Fair warning: This post is going to be about love.
And trail running, bike riding and family picnics.
And about looking around and being overwhelmed by everything this city and its people and businesses have to offer.
About two weeks ago, I got the cast off my right arm. I’ve written about how I broke my wrist and how, combined with a calf injury, I felt far away from all the things and people and events that I love. I missed running and biking and yoga – a lot.
So when I went back to the doctor, I held my breath.
“She has to say I can take this off,” I told the nurse.
“Well, we’ll see what she says. Sometimes you need to keep it on for another week or two.”
That can’t happen, I thought as she walked me back to get yet another set of X-rays to make sure the bones hadn’t moved into places they didn’t belong. They hadn’t, and the doctor assured me it was fine to start using my arm again.
“Are you sure it won’t break? It’s pretty sore,” I said.
“Not unless you fall off your bike again,” she said, then proceeded to tell me a story about biking with her son, who lured her onto the many single-track paths along the bike path.
“I kept thinking of you,” she laughed. She made it through unscathed, and she and her son discovered something new together they like to do – all thanks to FAST, the cycling group building single-track trails around the city like Leaders Park and a new plan for Tuthill Park.
“OK,” I said, “but it hurts … like what if I lean on it, will that break it?”
She reassured me, and I slowly started to realize it really had healed. A physical therapist next showed me some range of motion exercises to do every day and said the biggest thing to do is just use it – cut up fruit and squeeze the shampoo bottle and grate cheese. Whatever it is in normal daily activity, just do it.
It was scary. All the soreness the past week I had been attributing to the bone, when it was really just tight muscles and tendons and general lack of use.
So I began to do the things – Patrick and I went for a short bike ride, and I didn’t fall and was able to hold myself up. The only time I struggled was getting started, as you bear more weight in your wrists and get going. But they didn’t give out.
The following Saturday, I met my friend Janna for a yoga class – and with a few modifications, like dolphin instead of downward dog, and doing planks on my elbows instead of my hands, I made it through. Somehow by the end of the class, my calf felt completely fine, too.
I’d been going to physical therapy every week, doing calf raises several times a day and trying to stretch. My friend Kelly would drag me out to run/walk to test it out and see how it felt, but I still couldn’t make it very far. A few minutes, maybe 10, and then I couldn’t walk the rest of the day.
“Janna, it all feels fine,” I said incredulously. “It’s so weird.”
The next morning, Patrick and I ran slow loops at Sertoma, the forgiving dirt path the perfect re-entry.
I hit another yoga class that week, rode my bike to work a few days, to restaurants for dinner, ran with Kelly one morning. The entire time, I felt more and more like myself. I apologized to my coworkers for the crankiness of the past month.
“I just felt awful all the time,” I told them.
And I did. I really missed being outside. I missed feeling strong and capable and confident. I missed being around other people who just like to do what I do. And then there was the embarrassment – good grief, I’m slow right now. I can’t even pretend I can run faster than I am, and it’s hard not to feel like an idiot. But I know that nobody really cares – they care about their own times and races and beyond that are just happy to see you.
So on Thursday, I went to the weekly Sioux Falls Area Running Club trail run at Good Earth State Park. There were maybe 10 of us, including someone who had never been there before. We made all our small talk, asked about races, swatted the mosquitoes away, admired each other’s dogs and shirts. And then we set off.
“What are you running tonight,” someone asked me.
“If I can put together 30 minutes without any pain, I’ll be happy,” I said truthfully. I didn’t want to care about anything else, and I let the group go so I wouldn’t be tempted to run outside of my limits right now and just did my own thing.
And it was amazing. Because I love that park, and because the club has been doing this weekly run since before all this stuff was built out there, before my Facebook feed was crammed full of everyone trail running. Because it’s beautiful and hilly and my favorite place to be.
It all just keeps improving.
I joined up with a bikepacking group out of Spoke-n-Sport this past weekend, and rode about 60 miles over two days, with camping in between, and the full out-loud anti-anxiety self-talk I needed to do to ride down gravel road hills. They weren’t even steep, but I was terrified of falling – don’t break your wrist, don’t break your wrist, I repeated in my head.
And it made me think about all our fears, and how to face them. Maybe you’ve never gone on a group run, and you’re afraid you won’t know anybody or people won’t be friendly or you won’t be able to keep up. All of that has happened to me to varying degrees, but it’s also never as bad as I think it could be. An open smile goes a long way – as well as saying, hey, I’m new and a little freaked out. Most people want you to feel better, and they’ll try to do that.
That happened to me with the group of riders. They let me do my thing, never acted impatient.
I would pause at the top of every hill, let everyone go past me so I didn’t have to worry about cutting someone off by accident or riding into them or even looking over at them and somehow steering wrong. I slowly squeezed my brakes and tried to find the spot somewhere between feeling out of control and controlling so hard I start to fishtail down the hill – or lock it all up and flip, which has happened to me more than once.
“Your bike wants to do this,” I told myself. “It loves gravel. It wants to stay upright.”
It sounds silly – but it’s what I said in my head, along with “You’re OK, it’s OK, you’re OK,” right out loud.
At one point I stopped and watched Patrick coast down the hill, and I almost got off and walked, and then I realized, do that now, and you’ll never get past this. Just keep getting past this. I felt myself think too hard, shaking as I rode, told myself, this is what panic feels like. It’s a real feeling, but the danger isn’t real. It’s not real. It’s OK.
It’s weird to write that – but haven’t we all been there? Maybe at the start of a big race, or running a meeting at work, or getting ready to have a really hard conversation with someone. It’s not an unusual feeling, not for me, anyway.
But every time I had a little success, I tried to recognize it: You steered into that sandy bit, felt the bike move a way you didn’t expect it, relaxed your shoulders and let it sort of autocorrect, and everything was fine.
Confidence is built bit by bit by bit.
And I had a community there to help me. I had a yoga class where nobody cared what I was doing, where I stayed in the first pose instead of taking the more advanced options because I wasn’t ready to test my balance and maybe catch myself on my wrist. I ran slowly, so slowly, and went ahead and put it on social media anyway, because we’ve all had to make a comeback and there’s no shame in it.
I sang in my head – “I hope that I don’t sound too insane when I say there is darkness, all around us,” from “January Wedding” by The Avett Brothers (my new love – why haven’t I been listening to them for years?).
Every time I caught up to Patrick on a hill, I sang Wilco in my head, “You’re going to have to be patient with me,” grateful he didn’t care how we rode, just as happy as I was to be part of the group and spend a weekend camping at Palisades.
In the next few weeks, our community is full of events you can attend to meet people doing what you love.
The Sioux Falls Area Running Club summer picnic is June 30 at Cherry Rock Park. We’ll have breakfast and a group run, starting at 7 a.m. Come for the run, stay for the food. Come for the food and skip the run. Bring your family, bring your dog, bring a friend. Tell us why you love to run or run-walk or whatever it is you do.
Then that same day, Falls Area Bicyclists is holding the Sioux Falls Trail Challenge, a ride around the entire trail with passports for kids to get stamped and various stops along the way.
Every week, FAST does trail maintenance. Go help pull out brush and make more trails.
Come to Jeri’s yoga classes at 605 Running Co. every Wednesday night after the group run. Or show up on Saturday, and run the bike path.
It’s kind of astonishing how much is going on right now – and it only works if we all go to it, and if we welcome every new face we see, and if we show these businesses and nonprofits and grassroots organizations that yes, we want you to keep doing this.
Recreation matters. It matters in my city and it matters to my family.
After singing about the darkness, the lyrics say: “I don’t feel weak, but I do need sometimes for her to protect me, and reconnect me, to the beauty that I’m missing.”
Let this community reconnect you and redirect you. They’ve done it for me, over and over.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.