by Natalie Patterson
It’s now been a month since I both moved to Washington and tripped in that fateful pothole that broke my foot in two places. I’ve watched all of the new season of House of Cards, have significantly brought down the average age of a water aerobics class, and given untold numbers of stank eyes at self-righteous stroller people on the metro elevator. But to be completely honest, I have been absolutely losing my mind out of boredom and desire to run.
When people ask for an interesting fact or whatever, my go to is always immediately “I’m Natalie and I love to run. Preferably for long distances. Preferably as fast as I can.” Running is a part of my identity, I’m not ashamed to admit, and the alternatives (sorry triathlon people…) are painfully inadequate. As I was crutching to my bus stop after work the other day, the guy who sits in the alcove in front of an old Starbucks in Georgetown backed up out of the sidewalk with a mournful shake of his head:
“I don’t say this to many people but that has got to suck”
It sure does man. It sure does.
Last week I was finishing up a trip to Wyoming and Colorado, and as someone who also loves to climb and hike, it was actually impossible to be out there and not make poor choices. At one point, I taped my climbing shoe to my foot and tried to scramble up a pile of rocks I was that desperate. I scared (also impressed) a lot of people in Rocky Mountain National Park limping up and down this trail on some pretty treacherous snow, but I couldn’t stand the thought of going all the way out west and just sitting around drinking beer all day (although there was plenty of that too).
This isn’t my first rodeo with an injury, of course. I’ve had two stress fractures and have sprained my ankles so many times I can’t name them all. But I, like most competitive runners I’m sure, struggle with more than just the physical aspects of the injury. Not running and training and competing just puts me in such a terrible psychological state it can be hard to function sometimes. Running helps me concentrate, it helps me sleep, it gives me a self-esteem boost and a sense of accomplishment that I don’t often get from my day to day life. I don’t feel worthy of taking breaks or eating indulgent meals or even getting enough sleep when I don’t run, because so much of the reason that I treat my body with those things is because I need them to run well. Is that healthy? I mean, probably not. But so much of that has been tied to my love of running and competing that it is hard to this injury as anything but a catastrophe for my running career.
But I suppose that is why we need teams in the running world, and more than that, why we need teams that are based and that function as support networks and encouragers and daily reminders that you are loved and have worth for more than your times and daily distance. I have been lucky to be on such teams. In college, we had a number of girls who chronically struggled with injuries that sidelined them for entire seasons at times. But that never made them any less a part of the team or any less of athletes. They were still at practice, involved in team meetings, and came to every race in any kind of weather. I recently ran a Ragnar Relay with a group of these women, and when one of our teammates – who had battled a major injury for months and STILL ran this insane leg up a mountain for five miles – wasn’t sure she could finish her last leg, our team wasn’t concerned about winning or our times or even getting disqualified. The health and well-being of our teammate came first. That girl (being the total badass that she is) STILL ended up running. But none of us could have given a crap either way – we were just happy to get to share the experience with her and the rest of the team. I’ve been looking to that experience throughout this last month, and reminding myself of how grateful I am to have teammates and friends like that in my life.
It’s the same with my RET teammates of course, as well. I don’t feel like a forgotten or unimportant member of the team because I can’t run and compete currently. I am happy to support and encourage our runners, and they have been so supportive of my own ‘training’ and recovery as well. To be honest, it has been one of the only good things about this experience – knowing that my teammates and friends don’t just call on me when they need a warm, fast body to compete. For me, that is the true meaning of sportsmanship and competition, and it has been the primary motivator for when I really and truly do not feel like setting foot in a pool for the 23rd day in a row. I want to get back to running because it makes me feel good, sure, but I also terribly want to get back to training and competing with my teammates. I think injuries have a way of reminding of us the beautiful and collaborative nature of the sport. That in the end, we don’t (or at least I don’t) run to win anything or for the recognition. I run because something about the act of it gives me such profound enjoyment, and getting to share that with other people who are also motivated by that love and enjoyment is such a beautiful thing.
It still totally blows right now to be unable to do the things that I most love, and even with a support network back in ROA, it has still been hard to see people running on the greenway by my house and see everyone signing up for summer races on Facebook. But having such great teammates and friends who are just as anxious as I am to race with me again means I’ll go get back in the pool with my floaty belt and keep providing the teenagers in Tenleytown with comedic fodder.