Last Sunday, I was in Miami to visit my daughter and her husband. I left my hotel in downtown Miami and ran to join my son-in-law, Michael, and his dog, Maple, outside their apartment on Brickell Avenue. We were going for a run over to Rickenbacker Causeway. The day was spectacular, the sky so blue it hurt your eyes, not a cloud in sight, and the temperature in the 70’s. We ran slowly, conversing all the way about , well, about everyday things, life, medicine, his search for a new car, you know, stuff. At the top of the second bridge, the high one, we stopped and just drank in the view, with the Miami skyline on one side, and Key Biscayne and Biscayne Bay on the other. Boats carved white wakes on the water. The golden dome of the Seaquarium, an iconic Miami institution, shimmered in the distance. The Seaquarium was a huge tourist attraction decades before SeaWorld existed. We ran back to his apartment where we split up and I headed back to the hotel to clean up and change. I was feeling loose and energized by the day, and decided to make a detour into Simpson Park Hammock, a 7.8 acre piece of natural Florida in the middle of downtown. It is one of the few remnants of the Brickell Hammock, once the largest and most diverse hammock in South Florida.
The park is surrounded by a coral rock wall topped with a chain link fence. Take twenty steps inside the entrance and the city disappears in the quiet, cool shade of giant Ficus and diverse, old growth hardwoods. The crushed coral rock path is strewn with large and small coral outcroppings and serpentine roots rise above the surface of the path. Whereas I was able to run almost unconsciously on the causeway, talking and admiring the view, here I had to focus intently on each footfall to avoid obstacles. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an upcoming split in the trail and briefly looked up to see which fork to take. In that instant, my right foot struck a root and came to a dead stop. I didn’t, and flew, face first, through the air, crashing into the ground. It was over in a fraction of the time it took to describe this. I lay, face down on the ground, immediately assessing possible injuries. I got up, looked around and was pleased to see that there was no one in sight to witness my ignominious fail.
Taking inventory, I counted two bloody knees, multiple scrapes and punctures on both hands, and some superficial scrapes on my chest and abdomen. No sprains or fractures. I had violated one of the late Dr. George Sheehan’s central tenets of running: I had turned from the now to the future. “But for those active in mind and heart and body…the time is always now. When the athlete, for instance, turns his attention from the decision to be made this second, and every second, he invites disaster.” Chastened and bloodied, but undaunted, I finished the run and headed back to the hotel to lick my wounds. Later, clean and bandaged, I reflected on the morning and decided it was still one of my best runs, ever.
I related this story to a non-running friend a few days later and, when I got to the part about the face plant, he chimed in, “and that’s why I don’t exercise.” Many would agree. He, and they, miss the point. Rather than detract from or ruin the run, the stumble and fall had been the crowning touch, a surprising but none-the-less great ending to a magical run. I spent quality time with my son-in-law, reveled in a day so perfect you could not improve upon it, and connected with my own body. I felt pretty good, no, make that great. I had stumbled, yes, but in the process had demonstrated I still had the agility and strength to catch myself, keep my face off of the coral path, avoid serious injury, and continue my run anyway. I felt great for the rest of the day. The fall did not take away; it added and made it more memorable, adding another chapter to the storybook of my adventures in running. What few scars I will have, I will wear with pride. Sadly, these are things no non-runner will understand, to their enduring loss.
To a non-runner, my experience is so alien that no explanation will suffice to help them understand it. To other runners, no explanation is necessary.
When you run or exercise or, for that matter, do anything that takes you out of your physical comfort zone, you open yourself up to the possibility of discomfort, pain, or even injury. You also open yourself up to the rewards and they are, oh, so worth it. Without the potential for pain, the prospect of pleasure is greatly diminished. Unremitting comfort and pleasure dulls the senses, like the baker in a shop who no longer delights in the smells because he has become so acclimated to them.
Not that I want all my runs to end with an injury. Far from it. Even so, when they do, it makes me appreciate all the more those innumerable runs that do not.