36. Bumps in the Road

36. Bumps in the Road

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Bumps in the Road

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.
 ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

I answered the phone, lost my job, and in one swift, silver-lining moment, realized my recent string of running injuries and layoffs had been a gift.

When my boss called to say the company I’d worked at for twenty years was downsizing and my last check was in the mail, I discovered, as I stood there in the kitchen with the phone to my ear, that I was oddly and confidently prepared to handle this news and, in that instant, saw my running setbacks for what they really were — strengthening exercises. Lessons that could help me navigate the bumps in the road that is my life.

As I listened to my job evaporate, I got it. I suddenly knew what all the effort, discipline and disappointment had been about. “You’ve been an asset,” said the telephone voice. As the platitude pile grew, so did my epiphany. Those injuries and training heartaches had made me stronger. They’d tested and toughened me, and they’d taught me how to take the long view.

I’d been running a long time. For years I’d go out and do my four miles, often feeling I could go on forever. One day I did, turning in a joy-filled, lactic acid-laden thirteen. I mentioned that outing to my son’s basketball coach, an avid runner. “So, you did a half marathon,” he said and, with that m-word, planted a 26-mile seed in my head. Before a week had passed, I was contemplating the possibility of going the whole distance and visualizing myself in a marathon T-shirt.

I signed up for a fall race and trained hard. Too hard. After a month of living by the training schedule hanging on the fridge, tendinitis got me.

I found out what a physical therapist does and made a mental note to always have one on my holiday card list. I learned the art and science of proper stretching, strengthening and buildup. My therapist healed me fast and got me back out there with seven weeks to go before the race. I’d cross-trained through rehab and had maintained a decent level of fitness. With work and a little luck, I could be ready.

On the first run of my resuscitated training program, I fell off a curb and suffered a third-degree ankle sprain that looked like a ripe eggplant. My family iced the elevated lump while I cried.

Before the end of this new layoff, I’d registered for a May marathon. With physical therapy, my ankle healed just in time to start training. A bitter winter set in, but I savored every crystalline run. I used an indoor track on icy days and spent one 20-miler running for three hours in a circle, direction changes the only relief.

Spring came. The long runs turned from frigid tests of will to sun-soaked communions with nature. I was mentally and physically ready. On my last truly long run, three weeks before the marathon, my left leg caved in. The physical pain was intense. The emotional pain of knowing it was over, again, was unbearable. I didn’t need the official diagnosis of stress fracture to realize I wouldn’t see the starting line.

When my daughter came home from school, she found me, leg propped on pillows, sobbing. Having seen variations on this theme, she knew what it meant and what it meant to me. She hugged me, took my hand, and said, “Don’t worry. There are other marathons. You’ll just try again, right Mommy?”

Perspective is a wonderful thing. My thwarted efforts to make it to a marathon had taught my daughter something about persistence, patience, focus. And faith. The busted leg didn’t hurt so much any-more, and the wounded psyche felt a little hope massaging its sore spots.

I healed and started over. Six months later, I finished my first marathon. While finishing was euphoric, just being there was life-changing. Toeing that start line was a personal best that will never be trumped.

Fast forward to my kitchen. Phone in hand, I let my boss finish telling me how sorry he was about the job loss.

But I was already thinking about the future. I knew I’d land on my feet and toe the start line of some new challenge. As there are other marathons, there are other jobs.

The world brims with possibility. Once you’re confident about your potential, there’s no race you can’t run.

~Lori Hein

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