I’ve always said running is about finding a rhythm and keeping it up. Whether a runner keeps his pace determines whether he can go for a long distance. It’s not speed that makes a good runner; it’s rhythm and stamina. The runner has to find a beat he feels in his pulse, legs, and lungs. He breathes in and out with the pounding of the pavement beneath his feet. His legs stretch and close with the swing of his arms and cadence of his chest. The tempo runs through his head. The runner runs long distances because he doesn’t stop or start in sudden bursts. He finds his beat and goes. So also, I test my pulse and go.

The funny thing is that I don’t have to actually go anywhere when I run. The last couple months have been too cold to enjoy jogging outside. When I’m gasping icy air turning my lungs into a fridge, I blow out smoke that’s somehow warmer than the frigid wind. Therefore, between the runny nose and three layers of clothing, I began running on treadmills during the winter. My skin doesn’t chill. I just run in place for an hour, instead of jogging along Lake Michigan. The machine reads 3.2 miles. But in reality, I’ve been treading the exact same rubber, though I’m completely worn out.

And there we go: I’m completely worn out. Running normally is an escape, but I’m just so tired. I’m tired of being confused, frustrated, used, and trying to let that out in my sprint. Other girls cry when they get hurt. My friend just collapsed on my apartment floor, her hair sprawled like a sad crown around her, tears dripping down her cheeks “Why does life have to suck?!?” I lay down by her, said what was fitting, but no tears dotted my freckled face. My friends joke that I’m a stone, emotionally unmovable. What is an emotional wreck for me, they say is stable. And I suppose I am stable, as stable as the concrete sidewalk that’s firm until a crack reaches its surface and it has to be replaced.

But I’m still sure that even the stone shattering a glass window feels it. It would have to sense the pieces colliding, hear the break, and see the debris. It wouldn’t show it on the surface because it’s a stone, shaped by tough material. But it would feel it. I don’t know how a rock would let that out.  But as for me, since crying isn’t the outlet that I can plug or unplug, I take a jog. I absorb the shock of what’s happening as my legs absorb the shock of ground. There’s a beat I can find in running… controllable and steady. I can breathe in and out, just enough to take another step. So when something’s wrong, I keep going. I run.

And that’s the thing about being tough: What might be let out isn’t. What others might talk about, I don’t mention. Another might be made of glass that shatters, but I’m made of rock. And I don’t break, but I still damage. I run through the pain, in the confusion, with the internal injuries.

But, for now, I can’t. I ran six weeks on shin splints. Runners say shin splints are a cumulative stress injury. The pain is caused by repeated running on hard surfaces which jar the muscles. It’s heightened when feet and legs lack good support. And it doesn’t hurt so much while actually running as before and after. I’ve jogged since I was thirteen and had shin splints many times. Usually, my shin splints were a reminder that I needed new support (aka, shoes). I would buy new shoes and fix the problem, till it came back six months later.

However, five weeks ago I didn’t buy new shoes. I kept running without support. Before I found my pace, I could feel the sharp bites climbing up the front of my right shin. My jog would end and the bite would clamp down. I ran with a right splint and soon a left one too, but I didn’t worry about it because, given half an hour, the splint would go away.

Like much of the damage in life, given some time, I can forget it’s there. The pain it causes decreases and I avoid dealing with it until it’s brought to my attention again, often during the short spurts when I’m not running. I forget the splints that keep me from collapsing into a shattered being. And I only remember, when the splints break and I fall apart once more… or in this case, the splints form again.

Then two weeks ago, I fell asleep and awoke with the stinging still in my fibers. I knew it was more than a splint, but I kept going; that’s what runners do. And now, I haven’t jogged in a week. Instead, I have what the doctors call a stress fracture. It’s caused by continuous running on already worn out muscles, or in other words, running on splints.

Now, as the weather warms, I could begin to run somewhere instead of in-place as I’ve been doing. But I can’t go anywhere with this fracture. All the doctors can do is x-ray the splintered tibia bone and watch it heal. Therefore, I’m left finding another way to deal with things and perhaps admit that everything isn’t okay. I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been running, and the injuries have finally proven that pain means something is wrong. I can pretend the pain doesn’t need to be dealt with. But it’s there, and at some point, I’m forced to sit down. Sometimes I just can’t run. And since running with the pain I pretend doesn’t exist doesn’t really get me anywhere, sitting down doesn’t really stop me anyway.

I’ve been taking the same steps on the same treadmill. Now I’m realizing that I hadn’t gone as far as I’d thought all along. But the pain is finally seeping out through the cracks in my fractured splint.

— Written by Sandy Heights

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