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Body language

I thought my sturdy frame could take just about anything - until it talked back.

Early this year, I was running often and well, doing more speed workouts (okay, maybe not technically speed workouts, but certainly less-slow workouts) and looking forward to racing a 10-K. Then I spent nearly four weeks traveling on planes, boats, and buses to Argentina and Antarctica, with the final leg of my trip totaling 27 hours of sitting. It was a recipe for disaster.

Once back at home, I bent over to put a small package on the floor. There was no getting back up. I remained bent over in an involuntary yoga pose as I yelled for my wife to help me try to stand. No luck there, so it was off to the emergency room.

As I lay flat on my back, pumped full of pain relievers and muscle relaxers to combat the back spasms, I had ample opportunity to reflect. Many of my drug-induced thoughts centered on my seeming love-hate relationship with my body.

For so many years, I was estranged from my body as I abused it with alcohol, nicotine, and chronic overeating. I just sat back and watched as my body got bigger and slower and more painful to live in. Then, as a new runner, I became obsessed with what it could do. I learned how to push past my comfort zones and redefine the limits of what my mind thought my body was capable of.

Through it all, though, I didn't learn the most important thing about my body: It's the only one I'm ever going to have. Whether I let it deteriorate through neglect and abuse or I wear it out through excessive activity and overtraining, the end result is the same. You can't just go out and get a new one once you've destroyed the body you have.

So now my body and I are starting over. As I put my socks on all by myself, I feel really proud. As I tie my own shoes, I'm amazed. I'm grateful to be able to walk for a quarter mile and overjoyed to run for one minute at a time. And I'll never again take for granted the gift of being able to run one mile - let alone a marathon.

I don't ever want to forget the pain of this experience, because I don't want to have to learn this lesson again. I now understand that I'm responsible for all the good and the bad that happens to my body, and I'm committed to taking the time I need to heal.

Next February I'll be back on the planes and boats and buses headed for Argentina and Antarctica. But I'll go with a new appreciation for what I'm asking my body to do. I'll also go with a better plan. A better plan for strengthening my body beforehand so that it's prepared for the journey. A better plan for staying more active while I travel. And a better plan for easing back into everyday life while recovering from the rigors of the trip.

I'll do it all because I'm driven by the fear that if this ever happens to me again, I might not have the courage to start over.

Waddle on, friends.

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