In running, athletes talk about muscle memory. It’s that thing where even if you’ve quit running for a couple of weeks or even months, once you begin again, your muscles can remember where you left off. It’s not that you necessarily pick up where you left off. Often once you take a break from running, it’s really tough to get back to the fitness level you had when you quit. Muscle memory is simply your legs’ ability to remember. Today I felt a different kind of muscle memory.
I ran past homes and cornfields I hadn’t seen since running 7 or 15 or 18 miles. I ran hills and stretches of roads that I hadn’t experienced since the leaves turned orange. I ran past a place that reminded me of a good book I listened to. I ran past a house that always looks inviting yet also gives me the heebie-jeebies when I run past it. I ran past a hill next to the road that I climbed and sang the doxology on just because.
And I also ran past a place that I had to stretch on the side of the road because my hip felt like it was on the verge of breaking into pieces. I ran past a spot that made me double over, crying, because I missed my roommate so much. I ran past the place where my friend fought off tears as she told me about her family. As I hit certain mile markers, I was reminded of the long runs I did last semester. I was reminded of the aches and pains that will forever be associated with that road in Upland, Indiana.
At first, the force of these memories made my bones ache. Training for the marathon was a beautiful, painful, hot mess of a task. But today I remembered that hard things are not always bad things, that those stretches that made me cry, shouldn’t be avoided because of the tears.
My muscles are having a hard time remembering how to run long distances. Each time I ask them to run a mile farther, they ache and groan. They beg me to walk, to turn around. They beg me to watch Friends and eat a tub of ice cream.
But something always eggs me on. Something tries to coax my feet forward just one more step. I’m not sure that it’s something as fancy as muscle memory. I have a feeling it’s mostly the memory of pushing through hard things in the past. It’s the memory of finishing 18 and 20 mile runs. It’s the memory of crossing a finish line each week, of accomplishing a little bit more of the goal.
I’m trying to get my muscles to remember how to run. They’re fighting me as hard as they can. But then I remember that hard things aren’t always bad things, and those things that cause pain, that make me want to cry shouldn’t be avoided just because of the tears. And so I run a step farther.