As most of you know, I’m the last person on earth who has the right to an invincibility complex. For those of you unfamiliar with my history, I invent ways to get hurt. Or break things. Or lose things. If I were in the Olympics, I would be the Olympic ring that didn’t open. I’m the tiny piece of aluminum foil you accidentally placed in the microwave. I am “Reply All.”
Fun, with some serious potential for disaster.
The problem is I’m also a runner, which means that despite a resounding body of evidence indicating the contrary, I operate on an assumption of invincibility. Because let’s be honest here, runners as a whole suffer from a Superman complex. We flirt with delusional. Advice is something you give, not follow. Injuries are what happen to other people. Overtraining may threaten our acquaintances who aren’t smart about their miles, but our unbroken chain of high volume weeks with a few half marathons thrown in don’t count because, well, we just ran the races for fun and we didn’t plan on running back-to-back long runs and Seth wanted someone to run with and a group was going to Forest Park and then Jake texted. And, really, whoever said you can’t run with a sore throat? Just because it sounds like I’m excavating Pompeii every time I cough doesn’t mean I shouldn’t head out for a few miles in sub-zero temperatures.
I mean, it’s a recovery run, for Pete Pfitzinger’s sake. It’ll probably help bring that 100-degree temperature down!
For all the talk that running is the most human sport—and it is—the sport, strangely, seems to prompt an antipodal response in its disciples. On one hand, we are reminded on a daily basis just how human we are. One untimely gastrointestinal episode and boom! our perishability hits us full force. Our mascot is a tight IT band and a foam roller. Our pledge of allegiance is twice the recommended dosage of Advil. (And then some.) And nothing is more humbling than a blown race.
On the other hand, despite these constant reminders of our mortality, we routinely forget that we are, indeed, mortal. The world sees a runner limping post-run and thinks, “That person is hurt.” Runners limp around post-run and think, “I’m amazing.”
Hey. It’s easy to confuse a limp with “swagger.”
Yes, runners are like a community of Supermans: we run around in tights, change clothes in weird places, and fly faster than speeding bullets. (What pace is a speeding bullet anyway? Nine-minute miles?) And while we may not fight crime and wear capes, the way we fight chafing and rock compression sleeves is the stuff legends are made of.
It’s just that sometimes we’re a little stiff getting in and out of the phone booth.
Last weekend I headed out for an icy fifteen miles. Feeling hardcore in my cavalier assessment of the inclement conditions, I opted for Jimi Hendrix as the soundtrack for the run. It seemed a fitting choice for my awesomeness. The moment the beginning riff to “Purple Haze” started screaming through my headphones, I wanted to start signing autographs.
Defying the ice and freezing temperatures, I ran my way through “Wind Cries Mary” and “Foxey Lady” and “The Star-Spangled Banner - Live at Woodstock.” I dropped the pace with every mile. My shoes were on fire. My cheeks were red from the cold air. I felt alive. I nodded to people as they drove by with that “Yo!” kinda nod. I assumed I made their day. And somewhere around mile nine, I discovered a patch of black ice.
“Excuse me while I kiss the sk…” CRASH!
Oh, man… What happened? Where am I?
In one fell swoop, my superhero aura imploded. My “runner’s high” was dashed ingloriously against the frozen pavement. My hip was sore and bruised. My elbow was sore and bruised. And I had an incriminating blanket of ice and snow covering my backside. With sheepish caution, I picked myself up and brushed off my tights.
I started running again.
Six miles and a hot shower later, I was admiring several pink, black, and blue splotches that continued to swell along the right side of my body. I didn’t feel completely defeated—I had finished the long run, after all—but it had been a rough day in Metropolis, to say the least.
This winter has not been kind. I’ve gotten hurt and I’ve gotten sick. I’m missed races and I’ve missed workouts. Occasionally, I’ve felt very, very tired. As excited as I’ve been to resume training and racing in earnest, I’ve also had my breakdowns. I’ve been a little less Superman and a little more Clark Kent. My cloak of invincibility has ripped in a few places. Okay, more than a few.
I’ve been vincible. Pretty darn vincible.
The realization that you’re not invincible is a jarring one. And it’s not entirely pleasant, considering it usually takes a crash-landing of sorts to recognize this truth. One moment we’re wearing shorts during the blizzard of the century; the next, we’re convinced two days of chest congestion is the beginning of the end. We start to think twice about things that previously wouldn’t have caused us to blink an eye. We become gun-shy. We feel like strangers in our own skin.
What’s the matter with me? I wonder as I find myself overdressed for the umpteenth time since I came down with the flu back in December. I know how to dress for a run. Why am I suddenly second-guessing everything?
Why? Because I got the flu, that’s why. And I never get the flu.
The good news is vincibility can be used for good. Namely, it can remind us that all the advice we dish out isn’t just hot air. It really works. You know all those recommendations about sleep and hydration and stretching and eating well? Yep. Incredibly, it’s not just for other people. It really works for, you know, us.
The next time you crash-land from your runner’s high, think of it as a physical Post-It note reminding you to be smart. Take your own advice. Heal up. Rest up. And move on. Because if you can do what you do while being vincible, heck, just think what you could do if you really were invincible.
It almost wouldn’t be fair to Superman.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.