a return to distance, a return to confidence

Seven months ago yesterday, I was wheeled out of a hospital, fighting back tears. I couldn't stand, couldn't sit up, couldn't really string coherent thoughts together - all I could think was one word : broken.

Yesterday, around the same time I was lying in an MRI machine 7 months ago, floating on a wave of Percocet, I was basking in the warmth of a sunny day in Annapolis, enjoying a glass of crisp white wine. My race medal, I kept telling my mom, pointing to the wine, and laughing.

Around the same time I was pleading with a nurse to not make me move my legs, I was winding my way through the streets of Annapolis on foot. And around the same time I'd been told that a simple X-Ray couldn't determine what was wrong with me, I was crossing the finish line of a half marathon. Not only that, I was crossing the finish line of my fastest half marathon ever, with my first ever sub-two hour time (and, distance trackers are saying the course actually came out to 13.5 miles. Rude.)

 

Friday night, I started to get nervous. I didn't make it very public that I was planning to attempt a half marathon, afraid that my body would rebel and I would have to shamefully back away from the goal. But as last week progressed, I told a few friends, coworkers - and many reactions were the same.

You're going to do what? You're how many months out from injury?

Friday night, I lay in bed doubting myself. What business did I have running a distance race? What proof did I have that my body was ready for this? Sure, I trained. But did I train enough? What happened if I walked off the course? What happened if I collapsed on this course... like seven months ago?

I wish I could say I hit a moment of zen, but instead I slept fitfully. Was I a fool to trust myself, I wondered each time I woke up.

 

When I reached the start line early Saturday morning, though, all my nerves were gone. There is a simple power in believing in yourself, I've learned. There is a simple power in releasing the doubt and nerves into the world, looking in the mirror, and saying : "I believe in you."

I truly feel that fitness was one of the factors that saved me. I was lucky to be surrounded by loved ones that picked me up when I fell, by unconditional support - and I was lucky to know to summon my inner strength, to find moments of peace and quiet.

But there were still overwhelming moments of self-doubt. If we're being honest, of self-hatred. And days when I couldn't shake grief, hearing conversations as if underwater, maneuvering through a fog. In those days, I found myself in exercise, shaking my body back into being grounded by pushing it to perform. I found my happiness through instructors and peers checking in on my progress, on high-energy playlists and in meeting women who shared my love of a good sweat session, and who are passionately working toward their dreams.

The NY Times recently published a piece that describes a study that's found a link between exercise and keeping depression at bay. To me, it seems obvious, if for nothing else than the community you will find there.

 

I believe in myself now. It's a simple statement, but it's not one you hear a lot. It's not something I ever told myself before. I wasn't kind to myself. I didn't allow myself to dream, and I doubted my own accomplishments.

But I believe in myself now. I've walked through the dark valley, I've fought the deepest depths of my own brain, I've emerged stronger, happier, readier to tackle the world. 

Yesterday's course was entirely hills, up and down, unrelenting, after mile 6 (sorry, Mom). It was so difficult that I didn't even look at my watch, concentrating on simply putting one foot in front of the other. I believe in myself, I reminded... myself.

When the finish line was in sight, I surprised myself by realizing a finish comfortably under two hours was possible. I tried to pick up the pace, but wiped by grueling hills, I could only maintain my rhythm as I crossed the finish line, five minutes faster than my half marathon PR, seven months out from an injury that shattered my leg and forced me to learn to walk again, nine months out from a loss that broke my heart.

When I crossed the finish, I cried, immediately, surprising myself, and a medical volunteer ran over.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, pushing water and a banana into my hand.

Not even a little bit. That's the thing about believing in yourself - all of a sudden, you can climb the hills without fear.

Could my face be any more flushed?