I’m running backward.
It started when I tripped on my cat and injured my knee. Something twanged in the joint like a warped banjo and hit me with the irreversibility of time.
One moment you’re playing chicken with your cat, the next you can’t run.
Injury has been the one certainty of my 20 years of distance running. It plagues me like a drunk friend – ambushing me in parking lots, calling me up in the night to profess its undying devotion.
I moped around the house for a whole month on that stupid knee, coveting other people’s cartilage. My children frolicked around me as their perfect, dusty knees burned friction holes in their jeans.
I sighed and ate peanut butter. It was the only thing that came close to the lost high of running.
Eventually, I took myself to a chiropractor and asked him to cast a magic spell on my knee.
He said he wouldn’t do that. But in the next breath, he uttered a powerful incantation:
“You should try jogging backward.”
That sounded ridiculous.
I had just scolded my middleborn son for running backward in the cereal aisle at the grocery store with his arms plastered to his sides; a bobbing head, an apish grin.
“Stop thaaaat,” I told him. “You look like a possessed popsicle.”
“Nuh-UH,” said Middleborn. “I’m the fastest backwards runner in this WHOLE Walmart.”
Of that I had no doubt.
Now it was my turn to be a possessed popsicle. Surely running backward would be better than not enjoying the sport at all, I reasoned.
“Did you just call it a sport?” asked Middleborn, who won’t eat real food.
“Yes, it’s a sport, now eat your meatloaf.”
Middleborn snickered and turned to Firstborn. “She thinks running is a sport.”
Firstborn laughed so hard he spewed meatloaf mist onto the warm dinnertime air.
“I’m outta here,” I said, and slipped on my running shoes.
I ran backward, slowly. My house drifted away. The cold blue shadows of a thousand sagebrush rose around me in a silent ovation. My blind heels nicked the frozen mud ruts as I leaned farther over my terrified backside.
It was a never-ending trust fall. A drumroll of faith.
I ran nearly a mile, all backward.
“There’s no way this’ll fix my knee,” I muttered, while ramming accidentally into my own parked car.
But the next morning I woke with only the ghost of knee pain. My hips and back felt strong. I stood taller. I felt muscles and tendons long forsaken now roaring for attention and exulting in their purpose.
I have not felt such scattered, joyful soreness since my first week of cross-country practice at age 13. Or maybe since the week I learned to waltz. Or maybe since I spent two hours digging my car out of the snow in January.
“Honey, you’ve got to try this!” I yelled to The Husband, who was sitting right next to me.
“Serious, dude. Run backward. You’ll feel just like a princess!”
“Uhhhh,” The Husband was stunned with the imagery. “No thanks.”
I shrugged and fired up my treadmill. I ran a mile and a half backwards, at less than half my usual forward-facing speed. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up and the belt spat me onto the wood floor. Other times I backed up too fast, tripped on the plastic base and buckled the whole treadmill while trying to save myself.
But I didn’t care. My spine and tendons thrummed with new purpose.
“It’s like I’m a pancake that cooked on only one side for 20 years!” I bellowed over the treadmill’s roar.
“That’s nice dear,” said The Husband.
“I’m a bionic woman.”
Firstborn walked in and shook his head. “Gosh, Mom, run like an American.”
I had no retort to that. I also knew that even the distraction of arguing with a 12-year-old was enough to topple me on the spinning belt.
After my run, I exhaled victoriously.
My four sons raced around the house in a frantic game of laser tag, thumping around on their perfect, dusty knees.
“FORWARD running?” I scoffed. “How lame.”
And I walked to the kitchen on my own two mysteriously strong, healthy knees. But I was careful to dodge the cat.