It’s probably breaking some kind of blogger rule to admit this, but I had a clear winner in terms of most-read posts this year. I wrote it in February as an anti-Valentine’s Day letter because I was breaking up, publicly, with the “bad boyfriend” in my life: running. At the time I was just recovering from a drawn-out injury to both my feet and chronic knee issues exacerbated by a pair of running shoes that weren’t right for my gait and foot anatomy. For several weeks it was hard to walk, and even once I was feeling better every step I took elicited fear and a ghost-pain, like an amputated limb. I decided then and there that forcing myself into this movement modality just because it was seen as endurancing-building, “hard,” and all that people think running to be didn’t make it worthwhile. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually a bandaid for some deeper emotional gunk I was storing inside me. I was running fast, sweating profusely, to try to clear it out, and while it helped the issues were still there—while my body was running itself ragged.
When the weather started warming up, though, the running shoes by my door (don’t worry, I got rid of the bad ones) beckoned loudly to me. I didn’t even ease myself back into a routine; I jumped right back to my old route, and even added distance and duration of running (shortening my fast walking warm-up to just 5 minutes instead of 15-20). Nothing hurt, and I felt I was in the clear. I’d also made big changes in my life that in fact did clear out that emotional gunk, so my running didn’t feel compensatory anymore. It was just plain pleasurable; the rhythm of my feet against the pavement, the after-effects on my muscles that told me I’d worked hard.
But now, here I am again, nearly one year to the day of my foot injuries, with my left ankle tattooed with KT tape. I’ve been going to a physical therapist for just about two weeks, following two prior weeks of incessant, nagging strain on the lateral tendon of my foot. This same area I hurt last year was felled again by, you guessed it, running. It was shoes that started it—shoes that newly squished my feet at the ankle joint, now that my metatarsals have spread out from longer periods of walking barefoot as a yoga instructor—and the run I took on a cold, rainy day a few days later, then again the day before Thanksgiving was what ended it. I couldn’t walk without bouncing up and down to avoid flexing my toes and putting weight on my forefoot; I couldn’t stand for more than twenty minutes at a time. I couldn’t wear normal shoes or practice Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) because of the excruciating strain I felt on this precious part of my body, even more distinctive because of how normal the other side felt.
Why did you let yourself go back to this habit you clearly knew was not right for you? Why did you let your ego win, when you are on the yogic path of stripping away external identifiers and channeling the true self? These were all the questions I’ve berated myself with for the past weeks as I recovered, literally forced to slow down all parts of my life and reevaluate what I can—and should—do to keep myself feeling healthy and whole, rather than what I think those things are.
To my great surprise, not running hasn’t turned me into a shlumpadinka, hasn’t hindered my endurance, hasn’t really changed my life at all. Except that I have more time and space in my day: no more 5:50 AM alarms so I can get out into the freezing cold to speed back home an hour later, express shower, and power-eat my breakfast. There’s no more mindless transitions between Warrior 1 and 2, because I must very carefully adjust my stance and be fully present with the sensations in my feet, my foundation. There’s in fact a newer, more interesting sensation in my body as I dutifully complete my PT exercises with a super-tight resistance band. It’s not speed, it’s strength. It’s not self-maintenance, it’s self-love.
The race of life I’m running is not one that will be won by going so fast I can’t feel my feet after. It’s one where slow and steady comes out victorious, and the prize is one that, while perhaps takes longer to attain, is all the sweeter.