I can feel the tension in my knee building. I look at my watch: 26.07. Okay, I tell myself, I just need to make it up and down this hill, and then on the straight and narrow path home. If I can run 30 minutes today, that will be sufficient, and I shouldn’t put too much strain on my IT band.
Since September, I’ve been undergoing physical therapy because I couldn’t run seven minutes without being in extreme pain. Even with stretching, resting, and strengthening, I could not seem to surpass this hump that started at 20 minutes, then 12, and finally seven. Frustrated, I gave up and called my doctor. I invested more financial resources than I’d like to admit in attending physical therapy sessions twice a week.
I’d just gotten out of a long-term relationship. Work was stressful. I had no social support system. I needed to run. And it’s not like I’m a good runner. I could be in better shape. I usually run when I feel the need to blow off some steam or stretch my legs, but I wouldn’t say I do it consistently. But now that my life seemed to be shredding before me, I felt the need to do it more often.
So after a month of physical therapy, I could run 20 minutes without pain, and then after six weeks, I could run 25. I felt stuck at that number and started to think maybe I would just have to live with short distance. I no longer pushed past the pain. I wanted to be able to run tomorrow, too. This day was no different from any other.
But as I reach my apartment off Wisconsin Avenue, and my watch reads 30 minutes, I suddenly realize the pain is gone. The weather is mild. It’s a Sunday afternoon so not too much traffic. I’d never run longer than 30 minutes before. So I stick to Wisconsin, passing the CVS and Staples on my left and weaving in and out of people on the sidewalk.
I finally cross over to the Capital Crescent Trail, my usual route, but today I had decided to try something different. By the time I reach the trail, my watch reads 40 minutes. And still no pain. I feel amazing, and my legs weightless. It isn’t until I turn around for home that I notice tension building in my right knee. I guess I should stop; I feel exhausted. So I slow my pace and start walking the last quarter of a mile home. I look at my watch: 51 minutes.
I ran 51 minutes without pain.
That was two weeks ago. I’ve finished physical therapy and can now consistently run 30-35 minutes without pain. I haven’t tried pushing to 50. I’m sure I’ll get there again.
But the pain represents so much more than my ability to run. I’ve been enduring it for the past couple of years. And it wasn’t until I moved to Bethesda, broke up with my boyfriend, and started a new career that I decided to do something about it. I consulted an expert; I bought new shoes; I committed to a daily stretch and exercise regimen.
Four months ago when I came home to an empty apartment and a lavender plant named Eden, I wasn’t sure how I would ever get better. I wasn’t sure how I would ever survive this pain. But I kept running and hoping that after a while, things would change. Eden didn’t survive, as well as three other houseplants I brought with me from Baltimore – three other houseplants I adopted while in a different relationship.
It hasn’t been easy, just like overcoming this IT band issue made me hate running on most days. How is this helping? I used to ask myself. It just makes me frustrated and want to cry. I tried to save those plants. I loved my peace lily and spider plant. They were so beautiful in full bloom, but no matter how many times I changed their diet and their foundation, they weren’t meant for this new environment. They withered away until I finally resigned myself to their fate.
I decided not to adopt anymore plants. But now sitting in my bedroom, I stare at Phoenix, the areca palm on top of my dresser. Two of its branches are wilting in this dehumid environment, but one stalk grows taller than the rest. Phoenix was the first plant I brought home to my first one-bedroom apartment. Since then, it’s survived four moves, including one halfway across the country, and a basement apartment.
Now more than five-years-old, I realize if Phoenix can make it in this life-sucking new place, then maybe all hope is not lost. I am running again, even in 30 degree temperatures. I am no longer crying myself to sleep or falling into a deep spiral at the mention of his name.
And now I have a new man to call my own. His name is Norm, and for the past two weeks, this two-year-old tabby has been my pride and joy. He makes me laugh and smile every day. I can’t remember the last time I smiled this much. I actually look forward to coming home from work.
This apartment may be devoid of what green there once was, but when I see a brown and black tabby come creeping out of a cardboard box to greet me upon my return home, I don’t even miss it.