By Deborah Dunham for Blisstree.com
I have a major frenemy in my life. And right now, we are definitely leaning more towards enemies than friends. To be perfectly honest, we're in the midst of all-out war. My so-called "friend" has betrayed me. Let me down. Turned against me, yet again. Why I continue to trust her, I don't know. Somehow, I keep thinking next time will be different.
Instead, it's like clockwork. Every time I get ready to do something big, she retaliates. It's like she gets jealous that she is not getting enough attention anymore. Like the inevitable battle between teens and parents, she want to be in control and have the final say on everything I do. Quite frankly, she behaves like a spoiled brat.
I am speaking, of course, about my Achilles.
Formally named the calcaneal tendon, this tendon connects two major muscles in the lower leg and is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body. One would think it could woman-up and hold its own under strenuous circumstances like training for a marathon. After all, nobody likes wimpy legs, right? (It's like the scrawny guy down the street who mows his lawn without a shirt and you just want to scream, "For the love of God, put a shirt on, please!")
But lately, I'm not so sure my leg is who she used to be.
For the past 12 months, I've been dealing with chronic Achilles tendonitis, and on virtually all of my runs, it's been a battle of wills: it vs. me. In an effort to compromise, I've tried shifting my training, my form and my technique, thinking that a tweak or two would be just what it needed and then I could resume being the runner girl I am. I've read everything I can get my hands on about this injury, adjusted my pace and my stride, tried virtually every pair of running shoes on the market, experimented with barefoot running, gotten countless massages, went through physical therapy (twice), tried acupuncture, got custom orthotics made, bought compression socks (pink of course), used heel lifts, became an avid stretcher, stood in freezing cold water each morning while watching the "Today Show," endured countless hours with an ice pack every night, swallowed bottles of ibuprofen, took steroids and even tried meditating my way past the pain (just in case it was all in my head. It wasn't). But lo and behold, the ache and stiffness and throbbing and misery would return. Sure, I'd get glimmers of hope for a run or two, but then, like that annoying lady on the Progressive Insurance commercials, there it was again.
Every morning, I ask my leg if today will be the day. And every morning, it unmistakably responds with a big fat "no". "Come on," I tell it. "Hurry up. I have places to go, people to beat."
So as I sit here wallowing in my pool of frustration (and self-pity), I think about all of the adversity I've encountered over the years. The races that didn't turn out as planned, the training runs that didn't happen, the competitors who outran me, the finish times I didn't get, the hills that were insurmountable, the trails that tripped me and left me bruised for weeks, the unforgiving summer heat, and on and on. Somehow an injury makes you start questioning your abilities and training in an effort to figure out just where things went wrong. After all, this is not the first time this has happened, not the first time I pushed myself into an injury, so one would think I would know better by now.
"Maybe you just weren't made to run long distances," my hubby said recently when I was whining about my current state of affairs. "How many times are you going to get injured and then go out and do it all over again? Why don't you just stick with non-impact sports?" he said.
"Why don't you just stick it," I responded. [Mental note: Do not ask him what he thinks I should do about an injury, because a life without running is far too depressing to seriously consider. Everybody has their drug of choice. Running is mine.]
It all started after my last marathon. Things were rolling along just fine for the first half of the race. I was talking to my legs, stroking their ego, having a private love-fest. I felt like I had conquered our prior episodes and emerged victoriously this time. My legs were now hitting each mile mark exactly when I told them to. Excitement was in the air. It was like Christmas morning when I was five all over again. Other marathons hadn't always been like this, but I was better, stronger, faster this time. After 13 marathons, I thought I finally had the perfect one figured out. One mile rolled into five, five into 10 and 10 into 15. All systems were a go. Then came mile 17.
The Achilles on my left leg -- my friend turned enemy -- was done. Finished. Finito. Almost without warning, she starting whining. When I didn't respond, she started yelling and finally an all-out screaming match ensued. Yep, she was not happy. It was like dreaded two-year-old in the middle of the grocery store triumphantly declaring, "I'm over this and want to go home NOW."
With nine more miles to go, she could continue her hissy fit all she wanted, but the only place we were going was to the finish line. Try as I might to cajole her back to a happy place, it was a futile effort. "Fine, I'll slow down, but we're not stopping, and we're certainly not quitting," I said. I didn't care how sore she was. Just minutes before, I was having my Chariots of Fire moment. Now I was in a full-blown knock-out, drag-out war. It was the kind of debilitating pain that would make a grown woman cry.
As I turned my beautiful strides into a schlogger shuffle, I watched the pace on my GPS watch rise like a thermometer in a roasting turkey. Sometimes I hate that watch. I mean, does it always have to be so honest?
But, mile after slow mile, I pursued and finally rounded the corner to the sight of the finish line. It wasn't my finest moment, but the two of us were happy to be done. If you are thinking that I should have just stopped and not tortured my leg so much, you pretty much have to run marathons to appreciate that dilemma. Months of training would be thrown out the window. But instead, I now have months of not running to pay for that stupidity. Yes, we runners are a strange bunch.
Over the years, I've come to realize that adversity is simply a part of life and pain is inevitable in anything that is ultimately rewarding. So, here I am trying to make nice with my Achilles again and planning our next marathon. Let's just hope we can become friends again.
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