrens' adolescence. This was not a pleasant time and sometimes involved police, principals, elopements, epic failures, screaming fights, midnight phone calls, rescue missions and desperate, terrifying fear for the future.
A move from the place I called home for most of my life to Michigan and a new role as rector.
Deaths of beloved parishioners.
The painful end of a friendship.
All sorts of stresses, traumas, issues, conundrums, attitudes, and crises that come with life in the church.
And then there were the joys. The endorphin-fueled triumph of powering up that long, long hill in Burnt Mills Hills. Seeing spring come in and fall go out. Running on the MSU campus as the marching band practiced and yanking out my earphones to hear them play some James Brown. (I feel good!) Running along the Red Cedar River, past the ducks, the dam, the Rock, the botanical garden. Past the Sparty statue, where wedding parties, graduates, football fans, and alumni back on campus all gather to have pictures taken. Running through clouds of falling cottonwood seeds, like a magical, transcendent, dry snow storm in the heat of June.
And the long, ongoing conversation with Jesus, backed up by music that reminds me of His love for me. "I am not forgotten. I am not forgotten. I am not forgotten, God knows my name..." Israel Houghton and New Breed. "Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms ..." Bishop James Dixon. "Peace will come to me ..." Depeche Mode.
There will be other ways to exercise. There will be other ways to pray. There will be ways to enjoy the vista along the Red Cedar in all its moods and mystery. But for today, I honor that THIS was my way to sanity. THIS was my way back to solid center. THIS was my way to honest conversation with God.
It was good. And it's gone. And today I remember everything it gave me.