Have you ever found something that, once you found it, you suddenly realized how very much you’d missed it?
That happened to me this summer. It was a tremendous feeling.
First, a little history: though random people at the grocery store often reminded us that we had enough kids to make up a basketball team (har! har!), my family didn’t actually do organized sports. School was held at the kitchen table, and “p.e. class” consisted of chopping wood or fixing the fence so the sheep wouldn’t escape (again). Soccer? Swim team? When you sew your own clothes and make your own tofu, there’s no time for such nonsense. I occasionally entertained daydreams of spiking a volleyball or kicking the winning goal, but alas: it wasn't meant to be.
At some point during my teens – at 14, maybe 15 – it suddenly occurred to me that while I might never be in any starting lineup, I could put one foot in front of the other like a champ. I began getting up at dawn and running on a dirt track that ran along a ridge near our house. Being out there in the grey morning light, sucking down the cold Oregon air, had a magical effect: it cleared my head and cleansed my spirit, and when I finally tottered back to the house, sweat-slicked and red-faced, I always felt far better than before.
During college, I ran up S.E. Division Street to the reservoir next to Mt. Tabor, counting pine trees with each lap around its wrought-iron border. I still remember the shadows that dappled the surface of the water, the slapping sound of my heels against the ground. When I moved onto the campus at Oregon Health Sciences University, I ran the hills that looped behind and in front of the campus, up and down, over and around. Years later, in San Francisco, I ran through Pacific Heights, up Broadway and down Jackson. I discovered the Lyon Street Steps. I wore out multiple pairs of shoes. I saw many sunrises + sunsets.
I’ve written about my knee injuries here before, so I won’t bother you with them again, but when the first (non-running-related) injury happened in 2002, it scraped a sizable chunk of cartilage off of my kneecap; high-impact sports were officially out.
And so I stopped running. It was the sensible thing to do.
I delved deeper into yoga and took the occasional spin class, but whenever I saw someone’s feet flying by on the sidewalk, I felt a particular twinge. I had another knee injury in 2006, followed by another surgery, and I didn’t even think about running for a very long time.
Until this summer, when I suddenly had to. Had. To.
I pulled on an old pair of shoes and walked outside, and… whoa. Not running for a few years does a number on your pace. Keeping my injuries in mind, I cobbled together a program of power walking-jogging-running that seemed to work; a couple of weeks later, I discovered a formidable set of stairs and added those to the mix.
Re-discovering running was like unearthing a part of me that I had lost; it brought back memories that I thought I had forgotten, sensations I thought might be gone forever. Every time I went out, I thought: I missed this! Oh: how: I missed this.
One of my favorite moments is when, about 15 minutes into a run, I feel the pull of resistance, and the thought crosses my mind: This is hard; I'm tired; I shouldn’t have come out today, but I push through it, and by the end – feet flying, shins aching – it’s like pushing through ticker tape.
It’s not exactly pretty, this jog-walk-step-thang I have going on, but it works. My knees complained during the first few weeks, but now I'm feeling no pain. It clears my head and cleanses my spirit, and when I stumble back home, sweat-slicked and red-faced, I feel so, so, so much better than before.
What have you lost that you found again?