No, she didn’t die, thank God. But the loss and the grief is real nonetheless.
Robin first joined Lindsay and me less than two years ago when I coerced her into a run.
“I’m not really a runner,” she replied.
“But, you’re going for a run,” I said, looking down at her fully laced shoes.
“I’m more of a jogger.”
First, sorry Jim Fixx, but I don’t believe in jogging. If you’re going faster than a walk, you’re running. You’ll recognize it by the ache in your joints, the panting in your chest and the jostling of your breasts. In short, you’ll know it when you feel it.
Robin and I were already friends so it was only a matter of the time that my pestering would cause her to cave. And here’s the thing non-runners or self-proclaimed joggers should know: runners live to recruit other runners. It’s not because we want to watch you suffer or mock you for your inexperience—that would make me a bad runner (as well as a terrible person). It’s because we want you to love (and hate) it as much as we do, and we want to do this together. Misery likes company, or something like that…
Fast-forward 18 months and Robin, whom I discovered is mentally and physically pretty damn tough (a perfect running recipe!), went from running 3 miles at a 10-minute-plus pace to double-digit miles, speed work, running and placing in races, donning KT Tape and falling into a puddle of murky sadness if she missed a run.
Robin became a “real runner.”
As we trained for the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this past November, I started to scheme how I would convince Robin to run a marathon with me. I’d already failed with Lindsay, who, true to her stubborn Southern roots, can’t be convinced to do anything she doesn’t want to, but Robin—a congenial Midwesterner—was an easy target. Also, I totally knew she could do it.
I didn’t even have to get her drunk to get her to sign up for the January 14th Charleston Marathon while at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo. And after earning her half-marathon PR the next day, we began our 20-week training program.
Watching Robin hit milestone after milestone during our training runs (Her fastest mile! Longest run! First GU shot!) was oddly exciting for me. I’m hardly a seasoned veteran, but with three marathons under my belt, I totally get the exhilaration…and the struggle. And I not-so secretly congratulated myself for sucking her into the adventure.
Two weeks before the marathon and 9 miles into on our 20-mile run, Robin suddenly stopped.
“What is it?”
And for the next three miles we ran-walked while her knee locked up every quarter mile. She told me to go on without her and that she’d rest—probably just an overworked IT Band. So, I finished out the miles and later learned that she did too, because that’s what real runners do, as stupid as it may be.
For the next week, she tried unsuccessfully to resume running, her knee incapacitating her each time after just a few miles. She tried tape, massage, ice, rest—and then called in the ortho guns.
After her appointment, she called me with the news.
She said something about x-rays indicating that her body alignment was off and that she had to take 8 weeks off or risk a fracture.
“He said I can’t run the marathon and it’s likely I’ll never be able to run one,” she explained, her voice wavering. “And after 8 weeks, if it still hurts, I might just have to do something else.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I replied, a friend unwilling to lose her running partner. Unwilling to accept that this next weekend’s marathon wasn’t going to happen for both of us.
Robin was taking in the diagnosis. I was refuting it.
“I don’t accept that. You need a second opinion. Is this ‘doctor’ even a runner?”
I’m sure the orthopedic doc is more than qualified, but in my anger, I doubted all of his credentials—plus, I’m 100% sure a runner would never tell another runner that she may have to “do something else.” Like what? Water aerobics? Step? Nothing wrong with that—unless you’re a runner. Then everything is wrong with it.
I remember years ago a doctor telling me that “women weren’t physiologically designed for running.” I get that we may be predisposed for certain injuries, but not designed for running? There are a lot of things I’m not “designed” for: science, cooking, remembering to put out the garbage. Only cheetahs are designed for running, and even then, they can’t go very far.
Robin put on a brave face while I swiftly sunk into the 5 stages of grief—or at least the first three. Denial and anger came fast enough, followed quickly by bargaining, or what I would call “suggestion.” I polled my “experts”—Lindsay, and then her husband and my husband (neither run, but whatever) and concluded that the diagnosis was not only ridiculous, but also unacceptable.
Lindsay—always the friend—gave me permission to grieve even though Robin’s injury certainly isn’t “about me.” But it kind of is. What excited me most about the marathon was the thought of the shared pre-race nerves, the deliberating over what to eat and drink, the lack of sleep the night before and, most important, seeing Robin cross that line with all the emotions pouring over her. Seeing that look of complete exhaustion and accomplishment. And then later re-hashing each mile of the race together for the next 24-hours like only two people who experienced it together could.
Now it’s just me and 26.2 long miles. Which begs the existential question: if you run alone and no one does it with you, does it really even happen?
Pardon the drama, but I’m in a dark place.
Thankfully, Robin isn’t blindly accepting her fate. She’s made an appointment with a guy I consider to be our city’s running guru. He’s an Ironman competitor. A sports therapist. A real runner. Basically, a god to the injured runner.
I pray to the running gods—and really anyone else who will listen—that Robin will run another day, and preferably on January 14th.