I’ve written before about how seeing our bodies as instruments rather than objects goes a long way in boosting our body image. But what happens when despite our best efforts to take care of it, this instrument of ours doesn’t work properly? What then?
I was supposed to run a 15K today. In two weeks I am signed up to run a half. In 10 weeks I am signed up to run another half. This is my busy race season. I’d been feeling great during training. I’d suffered from an occasional twinge or pain here and there, but nothing I was worried about and nothing that kept me from lacing up my running shoes for more than a day or two. I had slacked off somewhat on my stretching and strength conditioning routine, but I’m a mother, not a professional athlete. There are only so many hours in the day.
Last Saturday I had an invigorating 11 mile run with my favorite running peeps. The air was brisk. I live in a college town, and it was the morning of a big game so even though it was early the campus we snaked our way through was a abuzz with energy. I felt great. Even close to the end when my legs were feeling a little heavy, I had enough left in me to sprint the final stretch. After the run, My family and I spent the day with good friends. I was active with the kids and didn’t feel a hint of soreness.
Sunday came, and it was a glorious fall day. I rounded up the entire family, dog included, for a family walk. The older girls and I sprinted up a few hills, and I remember thinking that my left bum felt a little sore. But, hey, I just did a long run yesterday. That’s all it is. My body’s a little tired.
That night I was sitting on the car on the way to the teen Mass when my left bum started aching. It hurt just to sit. I thought it was weird, but I figured it was a fluke. On Monday morning I woke up for a run with my pals, and it hurt to walk. I was foolish and decided to hit the pavement anyway. I figured I just needed to warm up even though I don’t usually feel stiff in the morning and am one of those obnoxiously spry people early in the morning who bounds out of bed. When I started running, I told my friend I’d have to go more slowly. I pushed through four miles while my bum screamed at me. One of my friends says that when her aches and pains talk to her, it’s okay to keep going but if they start screaming, it’s time to stop. I didn’t.
When I returned home, I started researching what could be causing the pain. At first, I thought I had piriformis syndrome, so I started using the pigeon stretch and massaging the area with a tennis ball. I decided to cross-train for the week until the race. I told myself I’d be fine. I tried to jog on a flat stretch of grass on Wednesday, which was another dumb move on my part. I’d said I wasn’t going to run, but it was so pretty out and I had a stretch of time while my oldest practiced soccer and my running shoes were on (I may have worn them on purpose as an excuse to run just a little). The run wasn’t terribly painful, but it wasn’t enjoyable either. Still, I was hopeful. I took a barre class on Thursday. I hit the Family Y for a Pilates class on Friday. I was determined to work my core, stretch, rehabilitate.
After the Pilates class, which has always made me feel better with any ache or injury I’ve endured, I came home and cried because I was feeling worse, not better at all. I’d tried to be careful and had been icing and stretching, but it was making no difference – or it was possibly making everything worse. I was suspicious that I wasn’t dealing with piriformis. My husband asked me what the differentials are for it. (I love it when he speaks doctor to me.) Upon further research, it seemed like my pain was more of the high hamstring tendinopathy variety. This made me cry more because this is not a common injury or an easy one to overcome, although my friend’s husband, who is an orthopedic surgeon, is far more optimistic than most of the literature I’ve read. There’s a little yay!
I’m stubborn, so I still picked up my race number. Then called my good friend and running partner and asked her for advice. She’s the one whose husband happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. I tried to get in to see one of his colleagues that Friday, but he wasn’t in clinic. So her kind husband came over, asked about my symptoms, did a brief examination and confirmed that I am likely suffering from high hamstring tendinopathy as well as hip bursitis.
I started to cry (again). I cried harder thinking how stupid I was being because it’s just running after all. I asked if I should run the race. “I know it’s important to you,” he said, “but I wouldn’t. It could pop.”
I briefly envisioned myself running my best race and going out there for all the glory and crawling across the finish line with a popped hamstring, but then I remembered I have two half marathons coming up so maybe I should be kind to my body and skip this race.
I cheered my friend on this morning along with the two older girls, her husband, and her two children. I was so happy to see her running and high-fiving us.
Then I returned home and cried some more. I’ve cried a ridiculous amount today. To be fair, I had been in a slump before the injury came down and in fact, after my therapeutic run last Saturday, I told my husband at least I had running as my Prozac. (I know, maybe my faith should be more of my Prozac.)
All the non-runners out there might think I’m crazy, and I have admittedly grown to love and yes, need my weekly runs. (Runners do tend to get addicted to their runs.) They give me energy. Since I run with good friends, my longer runs double as therapy. I feel like I am a better mom since starting my running routine again. Running also gives me a sense of accomplishment, and it’s been a hobby that has been easy to squeeze in around family life since I get up early to run before anyone else is even awake. It’s Mom’s thing. The kids know I run in the morning. I’m going to miss all of this tremendously. I’m going to try to see a regular physical therapist this week but from what I can gather, this kind of injury is stubborn and persistent and not something you should just run through, thinking it will get better. I’ve seen the recovery time listed at 8 to 12 weeks (ARGHHHH!!!!) and what’s worse, is I’m supposed to avoid any activity that bothers it. Sitting hurts. Rowing hurts. Walking hurts. Even the elliptical trainer, my go-to cross-training exercise, didn’t feel great. So I am afraid I am going to be reduced to a motionless lump. That will drive me crazy.
But it’s more than all that. I am sad that I am so sad about something as trivial as a running injury. Get over yourself, Katie. But above all, I am angry with my body. If it’s this lovely instrument I’m supposed to take care of – which I’ve worked so hard to do in the past year by training prudently, fueling it with healthy food, and aiming to get more sleep – then why is it so screwed up? Why can’t it just not get hurt when mentally I am tough and ready and aerobically I feel like I could go on for miles and miles? Then the ultimate thief of joy sneaks in and I start to compare. Why can’t I handle as many miles as so-and-so? What is wrong with my body?
I remember feeling a very similar twinge of inferiority when I suffered from my first miscarriage (only I was, of course, far sadder). What went wrong? Why was my body not able to keep this baby?
I know of a friend who could not, despite trying to do everything “right” and consulting with multiple lactation consultants, nurse her first two babies. She said it was awful how the shame crept in and how she questioned her body, even her maternity. I know of another woman who longed for a natural childbirth but ended up having to have several medical interventions. Hers was a clear cut case of needing modern medicine to keep her and her baby healthy and safe; yet, she mourned her labor experience for months and wondered why her body had failed her.
My own mom gets frustrated because her chronic pain sometimes prevents her from living the full life she imagined. Mentally, she wants to do more. Physically, she just can’t.
Disease, aging, injuries, even our own natural design (high hamstring tendinopathy is far more common in female runners), and so many factors simply out of our control start to make us question ourselves and our bodies.
As I type all this, my bum aches, and I’m angry, but I also know that this instrument of mine isn’t designed just to run races. I have to accept my body and its innate strengths – and its limitations. This body of mine may never live up to what I want or think it should look like or perform like, but I can’t punish it or berate it. I can’t stay in bed all day crying either.
This instrument has many purposes. I’ve been blessed to give birth naturally four times and to nurse four babies. Somehow I forgot all that as I wallowed in my pity, sobbing because I may have to sit this race season out. I also forgot something else. My body is a vehicle to live out a life of purpose – a life God purposes for me. That might include running, but what it most definitely includes is taking care of this family of mine and loving others. And I can do that even with a pinching pain-in-the-bum.
Our weight and our ability to run, nurse, or get pregnant should never rule our life. God should. Love should. Our bodies aren’t instruments to do just what we want them to do; they are instruments to do God’s will and to minister to others.
I can’t run or even sit for too long right now, but I can write a “just because” note to a friend. I can hug my children and nurse them, too. I can make a delicious meal for my husband. I can pet my dog. I can smile at the grocery store clerk. I can read story books aloud to eager, little ears. There’s so much I can do.
It’s going to be very, very difficult for me to not run, to not be with my dear friends in the early morning, and to perhaps have to give up my racing aspirations for this season (and lose all that money spent on race registration fees. Sigh.), but it’s not the end of the world, as my 8-year-old reminded me when I was sniveling this morning. It’s not the end of me either and what I have to offer to my family and to others. I’ve been knocked down, but it’s time to get up again.
That running pal of mine who ran the race today and ran it very well sent me a link to a blog post earlier this week before she even knew how down I was or just how bad my bum felt. She wasn’t running when she clicked “send,” but she was most definitely an instrument in God’s hands because when I read the post, I cried (happy, grateful tears not pitiful ones this time) because it was just what I needed to read at that moment. Because I felt broken. Spent. Hopeless. Because I was trying to rely on my own strength and was angry that it had failed me. Because maybe like the author wrote, “God isn’t interested in my strength. He is interested in my obedience in weakness. Do you hear that? God said enough with my hobbies and my preferences. Let’s see about her obedience and her faith.”
I definitely recommend reading the post in its entirety, but I’ll conclude with this snippet:
This broken feeling is only broken if it stays there. If it stops in self-pity. If it wallows in grief about the lost emotions of our journaling days. But this is richer. When we seek His joy instead of our own, when we lay our best on His altar, and we have nothing left for ourselves, that is when we are truly accomplishing His purpose in our lives.
We are not broken. We are being healed. We are not alone. We are in His hands. We are not overwhelmed. We have a champion. We are not stupid. We are being made wise. We are not weak. For He is not weak. We are not hopeless. For we are His.
Now it’s time to get out of bed and jump – slowly and carefully so as to not injure this ridiculous body of mine – into life!