Over the last few weeks I had a date highlighted on my calendar: September 2nd, Labor Day. This day was significant because I planned for it to mark my triumphant return to running following my foot surgery. This day was chosen because it allowed me six weeks of recovery time for my foot to heal and for all the swelling to go away. Why six weeks? It seemed like a respectable amount of time to be down and out from my sport of choice. Besides, it is the same amount of time I have taken off after each of my previous surgical setbacks. Yes, I've had a couple. Six weeks is just long enough for me to miss my runs without going completely crazy from inactivity. I have never missed that six-week goal in the past and I had no plans to miss it this time around either.
This Saturday morning I met that goal two days early. My plan was to lace up my running shoes and do a simple test run around the block. There would be no worries about pace, form or appearance. Just take some easy strides to see how my new foot would feel during repeated strikes against the road. I still have a mild limp when I walk, but it is so slight that no one stares at me with that pathetic "poor-thing-bless-her-heart" look in their eyes anymore. I figured I would last about a half mile and be totally spent from exertion, since I had not done any physical activity to this degree since the day before my painful bunion was removed. My shoes were worn and my running shorts were snug from the weight I gained while laying around with my bum foot propped up.
Nevertheless, I walked out the back door and turned on my running app, as I headed down my street to put the shiny new foot to the test. Initially, it felt a little weird because I am still struggling to use a normal foot strike. Ever since I ditched the crutches, I have been walking with an under pronated foot strike, meaning the outer part of my foot touches the ground first and rolls inward. Supposedly I adopted this bad habit in a self preservation move to protect the tender ball of my foot while it was still swollen and healing. If I don't make a conscious effort to correct this soon, I might end up permanently jacking up my foot in other ways I never intended.
With my bad running gait, wearing too tight shorts, I managed to surpass my initial expectation of hitting a half mile and stretched this little test run to a full two miles. It felt like I had the starring role in a short film called Fat Girl Running. According to my running app, my stats included an average pace of 4.0 mph, which equals a painfully slow 15-minute mile. For any non-runners reading this right now, that is equivalent to a brisk walking pace. I was breathing hard, with my lungs and quads burning, but I was out there and I was moving. That's all that mattered to me. I felt like I'd won a major prize.
When I turned the final corner and hit the home stretch back towards my house, another runner was passing me on my left side. She smiled as she ran ahead of me, probably assuming I was a rookie runner because of my uneven stride and slow pace. My stupid pride forced me to straighten up a little to try to look sharper as she passed, but it didn't matter. She was already long gone and too lost in the bliss of her own morning run to notice me. That was when I was reminded that this little journey was mine alone and not meant for anyone else to care about or understand. I had to make this run, as well as all the others, for my own sense of accomplishment.
There would be no medal at the end and no cheering crowd to greet me. Later in my life, it may not matter to me that there were no witnesses to see that I'd met my little goal on this average Saturday morning. But it will matter to me that it happened at all. It will matter to me that I have never let a setback permanently sideline me. It will mean something to be able to tell my kids that I got myself back in the game without any whining about how far I still have left to go. It won't matter how sore I was at the end of this little two miler, but it will matter that it took far more determination just to start this comeback run than it ever took to finish it.