Knee Deep: Moving the Start Line

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about starting lines. The excitement of them, the build-up to them, the promise they hold. For the past two months, I’ve been working toward a start line of my own. This Friday, Oct. 13, was supposed to be my surgery date. Two months of rehab and icing and monotonous daily work were finally delivering me and my torn-up knee to the finish-start line of surgery. Saturday would begin the first leg of a new race. No more pre-hab. No more nervous excitement about surgery. On to rehab and a path leading me to an upgraded knee!

Except, on Tuesday, my surgeon told me he doesn’t believe my knee is healthy enough for surgery. My range-of-motion is not yet symmetrical with my left knee. So we moved the start. I don’t have a new surgery date, only the promise that it will happen when I’m ready (I am! I’m so, so ready!) and not a day before. This morning, I woke up in limbo. Without a start line. Without a finish line. And it was difficult to wrap my mind around dragging myself to rehab. To work toward what, exactly?

A story written by David Epstein in a 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated has always stayed with me. Partly because it was beautifully written and incredibly well-researched, but also because of a clever link he made between the final hours of the life of distance runner Rhiannon Hull and the way in which our brains process finish lines. I won’t give away the piece entirely because it is well worth your time. But I think about this graph a lot: “Because the brain stingily holds a physical reserve, wringing the most stamina from the body requires a mental finish line. In order to go our hardest, we need to know when or where we can finally stop. In the absence of an understood finish line, the brain will hold the body back.”

And we struggle when someone moves the finish line.

I’ve always thought finish lines receive too much attention. When we focus only on the outcome, on the completion of a goal (reaching the summit of a mountain, for example) we often lose sight of why we started in the first place. And god forbid we don’t reach the finish line we initially set for ourselves, we might discount all the small victories we made on the way to arriving just short of the finish. Starting lines should also be celebrated, because it is hard to start something new. It is hard to say YES! And saying yes should be celebrated.

But it is just as difficult to reset your brain when someone moves the start line.

Maybe, in my case, it’s because the start line had a finish line wrapped up in it, too. Or maybe it’s because I’d already said YES! I was ready. And it is hard to bottle that excitement and energy and place it back onto the shelf for future consumption. In the meantime, I will celebrate the small victories I experience each day, as I crawl toward my next starting line.