On a recent Friday morning, my son, nearly two, darted across the kitchen floor towards his father. Always eager to hoist him into the air, I placed my bony hands under his armpits and thrust him towards the ceiling. He delighted in the fanfare and the experience of flying high for a few moments. I, on the other hand, instantly grimaced as a twinge—like a lightning bolt—surged through my lower back. I lowered him to the laminate floor—slowly—in a lunge position. Maybe I thought this stretch I perform before a run might provide some release. Nope. I hobbled around the house for the rest of the day. Counters and couches and furniture and stair rails were a godsend to an aching back.
The irony of that back pain is it kept me from exercising for one day. Twenty-four hours passed without a run or a visit to the local gym to lift weights. “Clear your mind of can’t,” says the English writer Samuel Johnson. “Sit down and rest,” retorted my wise wife. I slept in Saturday morning, slumped in the tub with a generous portion of epsom salts. I also managed to survive an eight-hour work day (at a specialty running store no less) complete with lots of sitting and standing. Getting in and out of the car was a dreadful task as well. But I have to think that actively taking a day off, be it on account of soreness or pure prudence, is a wise choice for me as a husband, father, and athlete. Or in the words of Volt Athletics coach Tyler Koch, “It’s not that most athletes are overtrained, it’s that most athletes are under-recovered.”
As a distance runner, I’m certainly given to overtraining, to putting in the miles when the body asks for rest. I simply think of recovery as the time between a completed run and the start of the next one. Eating tends to fill that time, along with chores around the house. In short, even though the run ends, the motion I put forth into another task persists. And persists. Perhaps it’s no surprise that my legs feel sluggish the next day. “The difference between failure and success lies in the mundane: the day-to-day focus on eating right, sleeping well, and hydrating,” counsels coach Koch. The message is clear when it comes to running well: Recover well.
The injury, though, gives me time to think about why I even run in the first place. Twelve years ago I sought out the means to become more physically active. So, I scooped up a pair of shoes from the bedroom closet and ran around the neighborhood. I felt awful the next day but never looked back.
Nowadays, I wonder if I should re-evaluate my rationale for running. Some are of the belief that distance runners are running away from something. Personal demons, perhaps. A harsh childhood. Addiction. Abuse. Anxiety. Ironically, running is the activity that allows wounded people to find a sense of release and share in the company of others who are navigating the same shit. You might say that running is a form of recovery.
The recovery is hard, though. And what ultimately gets me is how much that back pain impaired my running. Even after a day off, the next few runs were clunky. I tried not to overcompensate and thus create a new ache, but the rhythm was off. Even the runs with my son in the jogging stroller were off. I cross train to minimize the risk of injury, but all I can do now is laugh that a quick and sudden movement embracing my son wrecked me physically for a few days. Unsurprisingly, as he ages, I too will age. Should he decide to take up running, I’ll do my best to set the pace until the day that I’m the one struggling to keep up.
Cover photo by Kristian Egelund.
Sign Up Today
You don’t have to miss anything. We send out weekly notifications when we publish a new issue. We like you—so we won’t sell your info to Google or the NSA or even advertisers, they probably already have it anyway.