№28 My Achilles Heel
Istarted training for the Miami marathon because I’m a midlife crisis cliché. I ran cross-country in high school. The most I’d ever run was 10 miles, but I told myself since I was a kid that at 50, I’d run a marathon. I’m 50.
I did three miles, three times a week. Then four miles with cross-training — an hour of biking — on the off days. I added six miles and the next week, eight. Then nine. Then twelve.
Training was actually kind of fun. Not fun like when you laugh hard with a friend, but satisfying. After six miles, I got that endorphins high they talk about. Even a four-mile run in the morning relaxed me for the rest of the day. When my son came into my office last week and left his shoes and socks on the floor, instead of yelling across the house, I just picked them up. Later, I found both my kids on our new yellow couch surrounded by sticky granola wrappers. I said, “Sweeties, could you throw away your trash?” Running is a powerful drug — an antidepressant — and I was addicted.
Two weeks into training, my running partner, Aaron, sent me a nutrition guide for endurance athletes. When I piled my Thanksgiving plate two feet high, I told everyone at the table I was an endurance athlete. It felt good to be more than just a 50-year-old cliché.
It also felt good to eat like a hog.
Then Sunday, just seven weeks before the marathon, I discovered my Achilles heel. I took an Uber to Aaron’s house in North West Miami and we ran through Little Haiti, Wynwood, past downtown, along Calle Ocho, Coral Way, The Roads, down U.S. 1, all the way to the University of Miami. Our destination: Bagel Emporium.
At about four miles, I leapt over a puddle and something tore or snapped in my right leg. I limped along. I tried to stretch. Aaron told me to get into a Lyft, but I was like, “Fuck that.”
I set out to do 12 miles. I wanted to finish. I thought, Pain is part of running. If I’m already hurt, what difference does it make?
Running has taught me that pain shifts and changes. Some days my knees hurt so bad the first mile, I’m sure I’ll never make it. Then two, three miles later, when my foot cramps up, I forget all about my knees. On Sunday, I waited for the pain to shift. Maybe I gave the pain too much attention because it never shifted.
When I told my mom I ran on a hurt leg, she said, “You’ve always been like this.”
In high school I ran so hard during a meet, I woke up in the hospital. When I woke up, I said, “Did I win?”
I didn’t win that day. But I was the fastest two-miler in Miami-Dade County all three years of high school. Two miles seems like nothing compared to a marathon, still, running two miles full-throttle hurt like hell. Girls cried at the finish line. They peed and vomited. I never cried or vomited, but there were times I couldn’t hold in my pee.
My strategy was to get out in front and hold the lead. This, I’ve been told, is an unconventional strategy. It’s really not a strategy at all because it relies on fear. I ran scared someone might pass me and I ignored the pain.
Is this my Achilles heel? To ignore pain? Maybe, but I think there’s more.
I woke up Monday with a purple ankle and called an Achilles specialist. The receptionist scared me when she rearranged the schedule to fit me in that same day. Turns out, I tore some of my medial gastrocnemius muscle, which is the calf muscle that connects to the Achilles heel. The doctor described the muscle like a bunch of Twizzlers. Some of the fibers tore, causing internal bleeding.
He told me to rest for a few weeks and listen to my body. He said when I can handle it, I should get into a pool chest-deep and run from one side of the shallow end to the other. I thought about the pool at the Palace, the assisted living facility where my grandmother lived until she died at 94. The Palace pool is shallow its entire length, perfect for this kind of training. If you’re not visiting a resident, you can use the facilities if you’re at least 50. Now I have to train at an old-age home?
I knew this meant I probably wouldn’t heal in time. I limped out pissed. Why did I keep running and risk missing the marathon?
As a kid, 50 felt so far in the future. I thought I would need this challenge when I was old. Now that I’m here, my body is changing in ways I couldn’t predict and do not like. I hate that I care, but I do. My high school runners’ thighs have softened. My ass has melted. According to WebMD, at my age, body fat is re-distributed from hips, thighs, and butt to stomach. So now I’m fighting the muffin top, a real phenomenon called “menopause belly.”
I kept running Sunday because I wanted pancakes with blueberries and walnuts, eggs, bacon, grits, and a bagel. I wanted that feeling of insatiable hunger. And I wanted to eat without the fear of getting fat.
I wanted to be able to run my guts out without hurting myself, like I did at 16. I wanted to get ahead of the fat threatening my belly and never let it catch me.
I’m at №28 of my #WeeklyEssayChallenge, which I started when I turned 50. This is the year of challenges for me.