Feeling Andy Roddick’s Pain
No one was more surprised or pleased by Andy Roddick’s run to the 2009 Wimbledon final than me. In the fifth set of the final, Andy had to serve second. With each service game, he had to hold on for dear life. 5-all, 6-all, 7-all, 8-all, 9-all, 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all…ten times Andy held serve to stay in the match.
I played with my hair. I readjusted the pillow under my knees. I squinted at the television and willed Andy to hit another ace. I cared about the outcome too much to enjoy the match.
Finally a couple of errant forehands, Federer’s fifteenth major title, tears.
What if that was it, Andy’s last chance to win Wimbledon?
I glanced down at my elevated knee. I felt bad for Andy Roddick, but I knew my tears weren’t only for him.
Couch to Half Marathon to Couch
Nine months earlier, in October 2008, I started the Couch to 5K program for what seemed like the 800th time. In February 2009, I finally completed it.
In April 2009, I started training for my first half marathon, a goal I had set several years before. On June 14, 2009, I ran 9 miles and finally believed I could run the Presque Isle Half Marathon.
On June 27, 2009, the back of my left knee felt a little sore after my 10 mile training run. Two days before the 2009 Wimbledon final, I went out for my last long training run of 12 miles anyway. It felt fine, great actually…until I stopped running.
Once I slowed to a walk, I had to fling my left leg out straight to the side and around in order to move forward. When I leaned back and reached out my left hand to grab my ankle for a quad stretch, no amount of effort could make my leg bend that much. Once home, climbing each stair brought an audible, mechanical, just wrong click.
What about the race?
Some Stages of Grief
While Roddick kept holding serve, anything was possible. I still had a couple of weeks. Maybe if I kept my knee elevated, iced regularly, and rested it, I’d be OK for the half.
When Roddick lost, I was filled with dread, for him and for me. My doctor confirmed several days later with the words “fluid behind the kneecap…” and “four to six weeks of rest…” and when I still wasn’t hearing it, “I’m not going to forbid you to run, but I think you would be crazy to try it.”
The evening after I saw the doctor, I tried it anyway. I limped one mile on the treadmill at the gym just to be sure. And I was sure. I cried the whole way home. The day I had planned to fly to Erie, I kept checking the status of my flight until my plane landed in Erie without me on it. I checked the weather there on the morning of the race; perfect conditions.
I have never shed as many tears as I did during the five months I couldn’t run, particularly during the two months it took to get any real answers about how serious my injury was.
No One Likes Running
I remember reading a blog post at Bodies in Motivation before my injury that really resonated with me. It was a motivational piece arguing that no one likes running so you just have to go out and do it instead of saying you hate it and you can’t.
I’d be lying if I said I hopped out of bed for each long run bright-eyed and bushy-tailed during the nine months I ran before I hurt myself. I’m a champion complainer. I’m sure most of my friends thought I hated running and was only doing it to lose weight given my capacity for bitching and moaning about it.
I’m not sure I would have disagreed with them either. I did start running to lose weight. It was hard. I did not particularly enjoy it at first. When the alarm went off at 6am on a Saturday, when the D.C. heat and humidity wilted me like a delicate flower, when I came across a hill, when I had to go to the bathroom and there wasn’t one, I’d mutter to anyone and no one: “Why do I do this?”
Why I Do This
The five months I couldn’t run answered that question. As happy as I was to be able to start running again after physical therapy, it’s still always hard to get myself out of my comfortable bed to exert myself. I still always take my sweet time “getting ready.” I still always have to force myself out the door. But once I get going something magical happens, and once I’m done I am so pleased with myself. Why do I run?
- Freedom: Running represents time I give myself, with nowhere else to be, nothing else I have to do;
- Efficiency: Even the slowest jogging pace keeps my heart rate in a good aerobic zone, while the fastest walking pace I can muster without my feet going numb doesn’t even yield the low-end of my target heart rate;
- Exploration: Running has allowed me to see much more of the area in which I live and places I have visited;
- Movement: I’m not particularly graceful or fast, but I love the feeling of being propelled only by my own power;
- Pride: I love the accomplishment of setting out to do something difficult and then doing it. Every time I tackle a distance I haven’t tried before, I wonder can I do this? Then I’m amazed when I can. I feel so badass with the knowledge that Dave can drop me 10 miles from our house, and I can make it home in a couple of hours;
- Peace: Running gives my usually frantic mind a much-needed rest, it gives me clarity and focus. It is almost like meditation for me. Running also makes me feel better generally. It’s not hard to tell when I haven’t run in a few days;
- Results: I’ve been able to go from the couch to running 13.1 miles without stopping. I’ve been able to improve my 5K pace from 13 minute miles to about 10 minute miles. And yes, running has helped me lose weight and keep it off.