For a lot of athletes, body appreciation can be a challenge. There is so much pressure (both internal and external) to look a certain way. But for some athletes, it's more than just external appearance and how you look in your race kit. It's also about what your body isn't doing - if you're dealing with an injury, or trying to make progress in your training, it can be really frustrating to feel like you're fighting against your body. You might generally be okay with how you look, but when your body's not cooperating - ugh. Suddenly everything seems off.
I've been hanging out in body frustration for a while now. In November of 2019, I was training for a goal half marathon (a sub 1:40 - spoiler alert, still training for that goal) after coming off of a strong season of marathon training in early 2019 that ended in a disappointing finish at the 2019 Vancouver Marathon. I had been running consistently all summer, and I was feeling pretty good about taking a big step forward in my fitness and race results. And then, I started feeling a pain in the back of my right leg. Not after every run, not during every run, just sometimes, like a dull ache that I couldn't quite pinpoint deep in my glute.
That was the beginning of a saga that is still ongoing. I've taken time off, I've worked the heck out of my glutes, my feet, my rotational core. I tried to increase my mileage for months and finally just accepted that I'd be running 30 miles a week and certainly not running any marathons in the fall of 2020 (my goal race got cancelled, but I had already deferred). Meanwhile, I watched most of my running crew get faster, run longer, and leave me in the dust. Talk about freaking frustration! I was so annoyed with my body. I've never felt so unfit or slow as I did this past year. Everyone's had an opinion, too. "It's your sciatic nerve." "It's your piriformis." "You need to take time off." "You need to do different stretches." "Have you thought about foam rolling?"
Yes. I have thought about foam rolling.
I got an MRI done at the end of August, and turns out I had micro-tears in my right hamstring, and a stress reaction on my ischium - the tendon was pulling at the bone so hard that it was cracking. Apparently, the only way to fix this injury is a) time and patience, and b) overloading the hamstring to strengthen it. Lucky me. For the last 4 months I've been constantly overloading my hamstrings, trying to get them strong enough that the pain will go away for good. It's been up and down, for the most part. It's hard to appreciate your body when part of it is constantly working against you.
So today, in the spirit of body appreciation - I want to thank my underappreciated left leg. My left leg is a trooper. It's been through all the things my right side has in the name of balance. Overload the right leg? Gotta overload the left one, too. For every step I take with my right leg in a fartlek or a tempo run, finding the edge between sensitivity and progress, my left leg takes one, too. My left leg has put up with every minute I've had to stand at a desk due to the pain that flares up in my right with prolonged sitting. It's been through many, many reps of single leg raises and bridge holds and deadlifts and balancing on a Mobo board.
My left leg has never complained. It's done more than its fair share. It's dragged my right leg along with it, staying strong even when I would prefer to collapse. It doesn't hurt. It doesn't start to nag at me after a hill repeat or a set of strides. My poor left hip bears my weight at night because I can't sleep on my right side (my preferred side) anymore. When I instinctively shift my weight to one side throughout the day, it's the left leg that holds me up. I spend a lot of time thinking about my right leg - but without the contributions of the left one, the right would be lost.
My left leg is a reminder of what the right leg can be. It's a sign that I can get stronger. That I am capable of so much more. And if I can start with my legs on a level playing field, instead of the one having to play catch-up - what goals could I accomplish then?
So thanks to my left leg, for being there and sticking with the plan. It wasn't your fault that things got dicey, but you went along with it all the same. You held up your end of the deal and contributed your part to healing your twin. We're not there yet - but we're making progress. And as dumb as it sounds - I couldn't do it without you.
Body love is hard. Body respect is hard, too. This week, challenge yourself to find and appreciate what your body is doing well, how it's helping you out, and what it's doing even when you beat it up. Me and my legs will keep on truckin'.