Getting Back on Track

As you may or may not know, I spent the last three months nursing an ankle injury. Quite similar to my knee injury during JC2 right after my track and field finals (thank God!). Its a funny story really, one that features a good serving of stupidity. Much more than a days worth, definitely.

It was book out (I’m still in the army at this point) and it was peak hour. You know how the traffic is in Singapore. Pretty congested to say the very least. So I brace myself for what is to be a very long ride home. I mean, it’s Changi to Boon Keng (Do you guys even know of Boon Keng?) That’s when I start to think for myself. Maybe I don’t have to face the traffic… And that, my friends is when it all goes terribly wrong for me. When it comes to running, I adopt a do first, think later approach. Because when you start to think, let’s be honest — you’d never ever run again. So I just put on my running shoes absent-mindedly, held my credit cards and my phone in one hand and I was out there door, or the gate. Whatever, you get the idea. The amount of thought I put into this? Not enough, apparently.

It’s not long before I realise that 18km without any real build up wasn’t exactly beneficial for my body. Besides, I was also wearing the wrong pair of running shoes for that distance (I know right, different running shoes for different distances — what a creep). This pair didn’t have much of a sole so in the end, the results were rather predictable. It just hadn’t hit my brain yet that I may just be hurting my body in the process of my commute home.

My ankle hurt after that but that didn’t seem like a good indication to stop. I just kept on running. The pain wasn’t so bad at first. It came and went, like passing clouds. It didn’t really bother me so much. As a runner you’re trained to trick yourself. This pain is real, this pain isn’t (all pain is real by the way). This pain can be overcome, this pain can’t. You had to make decisions fast. Categorize things. Lie to yourself. To give up or to press on? And of course, I wasn’t giving up. And that is my greatest flaw. I chose to be brave at the wrong time, and I only chose to be brave for myself. Its the sort of payback you get for being young and thinking your body can last forever.

It was right after I ran my personal best 10km at Jurong Lake (under 40 minutes!) that things started to get bad. And I mean, really bad. On a short training run it became obvious that I wasn’t going to run again anytime soon. The passing cloud became a thunderstorm. It blocked out all the sunlight. Well, enough with the metaphors. Basically, it fucking hurt.

I was in and out for a while after that. I waited, to no avail. After a month or so I tried pacing my friends for the 2.4 km run and paid for it after. I even tried to go for the army cross country trials. Looking back, it was like throwing alcohol into a burning building. Bad as the situation already was, doing that could only make things worst.

I went to a sports doctor and got an X-ray done. Everyone suspected it was a torn muscle or strained ligament. It showed symptoms of such. Slight pain when you put weight on it, slight limping at its worst. But what the X-ray revealed was a hairline crack in my tibia. In other words it was a stress fracture on my ankle. Holy cow. Who would’ve expected that.

From that day on, I treated running like a nun treats sex. I simply didn’t do it anymore. There wasn’t any point. To see that X-ray, that 2 cm line on my bone, it frightened me. It made me rethink everything. There was something more important than pursuing the things you like. Maybe this thing you like is an extension of yourself. You don’t feel like you are yourself anymore. Like a singer who gets throat cancer or a butcher who breaks his hand.  You stop doing what you’ve known for so long. You feel down for a while. You’re unsure about what to do. Its a stifling feeling — yes it is. But then it hits you, that this is exactly the affirmation you needed — that you really loved the thing you’ve lost. Sounds pretty damn cheesy but what absence has taught me is to treasure the presence. When I’m well again, I’ll know exactly what to do. Pursue running with passion, but never never to overkill.

I stepped out of my house yesterday morning and went for a light jog. Its been three months and I haven’t felt any pain for a month now. I ran a few kilometers and kept taking notice of the injured ankle. As far as I could feel, all was good. I reached the last part of the run, realizing that my fitness had plummeted. A few times, my lungs almost gave out and threatened to slow me to a walk. But no, I realised through the whole thing: this is what I love. And somehow when you believe in something so much, you’d do everything to make things happen. So I finished the run.

But I guess finishing the run and accomplishing things in general isn’t the most important thing. I remember this running quote I once chanced upon. “Run hard, run far, but never outrun your passion for running.” These three months have taught me that giving up your dreams when you have to and putting them on hold may just be the best way to pursue them. Give these dreams respect. Because when you’re so into something its all too easy to lose yourself and lose your passion in the process.

Next stop will be Standard Chartered Half-Marathon in December. Who knows how that will go? I guess you never know. And that is the beauty of running for me.

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