When I was captain of the cross country team in high school, I hated running.
The only reason I ran long distances in intense Floridian heat through mud, grass, and sand for three years was because I lacked the hand-eye coordination to play team sports. Running was just something I could do. Not well, really. But do nonetheless.
I was the second fastest girl on my team (which probably didn’t speak much for my team. Only the fastest girl ever qualified for States…the rest of us were in it because we found community in complaining about how much we hated running and giving our coach a hard time about how short his running shorts were. And some of us liked to run, I guess.).
Yet running became an acquired taste after a while, and I became hooked on the adrenaline rush at the start of a race and the endorphin high at the end. I wasn’t a good runner, but I worked hard at it because the rewards (and the burned calories) were worth it.*
My body, however, wasn’t meant for running. Especially after I gave my growing bones their first taste of calcium depletion during the soy-free summer, I found myself getting hurt a lot.** In fact, I qualified for Districts and Regionals during 10th and 11th grade respectively, but had to miss both due to a lateral stress fracture in my right ankle. (I finally ran at Regionals in 12th grade, but a race at States remained outside of my grasp.)
In 10th grade, the fracture happened while I was running from the school soccer field (where I was photographing the JV team for the yearbook) to a drama club meeting. I slipped on the side of the sidewalk in the bus loop. By the end of the next day, it hurt too much to walk, and I spent Districts cheering my team on from the sidelines.
In 11th grade, I had something of a compound injury (or a compound case of being an incurable klutz). While conditioning for Regionals, our team took a detour through the woods behind the school when we came upon a small chain looped between two posts. Each of my teammates cleared it in turn. It was only about a foot and a half off of the ground, but when I tried to jump over it, my right leg got caught and I went down on my face and hands. A few days later, we were running next to the fine arts building when I tripped over a concealed sprinkler head. My ankle rolled and gave out, leading me to sit out of Regionals for that year.
Why was this relevant five years later? Because the dysfunction in my right leg came back to haunt me when I picked up the corporate Wellness Challenge in late May of 2010.
I bought a pair of minimalist New Balances and opened up my Nike+ app on my iPhone. I went out for a run every morning–no matter how early my shift. There were days when I was up and on the road by 4:30 am.
Running outside was liberating…It was cardio, sure, but it was different from the hours on the stepmill or the arc trainer. It was a time for clearing my head, for listening to my breath, for pounding my anger and sadness and anxiety into the pavement.
The only problem was that it wasn’t helping me lose weight. In fact, I seemed to just keep getting bigger. In mid-June, I saw a picture of myself at a family dinner posted on Facebook, and I was mortified. What had happened to me? Hadn’t I been listening to ED and eating small, “clean” meals all alone and running as hard as I could?
While on a four-mile run a few days later–and I will never forget this exact moment, the exact telephone pole I was passing, the exact quality of the light in the mid-morning–I felt a little “tweak” in my ankle. That’s all it was: a tweak. A slight twinge of “something’s not right here.” But I kept running, because I was still just under 2 miles from home.
The next day, after a few miles, I felt the tweak again. I ran home anyway, because it was just a tweak.
Each day, the tweak started a little earlier, until one morning I had to stop running and walk home, because the tweak had become a pain.
*Okay, the burned calories were probably the main reason. But I loved the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a good race–or the pride of being able to add “Cross Country Captain” to my high school resume.
**I was also dealing with a major kinetic chain imbalance that started in my knee and manifested itself in my hips and ankles: I developed a benign bone tumor on the growth plate of my right knee in 1999 (two years before the soy-free summer). I spent two years in and out of a knee immobilizer and on and off of crutches and/or a cane. I wasn’t able to have the surgery until January 2002, so I had plenty of time to develop the kinetic chain imbalances that I wasn’t educated enough to correct by the time I started running in 2003.