From the elite Olympians to the weekend warrior, we all have had to do it at some point. We all have downed some Advil, wrapped our knees and ankles in tape; heck some of us have even used crutches up to the start line of our race, all just to make it to the end of our season. We all arise each morning, waiting for that day when those first few steps out of bed will be pain free.
There is one injury that cannot be masked by pain killers and ice packs. There is one injury that we cannot predict how long it will take to heal… A broken heart. It’s funny how we runners are all totally game to talk about our injured past, but our throats close up and our words run dry when it comes to the topic of love and running.
There’s a quiet hush that spreads over a dinner table of runners when the end of a relationship is brought up. It’s like we all know that silent, lonely pain. That unlike the hobbling we all do after a hard workout, or during those first few steps in the morning, a bruised, battered, and broken heart is sometimes enough to keep us from running that hard workout, or make getting out of bed in the morning nearly impossible.
Falling in love is like running in the snow. You can get swept up off your feet… which puts you in the perfect position to fall flat on your bum. Only the bruise on your bottom will likely heal quicker than the bruise on your heart.
There are some runners who use their broken heart to fuel their fire. They commit to putting their head down and running hard mile after hard mile, until life feels normal… livable… again. There are those of us that run away to training camps… pack up our running lives and bring the shell of ourselves to a new place to train. Sometimes tricking ourselves into thinking that the open wound in our chest has scabbed over and we are once again whole.
Everyone deals with a broken heart at some point in their life, and it’s not that I’m trying to say that we runners are special or that the “common” person’s pain doesn’t measure up against what we feel when a relationship ends. It’s just that it is different for a runner. Everything we do is pre-planned and calculated. We learn over the years how to read our bodies. We know what workouts will make us stronger, and what we need to do in order to avoid injury. And when injury happens, we can snap into healing mode to try and fix it. We know what doctors to go see, what exercises to do… we know how to come back from an injury smarter… stronger… with the ability to prevent that pain again. You cannot apply the same prescription to a crushed heart.
Healing a broken heart is foreign to us. There is no cast or walking boot that we can put our heart in for six weeks and come out healed, ready to slowly start tacking on the miles again. Instead we are forced to run through this injury.
We runners are different. We willingly push our bodies to the limit and then line up the next day to do it all over again. We like structure. We like being in control of our body, so that we can feel somewhat in control of our destiny. We are used to the battle with our mind when the miles get tough and our muscles start to fatigue. No amount of training can prepare us for the battle with our heart.
There is no training program for us to follow that will help us get to the finish line in love, no plan to help us recover from love gone wrong.
Unlike non-runners, when a relationship ends we are immediately stuck straddling two worlds. We’d like to stay in bed for days or drink beer after beer after beer or heck, even go out dancing just to prove we are still hot to trot. But we can’t. No matter how much our heart hurts or how heavy our chest feels, those miles aren’t going to run themselves… we don’t get to crawl into a dark hole, our running logs must be complete. Sure, if we could time our break-ups we’d all pick them to happen at the end of our season, after that big race when you are on a runner’s high and when you’ve probably pre-planned a little beer drinking. Unfortunately, like any injury you can’t predict when this one will strike.
Relationships for runners are an investment. Our personalities are such that we don’t enter into anything lightly, so when it ends it stings that much more. We are left with hundreds and thousands of miles where our brains have nothing to do but dwell and remember.
We are runners. We are strong and often admired for our perseverance. Unfortunately this means that our competitive drive, our desire to conquer, our refusal to admit defeat will get the better of us, and we will pick at the scab of our wounded heart longer than others. We will spend a few extra miles trying to understand how we could possibly be seen as cold or lacking compassion?
After enough running with a heavy heart we all slowly learn how to deal with this injury. Our mileage runs return to their usual mindless wander, and we start to feel that lift again under our soles when we line up to race. We come back stronger; maybe not all that smarter (some of us still have a few frogs left to date), but back to our true form… of course always remembering that our truest significant other was there the entire time … running with us through our injury.