On January 1st, after running the New Years Run and generally having a great time and a good race, I felt…content. Pleased with how the race went. Ready to keep the momentum of 2019 going into the new year. We spent some time relaxing throughout the day, and then I headed back out for a few more miles to shake out my legs post-race effort. I started my run from our downtown apartment, jogged about 2 minutes and approached an intersection with a light. I stopped. I waited until I had a walk signal. The walk signal popped on as the light to go straight switched to green, and I began running.
If you’ve run in downtown Durham – no, sorry, downtown anywhere – no, sorry, literally anywhere with cars – you’re probably aware that cars don’t necessarily care if you have a walk signal and the right-of-way. So, I start running. I make it about halfway across the street, and a car takes a right, into the intersection I’m currently crossing. I slow down. Another car takes a right, closer to me, now in the middle of the intersection. I keep going, carefully, now a bit on edge that these two cars couldn’t wait the 5 seconds it would take me to cross. I’m almost across, and another car veers around the corner, taking a right directly into the intersection right… where… I… am. I pivot quickly out of the way, off to the side. The car passes. In a fit of (embarrassing-to-admit-and-definitely-not-necessary-in-any-way) anger, I smack my hand into the back of the car. I’m angry. This happens so often. I’m sick of almost getting hit while also being particularly cautious and following the rules of the road as a runner.
As soon as I hit my hand on the car, I feel….what is that? Pain. Yeah, dummy, it hurts to hit your hand into a metal car. Your hand is weak and bony, and the car is…metal. What did you think would happen? I continue on my run, berating myself mentally for having that outburst – “was it worth it?” I ask myself. Dear reader, you probably know the answer – no, it certainly hurt me more than it hurt the …. wait, is that the car again?
In the interest of time and not boring my audience more than is necessary, I’ll keep the rest of this particular tale brief: the woman driving the car was just as mad about someone slapping her car as I was about almost getting hit. She decided that whatever compelled her to rush through the intersection and nearly hit a runner was no longer pressing enough to stop her from looping back around to follow and scream at me. I got scared, at this point – I was alone, and I’d never experienced being followed like this on a run. I sprinted off, abandoning my ‘recovery run’ ethos of ‘run very slow and easy’ to duck into a parking lot and down a side street I thought she wouldn’t know to take. I got as far away as possible, and the adrenaline rush subsided, and there it was: pain. Not in my hand anymore – well, that was still there, but… – in my lower leg. Everything suddenly felt off. I kept moving, hoping it would subside – it didn’t. It got worse. I eventually made it home to roll out my leg and hope it would recover quickly.
Well, here we are a nearly a month later, and my leg still isn’t right. But that’s not really the point. (There’s a point to this? We’ll see.) Injury is a part of training – it happens to nearly everyone at some point, even if we hope it won’t. It often happens when you’re feeling some momentum; when you’re pushing; when you’re striving to improve or to try something new. Injury doesn’t have to be inevitable, but it is certainly always a possibility. So, it is what it is, and it’s not necessarily the fault of the incident described above – maybe, in another life, that incident didn’t happen, and my leg still seized up about a mile into my recovery run.
So what is the point, you’re probably wondering. I’m wondering that too. What is the point of this column? The point of putting ourselves in dangerous situations like what I described above? The point of running at all? Why even bother? Why not just stay at home, inside, where it’s safe…where there’s a lessened chance of injury or accidents?
Well, that last part – that’s not even true. According to one source, 18,000 Americans die from accidental injuries within their own homes each year (2nd highest, behind deaths in vehicular accidents). So, is that why we do it? Because we’re less likely to die running than just existing in our own homes? Okay, probably not very compelling. Let’s move on. Maybe we run and put ourselves in moderate physical and emotional danger because we hope it protects us from such a fate like being injured or dying in our own homes? Maybe for some folks, that is why. For others, that’s not quite it. For many of us, we simply do not consider the potential downsides. We run because we enjoy running and ignore the idea of injury or an accident until we experience one. Then, we struggle to cope with the sudden aberrations we experience. But aren’t these so-called aberrations really inevitable?
Maybe our whole issue, when dealing with cars almost hitting us or with a sudden pain or injury or any of the inevitable ups and downs we face, is that we just simply don’t accept, in advance, that these things are part of the whole package deal that is giving a damn about running. If we want to run; if we want to be active; if we want to leave our homes at all…we’re making ourselves vulnerable. We can be very cautious and play it overly safe, and even that won’t necessarily protect us. That sounds, to my under-the-influence-of-half-a-glass-of-wine-and-generally-nihilistic brain, rather comforting. I also recognize that it’s, perhaps, a bit daunting – it all depends how you think about it. So maybe that’s my point: giving a lot of yourself to running – like anything else you might care about – is an act of vulnerability. And vulnerability doesn’t always, in any single, isolated moment, feel like it’s paying off. It might instead feel like you’ve made a grave error by ever caring, or trying, at all – to me, the only error is that we operate under the assumption that none of these things will ever (or should ever) happen. This whole thing, training…running…living your life, is a process full of ups and downs, and it’s much easier to savor the ups and cope with the downs if you remind yourself constantly that they’re just a part of the process.
Also, I highly recommend not slapping your hand into a car – it really f*cking hurts.