Paul is injured. It’s not the end of the world, but it sure feels like it
reeping into bed late one night in complete darkness, determined not to wake my wife, I stubbed my toe on the bed, yelped loudly and woke her anyway. Upon inspection the next morning, the second toe in from the little toe on my right foot throbbed red and swollen. Broken? Hard to tell. I pondered my next move. Walking was hard work, so maybe a run would solve it! Tightly lace up the trainers and romp through the woods? That would click it back into place, or something. For 200m or so I was fine. Sometimes we shock ourselves, don’t we? Our actions so contrary to our needs that it takes a while for the body to believe that we’re doing exactly the opposite thing that we should be doing. Finally my toe said: STOP RUNNING YOU UTTER FOOL! The pain was so intense that I pulled up immediately. And so began the time without running.
Day 1 is sort of OK. I’m used to having the odd day off. I can't really walk so I don't have a choice. I turn to Google: if it’s broken I could be out for six weeks. But I reckon it’s not broken, just bruised. A week off should suffice.
Day 2: it’s very rare I go two days in a row without a run, unless I’m training for a massive event or holed up with jet lag. I feel myself sinking.
Day 3: I feel myself passing over to the dark side. Is it my imagination or are my muscles incrementally withering away? One of the many perks I get out of running is a sharp surge in wellbeing when I flex and feel my leg muscles. To fondle my upper leg, to marvel at the multiple ridges of lean muscle, like a range of fleshy mountains, is a giddy sensation. On day 3 I notice a softness on the range, bracken maybe, a touch of moss ?
Day 4 is really tough. All that training, going, going, gone? My aerobic capacity declines with every passing minute, my resting heart rate rises. The toe still hurts. I notice how little I am doing generally. Where’s my energy? I realise running gives me structure. I wake up, I dither, I write, I run, I eat, I write again. It’s the centrepiece of a productive day, the cornerstone of my creativity. At noon, I run. On day 4 at noon I am circling television shows in the paper that I plan to watch that evening. What merry hell is this?
Day 5: I feel like a civilian. It’s like I’ve never run before and never will again. To think that 10 days ago I was doing 400 reps in under 80 seconds and felt comfortable; now I struggle to get off the sofa. I also realise that I have zero interest in cross training. When clubmates are injured, they cycle, swim, lift weights, anything to maintain their fitness. When I’m injured I shuffle round the house in a dressing gown, like Tony Soprano but with a smaller fridge. I’m trying to keep a handle on my eating but regular readers will be aware of my history with cheese.
Day 6: I know it’s just chance, it means nothing, but this feels symbolic: my Garmin dies. I keep it charging by the kettle in the kitchen and this morning the screen is blank. What on earth is happening?
Day 7: I’m moody and irritable. I am heavy of mind and body. The one ray of light happens that night as I cross the bedroom to bed, I jog two steps, I reckon it’s on tomorrow.
Glory be to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth. On the eighth day I pull on my trainers for a five-miler. The toe is fine. I’m back, I am so back! Honestly, half an hour in, as I started pushing myself up a hill, I feel a surge of pure relief sweep through me, an almost out-of-body feeling of sweaty gratitude.
If you ever feel you’re in danger of taking running for granted, I suggest a minor injury to regain your appetite. Nothing too painful, just enough to remind you of what you’re missing. You’re missing a lot.