Three weeks after splitting my knee open while trail running, and a few days after the doctor removed the 22 stitches that were holding it together, I went out for my first official run. Under the suggestion of my doctor, I didn't head for the dirt trails, but I laced up my road shoes and headed in the direction of the paved parkway. The pavement, I was told, would offer a smooth, even surface, as opposed to the uneven, rocky terrain that was the setting of my injury.
After a good stretch and warm-up walk down to the parkway, I took a deep breath and began my run. Instantly, I knew that this was not going to work. The constant pounding of the pavement caused a jolt that I could feel starting at my knee, then moving into my hip. And with each repetitive motion, the same pain manifested itself over and over.
After a few minutes of this, I stopped in the middle of the path, wondering what I was going to do. I thought about walking back home, but I knew that doing so would only make me feel worse. Then, I looked up to the nearby mountain foothills that I frequently run on, complete with uneven, rocky terrain and decided that I would just go for a hike.
The second I stepped on that dirt, I felt the frustration of my road run attempt melt away. The dirt, rocks and wildflowers that surrounding me made me feel that despite my inability to run, I would be OK.
As I hiked my way up the steep hill, the trail began to flatten out, opening up a long stretch of dirt that was nearly devoid of any rocks.
"I wonder if I can run on this," I thought to myself.
Before I could answer my question, or even give it a second thought, I was running. And as I did so, I felt no pain. The soft surface of the dirt that morning provided the perfect landing for my healing knee. There was no shock felt in my knee and hip, but only the feeling of strength in my leg as my foot pushed off of a surface that didn't push back.
The uneven, and sometimes rocky, terrain provided the perfectly imperfect surface that wasn't repetitive, but that kept my body guessing as it reacted naturally to each step.
Over the next few minutes, it became apparent that this was exactly what my body needed to heal. And while my doctor was completely justified in her concern that the rocky terrain would cause another injury, it wasn't what caused the fall in the first place, but an unfortunate misstep on my part that could have happened anywhere.
Now, I know that I still have a long road ahead of me before I will be completely healed from my injury. But, there is no doubt in my mind that the soft, uneven surface that the mountains provide will play a significant part in my healing process.