The Mouse on the Wall: time to get this hamstring before it gets me.
An unpleasant thing is a lot easier to deal with when you can feign just enough ignorance about it to pretend it isn’t actually there.
But once you’re SURE that unpleasant thing is happening? Your whole approach changes. You can’t recapture that state of blissful ignorance no matter how hard to try.
This past April, I found myself doing a week of trail maintenance and camping season prep in the mountains of western North Carolina. I woke up early to run before our work duties started, and it was the time of year where you start in the dark when it’s still cold and end with the sunrise cresting over some distant mountain as the mist melts away and there are rainbows and ponies and trumpets and angels, blah blah blah. Soft trails to explore when I felt intrepid, dirt roads to stick to when I didn’t. In other words: The Life.
We stayed in individual bare-bones cabins at the base camp – wooden, with raised cots and electricity and a few of those sorta cool but also semi-creepy composting outhouses nearby.
That first night, I headed into my cabin, snuggled into my sleeping bag, and took a few heaving sighs of contentment as I felt my legs, tired from the run and the day’s work, melt with relief into the wooden cot frame. I listened to night insects and birds as I drifted toward sleep.
Scuffling. Scrabbling. Snuffling. Scritchity-scratchity-scrambling.
Holy mother of god. A mouse. I know that sound. That’s a mouse. That’s definitely a mouse.
I raised my head off the pillow, heart pounding at the thought of sharing this space with a terrified mammal approximately 1/3700 of my weight.
He kept scritching and scruffling around.
Eventually, it didn’t bother me anymore.
So what. I’m sharing this cabin with a little mouse. No big deal. I won’t bother him, he won’t bother me.
I accepted it, and drifted off to sleep.
This exact pattern repeated itself for three more nights. I knew, rationally, that there was a mouse occupying the same 7×7 space as me, and I knew, rationally, that it was okay.
Mice are adorable. Relax. Little whiskers. Little eyes. He’ll know to keep out of my way, because if he gets too close, it’s likely I might roll over and crush him. I can work with this.
On the fifth night, I flicked on the lights as I walked into my little cabin in preparation for bed.
I heard a little scrimble-scramble to my left, and my eyes trailed to the wall to find the source of the noise.
THERE HE WAS, a furry coffee-colored golf-ball with beady eyes, racing across the wooden wall like a thief in the night.
I failed to contain my gut reaction – a hair-raising scream – and grabbed my sleeping bag out of the cabin as I bolted. Luckily, a few of us had decided to camp out that night, so I wouldn’t have to be alone in my room with that darn mouse. Instead I’d be out in the open woods, easily accessible to black bears and rattlesnakes. Somehow the latter situation was preferable.
The next, and final night, I returned to my cabin, intent on sleeping there and confident that the mouse would know to keep out of sight after the previous evening’s aberration.
No such luck. No sir.
He was there again, scrabbling about like a caffeine kick gone wrong. I froze. He started sprinting around the wall toward the pillow I’d left on the cot.
No! I screamed. (Why on earth am I screaming? Oops). He made a mad dash for the pillow just as I snatched it out from under his little hantavirus-infested claws. He paused and looked at me, beady little eyes, his whole body pulsing from his heartbeat, quivering nose, trembling whiskers.
Oh, I hate little nervous mammals like this – just seeing them breathing all quick spikes my heart rate.
He made a move toward the bed, and in a fantastic show of uselessness, I grabbed my bug spray off a shelf and spritzed it at him.
He rubbed his nose, shimmied his whiskers, and sneezed.
A tiny piece of me died because it was absolutely adorable and I felt awful about misting him with chemicals.
I forgot about this quickly when, in the next instant, he leapt off the wall, lit across the bed frame and zipped away into some dark corner to count his losses. Of course, every time he was running, I was screaming. Punctuating my girly shrieks with a litany of curses, I dashed outside of the cabin and slammed the door.
I decided to head back to the base cabin for an hour or so to let this whole thing blow over. When I returned, the mouse would have gathered the sense to retreat to some place unseen where he could spread disease and scuttle around and poop and be all trembly on his own time. I, meanwhile, could nestle into my sleeping bag and put in some earplugs to maximize my ignorance about his existence.
But when I came back an hour later to try again, he was whizzing around more frantically than ever, probably high off bug spray fumes. He abandoned his “run around on the wall” trick and had evidently moved his operations to the ceiling – the CEILING – where he was zooming back and forth with the artful facility of Spiderman.
No. Under no circumstances would I be trying to fall asleep knowing that this mouse was ripping around across the ceiling, the walls, my stuff, and probably me.
I gave up. Packed my bags and imposed myself on of my coworkers in a cabin nearby. If there was a mouse in there too, at least I wouldn’t endure it alone.
Funny how things change when you graduate from suspecting to knowing. I’d presumed the mouse’s presence from the beginning, but when I actually saw him and knew he was there, it was an entirely different matter.
I’m encountering the same principle right now with my running – or, more specifically, injury management.
I’m not injured by any means, but that little nagging I’ve been feeling in my hamstring for the past month has moved officially beyond nagging and into gait-altering territory, even though it doesn’t actually hurt… yet.
Accordingly, I’ve moved on from the ignorance with which I approached it in prior weeks, to taking action against it with ice, massage, and an emphasis on cross-training. I don’t just hear it at night and assume – I turned on the lights and saw it face to face. There’s no maybe about it anymore – I’ve definitely got a mouse on the wall and it’s time to deal with it.
How do you approach potential-injury nags like this? I had a devastating hip injury in high school that took me out of the game for almost four months, most of which I spent in the pool. It started out just like this: soreness that quickly bloomed into more as I kept ignoring it. Ever since that, I’ve become hyper-sensitive to general aches and pains from running, and I actually think I’m the better for it.
How do you distinguish real pain and injury-potential from everyday running aches? As I’ve mentioned, I tend to track back in my training log. If some minor ache starts showing up in the notes every day for a couple weeks, I realize I should start paying better attention to it.