This morning’s run was a tough one, but not because of the pain in my quad.
Weirdly enough, I actually welcomed the pain today. It’s been around for six weeks now, and it’s familiar and predictable. This pain is the reason I’ve been having difficulty with longer sustained workouts and had to drop out of the 20K earlier this month, but today it whispered to me almost like an old friend.
No, my run this morning was hard because I don’t know if I’ll be able to run at all tomorrow.
At 1:30 this afternoon I will be in surgery. There is a tumor in the muscle of my left quad. When they remove it, there is the very real possibility that the tumor may be wrapped around nerves or embedded deep enough in the muscle to cause permanent damage to my left thigh. When I asked the doctor of the likelihood of this, his reply was a super comforting “I literally won’t know until I slice your leg open.”
Put simply, I don’t know what this will mean for my running tomorrow or any day after that, but I know I have to get it out, because there is no way I’ll be able to finish Chicago or any race for that matter if I leave it as it is, growing and becoming increasingly more painful as the weeks go by.
I took Georgia with me to my appointment yesterday and looked to her for strength when the first doctor told me she wasn’t comfortable operating on a tumor that deep and the second doctor spent most of the appointment warning me about the risks of removal. I swallowed hard as his words painted a picture of a gravestone marking the death of my professional running career.
It’s funny, I always thought when it was all over and I couldn’t run anymore, I would sit in a chair with my many cats and my cloud of white hair, and reminisce about the exotic places that running took me. I pictured 90-year-old Sarah smiling as she closed her eyes and imagined running across the vivid green hills of Ireland, climbing steep cobblestones to seek out the perfect view of the Mediterranean, and charging under the Eiffel Tower before sunrise, all alone with the towering structure of steel and grace.
But honestly, on my run today I didn’t think about any of that.
All that came into my mind during those miles were mental snapshots of the people that I’ve been lucky enough to share my running journey with.
I saw Shannon sprinting beside me in high school as we crested the last hill of the course, no one else between us and a state title.
I saw Greg slipping and falling in the mud ahead of me deep in the woods of Forest Park in Portland.
I saw Lauren on my left, always on my left, “her side of the bed” as we called it, as we twisted and turned through the narrow paths of Galbraith in Bellingham, laughing and sharing secrets.
I saw Brian, tall and effortless, taking one step for my three as I tucked into his shadow for intervals on the track.
I saw Mary leading me up the final hill of Seven Stories in Blowing Rock, and the two of us stopping for the glorious panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains rippling out before us like waves in a frozen sea.
I heard Pete cracking jokes beside me with his window rolled down in Todd, holding out a bottle for me to grab as I rolled at marathon pace beside the river.
I saw Michael pacing me through demoralizing workouts my first few months at altitude in Tahoe.
I saw Tina, her tawny curls bouncing as she led us through blazing fast minutes on the Brighton Trail in Lexington.
And I saw Georgia, her head thrown back in effort beside me, as she experienced the agony and wonder of true long distance racing.
And look, even if the surgery falls into the “worst case scenario” bracket and the tumor is wrapped around nerves or embedded in the muscle and I’m unable to do this for a living anymore after having it removed, I can’t deny the fact that I have LIVED these past fifteen years. I have loved the people I’ve shared my career with and there isn’t a whole lot I regret.
But if it falls into the “best case scenario” category and I’m able to heal quickly and step to the starting line of Chicago in two and a half weeks, you better believe I’ll be running that race as though it was my last. Because the thing is, we really never know when it actually will be.
Running doesn’t owe me anything. I have loved this sport more deeply than I’ve ever loved anything in my whole life, but it has never promised to be fair to me, or to anyone. So consider this your daily clichéd reminder to run every single step with gratitude.
I can't lie and pretend I have "peace" or anything close to it heading into this afternoon, but I will step into the room with 15 years of running behind me and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have been wonderfully, ridiculously blessed.