I have dreams where I am running, the air burning hot through my lungs, my feet pounding the ground beneath me. In my dreams of running, I long to reach out with long, open strides, to eat up the pavement beneath me, but something holds me back. My legs won’t propel me. My muscles won’t stretch. I lean forward, straining, but to no avail. The fastest I can go is a dull jog.
I used to run. I ran the 3k at school. Dad would take me to the field house when we went to Saskatoon, and we would run the track for an hour and then at the end he’d challenge me to a race. He always beat me. Then my legs started to hurt. Sometimes it was bad enough I couldn’t walk. I didn’t know what shin splints were; I just knew it felt like someone shoved hot pokers down through my knees to the middle of my tibias. I didn’t know there were shoes that were better for running and shoes that were better for walking. I just knew I loved to run, to feel the wind in my hair and my heart pounding and my muscles alive.
At first, it was just the pain in my shins after I ran on the pavement during the school’s annual 3K run. Then it was when I was on the court with the volleyball team. I remember my parents taking me out to a movie after Dad and I had gone to the field house, and every step was agony. They nearly had to carry me out to the car after the show. When my legs had healed up, I’d grown an impressive chest, and I learned that running hurt everything.
I dream I can run. Now, with a few extra biscuits in my baskets, it’s a hell of a chore to get this bulk up off the ground. I love the elliptical, because there’s no impact. The girls don’t bounce around; my knees don’t buckle every third step. But still I dream.
In the car on the way home from work, my mind wanders to the hills and the long walks I take with the dogs, and I picture myself running with the little droolers behind me, their toenails clacking on the pavement in a rhythm syncopated with my own. I imagine the sweat running down my face, stinging my eyes. I daydream the burning in my lungs until my heart rate settles and then the long, rhythmic drive as I run down the old highway or up the steep hill to the monastery.
I dream of running, of the dust flying from my shoulders and the bullshite dropping from my psyche and the sweat running down between my shoulder blades bleeding the crud out of my body. It’s not even about speed, although I miss the kick at the end of the race, of picking my knees up high and pushing myself past the place I thought I’d break, to come in third in a race I had no idea I was competing in.
Third was first, back then, because my interests weren’t in athletics, and the looks on the career athlete’s faces when I crossed the finish line ahead of some of the senior boys (I was a junior) was seared into my memory. “How did you do that?” they asked me, and all I knew was that when the pistol went off, I ran, and when I saw the finish line, I ran harder. That was back when my dreams were limitless and the number of things I’d been told I couldn’t do were far fewer.
In my dreams, I can run.