This week I walked by the place where my ongoing string of injuries and pain began in 2011. Not that I went there purposely. It was not some pilgrimage to revisit the scene of the crime and come clean. But on a perfect fall afternoon I walked slowly through Central Park and circled the Great Lawn. I watched dogs race each other, mothers chat, children catch balls, young couples nap on the grass, and tourists marvel at the skyline around them. I stopped and remembered the many great Tuesday evenings when stubbornly we did our speed work in 95-degree heat, or running those long loops in frozen snow on other nights. Then I sat down and remembered this:
That summer evening I was running with the fast guys: Eddie, Gordon, Dave, Chris. Coach Toby Tanser, somewhat of a legend among Central Park runners, was egging us on. I pushed hard, sweating and loving it. Leaning into a turn I felt a sharp pain shoot up through the bottom of my right foot. I ignored it and finished the workout. But the pain kept me awake at night, even though I rested and iced the foot, as Toby had advised. Of course I still showed up for speed work the next Tuesday. After 15 minutes of embarrassed jogging, I stopped, dejected. Two weeks later I was on the table, watching my own surgery.
(From a still unpublished piece I wrote.)
I have not run properly, consistently in close to 2.5 years now. So why do I keep writing about it? I think it’s because I feel the need not to stop. Not just a desire, but some sort of compulsion to keep going. When people say, not quite getting it, “yes, running is such a big part of life, right?”, I simply nod. The truth is more like this: running and writing have been the two things I do reasonably well. And both are “shared” activities for me. In running I made great friends. Speeding or just jogging along I felt connected – to runners around me, to readers of my book, to passers-by, to the city and the landscape I was in. Writing about it I was translating that connection to my fellow runners, my friends far and near, but also to my mother and father and niece and sisters and nephews: the good people with whom I want to share what it’s like at the end of a marathon, or at a lonesome trail where the runner’s high brings peace. So if running and writing are both about connecting to the world in the broadest sense, then it makes sense that I won’t stop now. I don’t intend to disconnect.
2013 has been my annus horribilis in some ways. Not just re: running. But the runs I did manage to do, in California and Italy and New York: they were the moments of real peace and connectedness. During those solitary moments –charging up an unforgiving mountain, writing alone at my computer– I have felt not alone.
That’s why I keep this going, even while I hobble around LA, await my meniscus surgery, and try do deal with the weaknesses my body is exposing in rapid succession.