The Jig Is Up

“Hello, Mari. I want you to know how much I care about you. You don’t need to keep doing this to earn my respect.”

That was me, speaking to myself, on the day I decided I had a problem that could only be resolved with an intervention tactic. Earlier that morning I’d set out on a hilly 6-mile run in spite of the pain that had persisted in my hip for over a month. Although I did finish the entire loop, I couldn’t deny that I’d had to slow down and jog with a limping gait for most of it or that I had completed the last mile at a walking pace. It was time, I pleaded to the stubborn running addict within me, for a recovery rest.

All my adult life, I have given people who exercise with injuries the same judgment a bossy teenager might bestow upon an ugly sweater. “Ew,” has been my stock response any time I’ve listened to someone complain about joint or muscle pain affecting their running performance. “Why would you do that to yourself?” Whether I’m talking to my friend who runs a 10K every day in spite of ankle tendonitis or my 60-year-old neighbor who pops ibuprofen by the handful after every run, I deliver the same strongly-worded lesson: “Listen to your body. If it hurts, it’s telling you to stop.”

Although this has always seemed like obvious advice, until just recently I haven’t personally been in a position where I needed to receive it. At the time my hip began to bother me, I’d never suffered from an injury serious enough to prevent me from running almost every day. Last spring, after training for the Vermont City Marathon and finishing it in good time, I decided that my body was beyond risk for running injuries. Then, without so much as a day of rest, I began to train for another marathon and sought out even longer routes and steeper hills than before. Although the warning signs were there—my pace was getting worse, not better, and it became rare for me to run without any pain—I ignored the possibility that I might be overdoing it.

At some point in the middle of this, I mentioned to my friend with ankle tendonitis that my hip was starting to hurt. She crossed her arms and gave me a look that was strangely familiar. “Listen to your body,” She said. “If it hurts, it’s telling you to stop.” I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject, but she gave me a playful slap and reminded me that the advice was what I’d been telling her for years. Somehow I’d managed to ignore very same wisdom I’d been repeating to her from my soapbox as if I’d had any idea what I was talking about.

By now it has become painfully clear that the problem in my hip won’t go away unless I rest it. So although I’m hanging up my sneakers for the next several weeks, months, or however long it takes to heal, I can at least hope that when I hit the pavement again I’ll feel exactly the same way I felt the first time I ran. That is to say, out of breath and miserable. But within, like, five to 10 more runs after that it will be as grand and magnificent as exercise ever felt before the pain. And that, I keep telling myself, makes resting worth it.

Mari Zagarins

When Mari isn't running, biking, hiking, or jumping-jacking in and around her home in Montpelier, she is practicing her facial expressions in the mirror and contemplating whether she should learn to swim.