An old injury resurfaced recently. Hip pain, dormant for almost a decade, flared up.
Except pain isn’t the right word.
It’s an ache. A deep ache, down to the marrow itself. An ache that morphs into leg pain and back pain, burrowing itself elsewhere in my body, so that my hip feels fine, even though that injured hip is the source of all the discomfort.
But injured isn’t the right word either.
Because injury and pain go hand in hand.
Tearing a calf muscle mid-run is an injury – sudden and sharp pain that stops a run dead in its tracks.
Sometimes trail runners crash to the ground, tripping on camouflaged roots or unseen rocks. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Doctors intervene. Life changes until injuries heal.
Aching is different. Aching doesn’t send you to the hospital. Aching doesn’t stop you from continuing.
Aching comes with options.
When my hip aches, and the muscles and joints around it seize up, I continue running. Because I know I can. That long dormant ache is a part of me, as real as blood and flesh. As alive as family and friends. I know everything about that ache. I know that I can keep running, and the ache may worsen, but the injury will not. The ache hurts, and that hurt affects me. My body tries to compensate. My gait changes, my strides shorten. I bend forward. The ache gets into my head. Trying to stop me. But I know I can push through, because, it is just an ache. Going forward will not make it worse.
Pushing through isn’t always the answer. Aches must be cared for. When my hip flared up, I stretched. Not much, but more than usual. Every day. Twisting and contorting my legs and back as much as possible, with a laser focus on targeting that hip. Using a foam roller to burrow into the joint where the ache lives, and loosen it. Doing all I could to ease that ache. Under no illusions that I was making it go away forever. But knowing that with some love, and care, it would subside.
A few weeks ago, someone once close to me passed away. He was a good and decent man. An honourable man who served his country in wartime, his community in peacetime, and raised a family that loved him to the end.
I hadn’t seen him for several years.
Coincidentally his death coincided with my aching hip.
On a run last Sunday, as I thought about the difference between “ache” and “pain” I thought about him too. And I realized the same analogy applied.
His death did not stop me in my tracks, and leave me grief stricken. It did not injure me to the point of being incapable of going on. Instead it made me ache inside. Sadness and sorrow which I pushed through, going about my life seemingly unchanged and unaffected. Yet the ache was there. An ache which stretching and foam rolling could not help. So I tended to it in a different way. By reflecting on talks and walks, meals and memories. Being grateful for a life well lived, and a chance to share in that life.
Last Sunday’s aching run was a miserable day. Cold, wet and windy. I did not want to hit the trails. But I went out anyway. Aching. And while I was thinking these thoughts, the clouds lifted momentarily. There was a bit of sunshine, and I stopped, and I took a picture. And then I kept running. And the ache in my hip got a lot worse. But it didn’t stop me. And I made it home just fine.