I was a runner for thirty-five years. Over those three and a half decades, I sustained minor injuries– shin splints, turned ankles, a wrenched knee – but nothing that sidelined me for long. I ran during both my pregnancies. I ran as soon as I could after I gave birth. I ran in rain, snow, heat, and in gales of wind. I thought I would always run.
I was never a fanatic about running. It was a discipline I acquired after meeting my husband. I’d been fickle about it before I met him, taking it up every so often and then abandoning it out of the blue or letting it peter out.
And I was never fast, though my skinny limbs and a good stride could give the illusion of speed. At my best, I averaged an above-average 7:15 minute-mile in a 5K race. My husband was the fast one. But it was his dedication to the sport that inspired me. Or maybe I was guilted by his example into putting on my running shoes and getting out the door. Eventually, though, I developed my own running habit so that even when my mind could rationalize skipping a run, my body insisted on one. Running had become part of who I was.
Last year in early June, my mother was preparing to die. I flew to San Diego to be with my siblings so together we could see our mother through her last days. I stayed in my mother’s house as I always did whenever I visited, and each morning I would take a short run, making loops in the park across the street and around the soccer-football field. Even after nights without sleep because it was my turn to stay up with mom, I went running.
After my mother’s funeral, I returned home to Seattle and went for a run. Or I tried to. A pain in my hip forced me to stop after a mile. I thought the pain was a result of having waited too long to replace my running shoes, so I went out and bought the newest version of my favorite brand and model. The new version came in teal with hot pink accents, colors that were outside of the normal color spectrum of my running attire. But the shoes were a good fit.
I put them on and went for a run, and again I was stopped by the pain in my hip. Rest it for a week or two, I told myself. Let it heal. I rested it from running and substituted biking. But when I tried again to run, the pain was still there.
Over the next months, I underwent a sports rehab regimen, tried acupuncture, was x-rayed, visited a physical therapist, and had massage therapy. Mild arthritis, said the doctor, but it shouldn’t interfere with running. Strengthen your core, said the PT and the chiropractor. While I continue to do the strengthening exercises, there seems to be little change. Sometimes I think the pain has become worse.
I’m biking more and have taken up the elliptical at the gym. I do yoga and lift weights. I miss running.
Was it just coincidence that after my mother died something happened to my body that prevented me from running? Or did this particular part of my body take the brunt of the hit, absorbing the loss of my mother, storing the grief?
For the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I returned to National City to spend time with my siblings. I packed the running shoes that I had stored in their original box after I realized I wouldn’t be running for a while. Though the shoes were meant for running, I used them when I exercised on my sister’s rowing machine each morning.
I stayed at the house again, but it’s my sister’s house now. I helped her weed the garden. She and I, the wayward Catholic, attended a mass said in my mother’s name. My siblings and other family members and I took a picnic lunch to the cemetery. We observed the moment of our mother’s passing a year ago by playing her favorite song.
Marking the first year without our mother was about letting go, but also about holding on to her. She’s a part of each of us, of who we are.
But now who I am is someone who doesn’t run anymore.
Maybe I held a little hope that I would get my running back after a year. That by some coincidence the pain in my hip that appeared so suddenly after my mother’s death would just as suddenly disappear a year later. That it would heal given a year of rest and well-intentioned rehab.
Maybe it was just magical thinking. Maybe the healing will never be complete.