Over the past year or so, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief for the part of me that was once a runner. After a bad injury in the end of 2008, I was already running a lot less by the time we left for Portugal, but once we were there, the hills and the lack of non-asphalt running venues more or less did me in. I’ve struggled to come to terms with this reality, which has run the gamut (pun intended) from grief to anger to denial. At last, I think I am entering acceptance. Kind of.

Yesterday, a girlfriend and I attempted to go for a quick run in my favorite local state park up the coast. There is a short, flat coastal loop that makes for about a  half-hour run, which is about where both of us are in our running careers at the moment.

However, we soon realized that it was not to be, as it turned out there was a triathlon taking up most of the roads between my house and the park. After crossing the bike course once, we then encountered it again on the highway heading north along the coast, which was where we were intending to go. “Right,” I said, “how about a walk by the ocean instead?”

Just after our turning point, we saw the first triathlete, who was nearing his own turning point. If he hadn’t been wearing a number, I wouldn’t have believed he was in the race, as he was all alone, ahead of the rest of the pack by a good ten or fifteen minutes. That meant he was phenomenally good at all three tri events. Yes, we hate him.

Pretty soon the rest of the elite competitors started to appear, including one poor guy who was running so fast that he got knocked over by someone who couldn’t get out of his way quickly enough. When he got up and kept running, swearing under his breath as he brushed himself off, I got the distinct feeling that it wasn’t the fall he cared about, it was the effect on his time. This impression was confirmed when a while later we saw a guy running with a massive hole torn in the seat of his shorts, revealing an equally massive raspberry on his cheek. Ouch. That must have hurt.

Not so long ago, witnessing this display of physical prowess would have made me jealous, guilty about letting my own training slide, and motivated to get back into it with renewed vigor. This time though, I discovered I was perfectly content to sit back and watch the other people do all the work. My friend agreed, and we judged that in general, it is far more fun to watch (and judge!) a triathlon than compete in one. I know what you’re thinking — well, duh! — but hey, I’m a slow learner sometimes.

Turned out we were just as good at what we were doing, as one of the runners coming up behind us said, “Nice work, ladies,” as he passed us by. Gotta admire someone who can still have a sense of humor in the final leg of a grueling, hot race.

As I thought about it throughout the day that followed, I realized: I was doing nice work. I was taking care of myself without demolishing my body or devoting my entire waking life to training. In other words, I was being healthy, without being obsessive. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point, and I’m still struggling with it, always feeling like I could/should be doing more than I am. But I think I’m nearing the acceptance stage, and I for one could not be more glad. In fact, I think I can hear my knees cheering now.