The worst pain I can recall (prior to childbirth) I suffered when I was 17.
A half-dozen people (I can barely remember now) piled into a rickety old panel van and drove to a concert venue three hours away. Typical weekend in high school.
But don't worry, it wasn't tragic.
Actually, decades later, it seemed like comedy.
I don't remember what month it was, but it was definitely winter. And the chill in the air was compounded by a drafty old truck with a broken heater.
It felt like being seat-belted into a vegetable crate and shoved in a walk-in freezer.
By the time we got to my house in the wee hours of the morning, I slid out of the van and realized instantly that I couldn't stand up. As my friends pulled away, leaving me in a cloud of choking exhaust, I hobbled inside as if I were still sitting. I didn't know such a thing was possible, but evidently the fluid in my knees had frozen.
The actual pain happened a few hours later as I began to warm up under a pile of blankets that would have rivaled the stack of mattresses from “The Princess and Pea” story. Free-ranging ice crystals seemed to be clinking around, stabbing me in the hollows of my knees as I tried to sleep, and then alternated between kicking me in the shins and shackling my ankles.
Honestly, I thought I would die.
I had similar thoughts last weekend as I was finishing up the first mile of the 5K I shouldn't have been running because my ankle twinged with remaindered pain from a run a few days earlier.
But there I was, taking in the news of my fastest mile ever with the face-crinkling reality that the pain in my leg was no longer in receding.
I wanted to cry.
More precisely, I wanted to teleport home through a portal in the universe and pretend this lapse in judgement n-e-v-e-r happened. I just wanted to disappear into the nagging self-doubt that is my own personal prison.
But as luck would have it, the course – held on the inside of a local apple orchard within fifteen-foot fences – proved to be as restraining as an actual prison.
I imagined myself scaling the fence to get back to the road, hitchhiking the mile or so home, and feigning ignorance to anyone who might have seen me running. Who was I kidding? I might as well ask for fairy dust, or start searching for a cellphone app that would help me materialize an invisible flying scooter that would whisk me home.
I was humiliated enough. I did the crime, now I was going to have to do my time.
So I started to walk … or limp …. toward the finish.
Seventeen minutes later I was probably another 20 minutes away from being sprung when I realized another painful truth: It hurt more to walk than it did to run.
So I started to jog. Mind over matter, I told myself. Just put one foot in front of the other.
Fourteen minutes later it was over. Almost.
I still had an “urgent care” visit to muscle through, which, I can admit, I was anticipating like a cavity search.
“So … what happened?” asked the nurse.
“I broke the cardinal rule. … I ran on a painful ankle.”
“So … how long was your run?”
“Oh … It took me about 44 minutes,” I answered with disappointment.
“No,” she chuckled, “how many miles did you run on a hurt ankle?”
“Sometimes it seems like all of them.”
“Don't worry. It's not tragic. Next time, just stop running when it hurts.”
I wonder if there's an app for that?