A million years ago I had a poster on the wall of my bedroom. It read, “The race is not always to the swiftest but to those who keep on running.” It pictured a runner alone on a long stretch of country road.
This poster carried me through innumerable training runs and races when I was younger. It is long gone but its message played in my head today as I plodded through another oh-so-short run.
Complications from knee surgery last December to repair a torn meniscus in my right knee sidelined me for the entire winter. And played with my head.
The weather, cool and slightly damp, with just a scent of warmth and birds singing, was ideal and it was heartening to feel the pavement underfoot again. Nevertheless, here’s me this morning: “Whose crappy, inefficient stride is this?” “Whose lungs are these gasping for air?” “Whose damn lame legs are these?”
I sucked air greedily, more like a patient in an iron lung than a fit runner. Think Darth Vader with a Mr. Microphone.
As I run I picture the guy in the poster and wonder what he thinks, how fast he is running, what are his goals. Was he once swifter and more fit, as I was, or is he in his prime, squeezing out every ounce of potential in his legs to run faster in his next race? Or, as the message says, is he simply happy just to be running?
I know I am taking little but significant steps everyday to regain the leg strength and lung capacity I lost from the surgical complications. But I realize there is something deeper, more yearning; I want to revive the image I’ve had of myself ever since I first put that runner poster on my bedroom wall way back when. It’s this: I am unstoppable.
Comparisons to others are deadly, I know, even comparing ourselves to what once were doesn’t serve us. Running has been such a constant, reliable companion for the past 30 years it is difficult territory for me to address this endeavor afresh. Even while I try to accept where I am, I reach to find the form that once came naturally but now feels so foreign.
We runners often think of ourselves as invincible, especially regarding certain kinds of health issues. Those are for other, less fit, more vulnerable types who don’t run. But the health challenges of the past year have proven that even the tens of thousands of miles in my fitness bank afford me no guarantees.
It’s a little like when you hadn’t seen your grandparents in years and when they came to visit and wanted to kiss you and hug you. It creeped you out, thinking, “Who are these people?” But after a little while, it all became natural.
I love running and I am grateful to have some really big health challenges behind me. Who knows, a couple more months of running and all will feel right again. Life is a long race, and it’s time again for me to embrace the truth found on a simple poster I used to live by miles and miles ago.