Grit & Grace: The Finish of One Marathon and the Start of Another

This is a little ditty about my post-marathon journey, the good, the real, and the ugly. It was written in December and so the story continues, but I'll save that for another post. 

So, a little caveat before I begin. I recognize that there are a great many people in this world enduring far greater struggles than my hip injury. This is simply my personal journey through the last three months, how my injury has impacted me and what I have learned…all of which applies to my every day life.

Find the Next Reservoir. Run Strong, Run Free.

Those were the two mantras that emerged for me during my marathon training this summer. Run Strong, Run Free had more to do with running my own race; with letting go of expectations that I perceived others had for me; with letting go of all 'shoulds;' and with letting go of my attempts to be as fast as I was pre-babies (which was never exceptionally fast). It was all about moving forward, in strength and freedom, the freedom to run my own race, my own pace, and to enjoy every step, even the painstaking ones.

Find the next reservoir emerged for me during a long training run when I thought I was toast around mile 7. And then suddenly at mile 10, I found a new reservoir of strength and energy, a reservoir that empowered me to surge for the last six miles, finishing stronger than I had begun. I wholeheartedly believe that there is always another reservoir of strength awaiting us, we just have to press on to find it. Sometimes that reservoir gives us the strength needed to keep going. And sometimes that reservoir gives us the strength needed to stop and say, "I've reached my limit." And the latter sometimes requires more strength than the former.

During the marathon on Labor Day, the further I ran, the more reservoirs I discovered. Even at mile 20 when my hip started screaming at me, everything in me, except for maybe my hip, felt like continuing on. In hindsight, knowing what I know now, that I had both a stress fracture and a torn labrum in my hip, I wonder if I should have stopped. I don't know. I've asked myself the question a million times. And countless people have asked it of me, which if I'm honest, is always a bit triggering. Perhaps it's triggering because I'm unsure. And yet, I think by mile 20, the damage had already been done. I was limping bad and it hurt just as much to 'limp walk' as it did to 'limp run,' and my hunger to cross that finish line felt more intense than it has ever felt before. It had been such an incredible race for me up until that point and I had prepared myself for struggle. I didn't know what it would be or when it would come, but I knew that it would. And I told myself that not everything about the race would be perfect or go according to plan, that I would struggle AND that I could and would still have a great race. I could hurt AND have joy at the same time. I could run with both grit and grace. Unlike in any previous race, I believed this was possible. So just past the 20 mile marker when my hip grew angry, I knew I was at the point for which I had prepared myself. And there it was, my last reservoir. It never actually occurred to me to not finish. It really didn't. For the last six miles, pain and joy ran side by side, with a limp, and crossing that finish line was nothing short of a broken hallelujah.

Little did I know that the marathon finish line was actually the start line of what would be another long and grueling race, one in which I wasn't sure I had adequately trained for, one in which I would need to find reservoir after reservoir to keep soldiering on. I follow a number of runners on social media and I've read my fair share of race recaps, comeback stories, and running related pieces in general. And while I know that runners are sidelined by injury from time to time, the focus is almost always on either the race before the fall or the comeback that follows it, but it seems that very few people talk about the barren stretch of road in between. Maybe this is because people don't care to read about the road of injury, it's not where the glory is found. Or is it? See, I actually think this is the important stuff. This is the real stuff.  How one navigates the deflating reality that injury or pain renders, the uncertainty that clouds one's {running} future, and the agonizing physical or emotional pain itself, well, that's the stuff that reveals what a person is made of. Or at least that's how I see it. And this extends far beyond running to the shattering moments of real life. It's when the rubber meets the road, when you must dance between grit and grace. It's knowing when to fight being sucked into the black hole of self-pity and when to let go of expectations, to pull up the warm blanket of grace and stay in all that you are experiencing.

You see, for me the marathon turned out to be just the training for the real race, the real life that was to follow; life on crutches with two active and needy boys, ages two and four; life in which my ability to ever cross another start line still hangs in the balance; life in which the stress is mounting and one of my biggest avenues for coping with stress, exercise, has been stripped away. That's my race right now. And I'm looking for the next reservoir on a daily basis. I thought that running marathons was exhausting, but it has nothing on crutching my way through life while attempting to care for my family, a house, and a counseling practice. I will never look at a person on crutches the same way again. I have a new empathy and it runs deep. If I ever see you on crutches, don't be surprised if I come up and hug you, even if I don't know you well or even at all!

I tend to experience life in seasons and cycles and rhythms. And there seems to be two predominate cycles I find myself in. One cycle is when it's all clicking, I'm in my rhythm. These are typically seasons when I'm running consistently, I'm strength training, I'm eating well, my faith feels strong, my heart feels hopeful, and I feel mentally strong.  It's all connected and it's all clicking. I feel unstoppable in these seasons.

And then there are those seasons, seasons like this time of injury, or really any season of struggle, when it seems the darkness, self-pity, frustration, apathy, and utter lack of motivation play through my life like a song on repeat. These are typically seasons in which I'm not running, my usual healthy eating tends to go to you know where. Apathy wins out and I eat whatever, whenever. It's when it's all too tempting to seek a false sense of comfort at the bottom of a jar of salted caramel sauce. I could get up and do plank work; I could go to the gym and work my upper body; But I don't, not when apathy is winning, not when I'm in this cycle. In these seasons, I usually find myself believing that I lack the strength to kick at the darkness until it bleeds light, to borrow the lyrics from an old favorite by Bruce Cockburn.

And I believe this type of season has its place, a valid place. I need to feel these feelings. I need to be in it. I need to recognize the darkness. Because only when you recognize the darkness do you appreciate the light. I know that I can't and I won't stay in this cycle forever, because after a while it just starts to feel like a hampster wheel of despair. But I have to let the feelings run their course. And the light always comes, the reservoir is found. Something shifts and pokes a hole in the darkness and it's flooded with light.

During the last two months I've spent some time in the downward cycle. I've cried in the shower. I've thrown my crutch to the ground in frustration. I've watched friends run races and been filled with a heart-exploding combo of joy and excitement for them and silent despair for me. But my faith reminds me that beauty comes from ashes, silver is refined only by the fire, and deep within pain there is beauty to be known. And that, that is what is carrying me through this season, looking not only for the next reservoir of strength but also for the reservoir of beauty. I feel like I'm being refined and it hurts. Yet, I have discovered beauty in the pain. Crutches have taught me both patience and rest. My humility has been summoned as dear friends have come around me, bringing us meals, getting us groceries, and cleaning our house. It's tempting to be weighted down by the panicky feelings like, I owe them, how will I ever pay them back, rather than humbly receiving these gifts of friendship with deep gratitude. This season has slowed me down, just enough to savor the beauty, the beauty in playing on the floor with my boys, the beauty in letting my husband love me with small (but really huge) acts like carrying my coffee out to the deck for me and doing all of the laundry. I'm a do-it-myself kind of girl, so this receiving thing is no easy road for me. I feel vulnerable. But there is so much joy awaiting us in the stream of vulnerability, not to mention connection.

With my running future uncertain, this season has summoned my roots of trust and faith to a deeper place. I've learned how to trust and wait and push through at a new level. I'm now off of crutches but am having some significant pain, which may very well mean that surgery is in my future. This would mean more time on crutches and more time that I am unable to run. So, I feel a little like I'm at mile 20 of the marathon but the fierceness, the hunger feels like a fading song in the distance. Some days, I feel like saying 'screw it,' I'm just going to lay on the couch and eat chocolate and get fatter and less fit with each passing painful hip day. But that's not who I am. And I think that's what pain does sometimes, it strips off the layers and exposes our authentic self. At heart, I'm a fighter and I know it. So, to deny that, even if it's a denial steeped in exhaustion, is to deny who I am and that's just an invitation to misery. So, just like in the marathon, when I sort through the pain and the fatigue long enough to remember that I love running, so too am I now at a crossroads where I will remember at my core, that I'm a hopeful, strong, vulnerable, fighting kind of person. I'm a beauty seeker. And it's in the remembering, remembering the song of my heart, that gives me the strength, the grit and the grace, to run on. Because I can. Because that's who I want to be. Because that's who I am. I will run strong. I will run free. I will find the next reservoir. I will struggle AND I will still have a great race. Or at least that is my hope.