At 1:30 a.m., leaving the hospital ER on crutches after having x-rays, it is pretty clear that I won’t be on the start line for the half marathon at 7:30 a.m., as planned.
Months of great, problem-free training runs. Great weather. Friends and relatives and about 11,000 fellow runners in town to enjoy the event. I will be at home, foot up, on ice.
This is not the sort of injury you see written up in running magazines. It has none of the glory of war stories that we runners tell one another while sweating through those 30 km training runs with a buddy.
Most runners would keep quiet about this one. You see, I sprained my ankle. At a pre-race dinner. And, no, not on a bad curb or after slipping on a wet floor. No, I sprained my ankle while sitting at the dinner table, visiting with friends and family.
When I sit, I often tuck the toes of my left foot behind the right heel. Never try this at home, folks. Near the end of the dinner, I just shifted in my chair. Perhaps I twisted my torso this way or that to speak to someone, I honestly don’t know – and felt a crunch in that twisted left ankle. By meal’s end, I could barely hobble to the exit.
It’s a foolish story, one that feels even more foolish when sitting in the ER, my rapidly swelling ankle with its sharp protrusion still no match for the afflictions of others.
Hours before I had been visualizing success, if not triumph. I could see the impressive rising graph of my training distances, had thoroughly scouted the course, could imagine crossing the finish and looking down at my wrist to see a good minute cut off my personal best.
My faster brother was even, generously, saying that this might be my year to catch him. Not likely, I thought, but I was gung-ho to give the 21.1 km my best shot.
Running is an important part of my life – it’s my exercise and my escape. And this autumn race had been a goal all summer.
So important. Yet not. Sitting at the hospital, I felt small and insignificant – in a good way.
Thousands of people would run the next morning, each of them fleshing out their own important story line. Hundreds of volunteers would feel the satisfaction of an efficient set-up and take-down.
Here at Emergency, a kind man in the waiting room brought an extra chair so I could raise my foot, then talked about the anguish of taking verbal abuse from his wife of many years who he was trying to get admitted because she could no longer care for herself. Gut-wrenching, life changing stuff.
Across the room, two nurses were struggling with a man so weak that he couldn’t be assisted onto the stretcher they had brought for him. People were being sent for angiograms.
My running plans were on ice but in no one’s grand scheme of things did that matter. Mine was, as they say, a first world problem – and a small first world problem. The experience was a rather clear lesson in not living for expected outcomes but living with what is.
In the morning, I pulled up streaming video of the marathon finish line courtesy of a local news channel. Records were set. My brother finished top 10 in his age category and, no, I wouldn’t have touched that time. My sister-in-law carved a large chunk off her last half marathon time.
As in most races, Kenyans rocked the podium. I watched it all with delight.
This is life, I thought. Life goes on. This is good.
Photos By Michael Lebowitz – All Rights Reserved