By HPRS Staff Columnist Holly Rapp
Over the last year, I had the privilege of returning to running after a nearly two-year injury- and illness-induced hiatus. During that period, multiple stress fractures and serious health issues left me wondering if I would ever run again.
As a runner since junior high cross country (I’m now in my early 30s), it’s hard to explain how difficult it was to be unable to run. I wish I could say I spent that time pouring myself into other interests or broadening my horizons in some way, but, the truth is, running is my only outlet and I was indescribably lost during those years.
The day I was finally cleared to run, I was beyond thrilled. I had spent months rebuilding a terribly atrophied leg and learning to walk without a limp. For quite some time, walking alone had been a true physical challenge. My triumphant return began with an almost one-block run, an unimaginably exciting and excruciatingly painful experience.
From there, I mapped out a one-mile course from my front door and kept shuffling along, hoping someday to reach that elusive mile mark. The day I made it an entire mile felt truly more exciting than finishing my first marathon.
While it was humbling to accept my new physical reality as a runner, I quickly discovered I had acquired newfound mental fortitude. In the past, I felt self-conscious about my speed or mileage and worried constantly about what people thought of me. Post-injury, however, I was so thankful for the opportunity to run that I simply didn’t care what anybody else thought. My profound loss of physical ability had somehow led to an incredibly powerful mental transformation, one which has turned me into a completely different runner.
Though I now face certain physical limitations, I also have the courage to try things I was too afraid to attempt in the past. In the last year, I have logged unprecedented mileage, run in places I previously deemed too hard, and signed up for what I hope will be the first of many ultras. While I used to always run alone, I now join group runs and seek opportunities to run with others, who in turn push me to take on even more new challenges. Losing running for a time ultimately led to the most exceptional period of running in my life.
I am now grateful for every single run, no matter how short or painful. In the difficult moments, I remind myself how badly I wanted this chance to hurt, this opportunity to push past an impossible limit, or the experience of bringing myself to my breaking point. In these moments, I think of the extraordinary gratitude I feel for the ability to run and I embrace the pain and suffering I’ve worked so hard to achieve.
If there is anyone out there who is struggling or injured or who cannot run, please know that I came out on the other side and I hope you will, too. Know that you can make it through. Know you might not only get back to where you were, but you might very well become even better, though perhaps not exactly in the ways you anticipated.
Every day I run is another day I defy my own expectations and prove to myself, in a tangible way, that I can do things I thought were impossible. Running, indeed, constantly pushes me to re-define the very notion of what is possible. I feel extreme gratitude for every struggle that brought me to this point, where I now stand poised to take on another year of impossible challenges.