March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The gift this columnist wants can't be bought

Monday, Dec. 5 —

The holiday season can be a time of
contradiction. Thanksgiving Day brings with it the official start of the
holiday season, a time traditionally set aside for counting our abundant
blessings. The following day, Black Friday, ushers in the season of giving and
receiving. I don’t mean to come off as cynical, but in the course of 24 hours
we go from giving thanks to wishing for more.

Obviously, there is much more to the holiday
season than the things that we wish for under the tree on Christmas morning. There
always seems to be a greater joy in giving than in receiving, but I must admit
that there is a certain gratification in ending the curiosity Christmas morning
and finally discovering what was hidden in each package with my name printed on
the tag.

It’s a battle between bestowing our time,
talents and gifts unto others while at the same time thinking of our own wants
and needs. This internal clash of greed versus generosity varies from
individual to individual, but it exists in all of us. This is part of human
nature. The holiday season involves reflecting on the things we are grateful
for, passing on joy to others but also making our own wish lists, a true time
of contradiction that is more obvious the last two months of every year. Fortunately,
the kindness of the human spirit is widespread enough this time of year,
overshadowing the contradiction that comes with this season.

My holiday wish list through the years has
resembled a broken record. Every year my wife and children ask me what I would
like for Christmas, and every year my wish list seems like a mirror image of
the list from previous years. Gloves, socks, hats, shirts, Garmin watches and books
about running seem to make their way under the Christmas tree each year, making
the theme of my gifts running-related.

My wish for Christmas this year follows the
same theme, but this year’s wish is in many ways different than any that I have
ever asked for. You see what I am asking for this year is something that my
wife and kids can’t give to me. What I long for this Christmas will not fit
under the tree in a gift box. The thing that I want most this year can only be
given to me through patience, hope, faith and maybe a tiny bit of good fortune.
This year I want nothing more than to be able to run again before the New Year.

Of my 13 years of running, this year has seen
more days of not running than any other. My first round of injuries began last
February, when I fractured a rib as the result of a nasty fall during a run. This
sidelined me for a few weeks, but it was closer to six weeks before I could run
with the intensity that I was accustomed to. Fortunately, I was able to cross
train with my elliptical trainer during my hiatus from running. I worried that
I would lose all of the fitness that I had built over the years during this
time, but it took only a matter of a few weeks to get back to where I

My running continued to roll smoothly through
much of the spring until I experienced a slight twinge in my right hamstring
during a run, near the end of May. I thought that this would pass, but I spent
much of the summer going through physical therapy and spending more hours
cycling than running. I worried that I would be unable to run a fall marathon
for the first time since 1998, but my hamstring issue seemed to resolve itself
and I had worked up to an 18-mile run by the first Saturday in September. The
next weekend I raced the Battle Creek Corporate 5K and mile in consecutive
days, missing a personal record in both events by seconds. My running seemed to
be back on track.

The confidence that had disappeared during the
summer months seemed to be returning, but after going for a run the next
Monday, I experienced some pain in my right hip. I rested a few days and ran
Dances with Dirt the following Saturday, only to have the pain come back at a
higher intensity. The discomfort seemed to diffuse again, so I attempted one
more run the following week, but the pain returned and I have not been able to
run since.

Racing the 5K and mile on consecutive days,
while coming back from a hamstring injury may not have been the only thing that
contributed to my hip injury, but I am confident that it played a major role. I
continued to use the elliptical and stationary bike for a few weeks, but even
this became painful. An X-ray and MRI showed nothing abnormal, which I suppose
is positive. I have been going through physical therapy again for almost six
weeks. My physical therapist has diagnosed it as a strain of the hip flexor
muscles, giving me a range of four to 12 weeks for recovery. It has been almost
eight weeks, and Christmas Day will bring with it the high end of that range,
with 12 weeks of no running. So you see if my physical therapist’s diagnosis is
accurate, I will be able to run on Christmas Day, giving me the only Christmas
present that I am asking for this year.

Most runners struggle with downtime at one
time or another as they work through an injury. I would imagine that some of
the struggles that I have gone through the last eight weeks are very similar to
what many runners have experienced. A downtime can be a positive, giving time
to focus on other things with a slight more vigor than would otherwise occur
during the course of a weekly running schedule, but not being able to run can
still present a major challenge for the avid runner. I have always been able to
replace running with other forms of exercise while coasting through injuries,
but when it became difficult to cross-train back in late September, I concluded
that it was time to back off from everything and let the injury take its
course. The problem is, I was convinced I would be able to return in three or
four weeks. As three weeks turned into four weeks and the progress seemed
minimal, other thoughts and questions began to penetrate my mind. Will I ever
run at the same level or same intensity again? Will I ever run again?

Being in the midst of an extended period
without running, fears about never being able to run again still come up
periodically. The mind games associated with my layoff from running have not
consumed me but there have been those days with sunny skies, a slight breeze
and temperatures in the 60s when I have struggled emotionally, trying to erase
thoughts of going out and enjoying the day with a run.

A few weeks ago, while looking out the window
and seeing flurries of snow float from the sky, a realization suddenly came to
me. I had missed the entire autumn running season, my favorite time of year to
run. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle for me was standing on the sidelines
as many of my friends and acquaintances completed a marathon. This would be my
first autumn since 1998 that I had not run a marathon, leaving void in my heart
that could not be filled. For the last 13 years running an October marathon was
as much a part of the season for me as the change in temperatures and the
tapestry of colors covering the landscape here in Michigan.

Although thoughts of not being able to
experience the positives that I had come to enjoy as a direct result of running
have filtered through my mind, there are those blessings in my life that are
not directly a result of running, but still related to running that I have
feared were in jeopardy as well. Through the years, running has brought to me
many friendships. Although there are those friendships that I know will survive
if I do not run again, I worry about others that might fizzle if running were
not a part of my life anymore. Continuing to be able to share my stories and
perspective on life through running with all of you each month also seemed to
be at risk. Writing has become an important part of my life much like running. Writing
exercises my mind just as running exercises my body.

Without running, what would I have to write
about? When my running schedule is back to normal a few months from now these
concerns shall seem absurd. The longer I wait, the more my hope is tested as I
strive to hold on to the belief that I will get through this bump in the road.

All of us wish for material things this time
of year and throughout the year, but I would suspect that it is the simple
thing in life that we enjoy the most. Family, friends and good health top the
list of these simple things in life for most of us. Running has been one of
those simple joys in my life. Although I have always been grateful for what
running does for me day after day, it is still something that is taken for
granted. Like many things in life, running is not a necessity. Most personal wishes
have at least a trace of greed rooted in them. Although I have no desire to be
consumed by greed, I do hope that my simple wish this year will find its way
under my Christmas tree.
Keep running!