by Dante Zappala

It’s an easy little warm-up jog from my office to Franklin Field. However, it’s a long walk back. I took that walk recently after an abbreviated workout, and it offered me a lot of time to think out loud. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to the warning signs, I tell myself. If I have to ice my knee an hour before I run, I shouldn’t be running on it.

Running with tendonitis is like bringing lumber into a burning house. It makes a ton more sense to put the fire out first before you rebuild. But my common sense is as rusty as my Italian. I used to at least be able to get by. Now, I can’t say a sentence.

I’m close to my big fall race, the half marathon here in Philly. Running injured for another week seemed to make sense. It’s just pain, I was telling myself. But while I’m probably not going to do any permanent damage, each step is laying imprints. And these imprints last.

I still get phantom pains in my shin. I had a stress fracture more than a year ago. I, again, did not immediately heed the call to stop running, and the pain from that single eight-mile run I did on it 14 months ago still flashes back from time to time.

I tell myself it is not real. But it is real precisely because I’ve conjured it. It’s as real as dreams and love. While there is nothing rational about experiencing pain from a non-existent injury, it is, at the same time, undeniable.

I still see a butterfly on my kitchen wall. The outline is faint, but I can visualize its wings and antennae. I first painted over it with three coats of the most expensive paint on earth. When it was still clearly visible, I hit it with an alkyd primer, then two more coats of paint. It’s gone now, I tell myself; this lovely creation from of my oldest child’s imagination. He had been so inspired to draw this butterfly on our wall that he stood on a chair to make sure it was up high enough for all to see. He was so confident with the design that he held in his head, he drew it in permanent marker.

It’s gone now, but I still see it. Just as I still hear his first sentences, just as I remember his obsession with bulldozers and diggers. He cringes when I bring this up. He’s 8, after all. No 8-year-old wants to hear what they sounded like when they were three. They certainly can’t bear their father doing an impression of it. I respect his disdain for nostalgia and stop. He hadn’t objected to me painting over his masterpieces, so this only seems fair.

I sometimes have dreams with a fantastic plot twist that completely surprises me. But then, I came up with it, didn’t I? How exactly did I deceive myself? And if I can do that so easily when I am asleep, how often do I do it when I am awake?

I rationalized the pain in my knee away over several days and through several workouts. It took an intervention to get me to believe that the best course of action was Aleve, ice, and some days off. A few veterans I rely on for advice gave me the faith to believe that the fitness I’ve built up during this training period will not evaporate quickly. It’s not a sand Mandala I’ve created here, after all.

One of my other runs from work is through West Philly, past the zoo and up to Memorial Hall. I then come back down to the river and head back to the city. It’s the same course as the race I’m about to run.

Just like in my dreams, I’ve subconsciously scripted this race by accumulating memories. Real or not, my knee is sure to start aching as I climb the hill on 34th Street. Between mile nine and mile ten, I will be charging down Black Road onto MLK Drive. That will light me up, I’m sure.

But I’ll be close to the finish by then; a straight shot down a road I’ve run countless times.

My post-race plans include more deliberate rest and rehab as I prepare for the grind of marathon training. Boston will be here quicker than I know.

I also intend to do some more painting around the house. By the New Year, I’m hoping the walls will be fresh and renewed. The scuffs and markings will still be there, under the surface now, internal scars searching for relevance.

And meanwhile, we’ll have a blank canvas in front of us. I hid the markers, but with a little curiosity, they are easily found.