October 29, 2013

Illinois/ A Love Letter to My Left Ankle

Running in Illinois was one of the simplest runs I’ve done. Not simple in the fact that I made my dad drive us an hour to cross the Illinois/Wisconsin border and wait while I ran a 5K. Simple in the fact that once we got to South Beloit Municipal Park the run itself took very little effort. I looped a city park, ran through the sleepy suburb and met my dad back at the car.

“How was it?” he asked.

“Fine. Easy,” I answered.

I ate a banana as he drove us home. There had been no beautiful scenery, no revelations, no runner’s high and for that day that was just fine. It was one of those runs that was merely checking a state off the list. Even then I understood it hadn’t been and wouldn’t always be that easy.

Five days ago I sprained my left ankle. In a moment of sheer exuberance, running down a hilly trail to the tune of The Moody Blues’ “Wildest Dreams,” my ankle rolled. I immediately shifted to my right foot, trying to process what happened. When I limped back to the car I thought, “You’re a runner now. It was just matter of time.” As I sat on my shag rug icing the ankle I thought about how this sprain was hopefully the last in a series of minor physical ailments. When I had it looked at by my doctor the next morning, as she cradled the puffed, smooth ankle bone, a more serious long-term effect began to sink in: “I need to run a 5K, 5 days in a row in three weeks.” Although she was confident I could achieve my goal, I crawled back into my car both hopeful and dejected. Three weeks seemed like a long enough time to heal but the process was one I’d never gone through before. In five days the process has become both physical and mental.

Lying on my friend’s new couch the day after the sprain, ankle properly propped and iced, I explained how strange it was that I had sprained my left ankle and not my right. That just the night before after a frustrating workout of planks and sit-ups I’d done yoga poses on my left foot simply to feel strong and graceful. I’d moved from tree to dancer to warrior three to bring back confidence and grace as I finished the workout. My left ankle is stronger than my over-pronating right. I do balance exercises on the right to achieve, well, balance between the sides, but the left is my happy place.

I turned to my friend, “Isn’t it ironic that this happened on my left?”

“So use this time to strengthen your right,” he said.

I went home with an ankle brace he lent me and started to really think about this as an opportunity with a few positives. First, it’s a minor sprain. I’m fortunate it wasn’t more severe. Second, it’s better to have three weeks rather than two or one to heal before a running trip. In a sense, time was on my side. Third, isn’t it lucky that I had sprained the left and not the right? My weak right ankle may have caused me to collapse into the dirt. Instead, the strength I had from my left gave me a moment of balance and the ability to quickly shift to the right side. The strength of my left ankle had protected me, not hurt me and it was time to start seeing it that way.

My friend Katherine, who happens to be from Illinois, wrote after her second marathon: “Any day your body lets you run 26.2 miles is an amazing day.” Those words impressed me two years ago and now I’m beginning to understand why. I usually think of running as something I do for my body. I run to make my body stronger, thinner, lighter, and more balanced. Katherine’s words helped me to understand that maybe all this time my body was doing something for me, not the other way around. My body let me run and in turn let me have all the joy that comes with the run.

So now I’m wearing an ankle stabilizer, writing the alphabet on the floor with my big toe, and doing resistance exercises with a rubber tube while watching “Dancing with the Stars” instead of freestyling samba. I’m reading a book called “Resilience” by a Navy Seal while plopped on an exercise bike, trying to wrangle up some bit of cardio. Left ankle, this is what I do for you. I will rest, ice, elevate and compress you tightly. I will wrap you with care and flex you with gratitude. I will do these things for you because you have let me run.


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