The novel Once A Runner is perhaps the Godfather of all running fiction. No book I've read has captured the spiritual yet visceral nature of pounding the pavement, especially when seeking a time goal.
I’ve always thought the title to be a double entendre. “Once A Runner," meaning:
1. "Once A Runner always a runner"
2. "I was Once A Runner but no longer am"
Before the discs in my back herniated, before the shell that contains the jelly ooze split open and started compressing against the nerve in my spine and left me on the ground, crying in pain, I was unable to run as I had been in the past, but hadn't lost hope. Then a hockey injury, and suddenly, I was praying just to be able to walk without a limp.
I am walking now, without a limp, but it takes effort. While I am grateful, I am not fully 'there' yet. Yes, I know, I hear how I should be grateful, but telling someone to be grateful for what they do have, please first try to understand what they lost. This isn't usually the case.
There are so many things I miss about running. I miss the sweat where your head pounds and gets fuzzy but you run on anyway, waiting to see what lies deeper. Miss the pain that isn’t injury but your body expanding beyond its limits. Miss coming back home with that renewed refreshed feeling. Miss that hidden spot in my spirit tapped into the way running (and nothing else) can. Miss listening to music in the throes of a run. Miss all the ideas and inspiration for writing that used to come. Miss waving 'Hi' to other runners and lining up with them at the start line of a race. Miss getting out of my neighborhood on foot, miles away, only to return on foot and saying ‘God Damn it, I’m a fucking champion today.'
The weather itself doesn't mean as much. Everyday seems like a day with no weather.
I get a little testy when others say (in so many words) "see what all that running did to you." When I make note that it wasn't really running that herniated my discs the response is; “yeah, well, running weakened it up."
I may be a moron, but I have known my body well enough to guide it through a dozen injuries or more, always bringing it to recovery so that another marathon could follow. 13 of them, including a Boston Marathon Qualifier.
So, I get testy and want to say "back off" to those who like to say “see what you did?” but then I realize if they really knew my running insanity, they'd pile it on more, for if you offered me a deal where I could run 1,000 more miles in my life and then be done, I'd probably run them all this year. I'd be back on the start line of a dozen marathons. I would use them up tout suite. As my good friend Franz Kafka said, "follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly"
So, I may be to blame, but as of now, I feel like a dormant bear, hibernating in the winter and waiting for a summer that will never come. Never. Sleepng here until death catches me. Is there running in the afterlife? I sure hope so, for it may be the only way I put in a 20 miler again.
Despite the insistence by some that I should hang it up, medical professionals have used my previous fitness level as reason to shoot for a high baseline. Not just to manage pain so I go gently into that good night, but with the stated goal of my doctor who said "My goal is to get you back to running again."
I started with physical therapy, then went on to injections into my spine meant to alleviate the swelling of the discs that are pressing against my nerves. It has helped. Usually I am given some 'happy juice' anesthesia and wake up with no memory of the injections, but last time I flip-flopped on the table and had a bad reaction. My throat secreted such intense mucus that I had laryngitis for a week, and in fact one day could not speak at all.
For that moment, I felt much like the character in the Harlon Ellision story, I have no mouth, and I must scream.
For now, I feel that I have no legs, and I must run.