me again – a long saga of my calf tattoo

Everything begins with a first step but with running it’s even more true. At first you think you just can’t do that – you just can’t find it in yourself. A few steps seem to be miles and then you turn back and see how far *not* you’ve just run! But days of failure turn into weeks of less and less pain and then comes this one time when suddenly you feel light and powerful and you catch yourself at simply enjoying running! You look forward toward your next run only to feel awful again and then again you get to experience this mythical ‘runner’s high’ and you feel great again!

But running is not only about feeling great! It’s also about nasty toenails, sweat dripping down your back, blisters that come with colors you didn’t even know they exist and many other goodies. Running is not only a summer activity when birds are chirping and the sunlight caresses your  *cough* fit body. Running is about facing the cold rain and temps well below freezing when you ask yourself why you are actually out there and what the hell you were thinking when you decided to go for a run!

Running teaches you self-discipline and self-confidence. It shows you that you can achieve quite a lot only if you stick to it long enough and apply yourself to it in quite small increments of time day by day by day! In short, running is many things but it’s always great!

I’ve been running for many years now but not always it was a quality running. It started to be so in 2010 when I started reading (and thus learning) more on the subject. I felt hungrier and hungrier for running and I loved it even though I felt the love mainly after the runs (during them I felt quite different). I knew that in a way running defines who I am and I liked it a lot, too.

I decided to get a tattoo devoted solely to my running passion and I wanted it to be a nice combo of anatomy and bio-mech aesthetics. I always loved thinking about human body as a machine – powerful and reliable. Add to it my slight love of sci-fi movies and I knew it would be perfect for me!

I did some research on human anatomy (lower leg, to be exact as running is mainly about legs, at least on purely superficial level!), printed out some pictures and took it to my tattoo artist. We discussed what I wanted to get done and I left the rest to him.

My first appointment for this tattoo was June 28, 2010. Slawek showed me his design and, of course, I loved it. It got even better when it turned out that there was no stencil prepared beforehand for this one and Slawek would free-hand this tattoo on me. Tricky for sure but I love Slawek freehanding and I knew he was totally able to pull it off.

For the next 2 hours I was lying flat on my stomach and he was first drawing on me with markers (and the final, very colorful sketch looked so awesome to me that I wished it could be the final design! An odd statement coming from someone who doesn’t actually like bright colors!) and then, after my approval of the sketch, tattooing me. The position I was in wasn’t overly comfortable, especially that a few days earlier I tripped over some roots on one of my trail runs and I skinned my knees ( a day later I got my tetanus shot at a local health center, just in case!) but the final result always outweighs all the inconveniences during a body modification process. When I was done, after roughly 2 hours of work, I was more than happy with the results ‘for now.’

The aftercare for this one was going to be more difficult, though. I was told that I shouldn’t run for at least a week to make it heal well. It wasn’t that easy to do but somehow I managed. A break from running is quite good on a psychological level, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

I succeeded with healing the outline of my calf tattoo before I went to Hungary to get my rib scarification and a tongue re-split but I didn’t manage to heal my scarification before my second sitting for my calf.

The second sitting was scheduled for August 6, 2010. During the session I was lying mostly on my left side as the right side of my rib cage was way too sore to use it for anything. I had to ask for a break twice as the left side of my body kept going numb and my hip and keen joints started aching. I realized then, however, that a skin removal procedure changed the way I perceived pain and a tattoo pain wasn’t a problem anymore. Since this session was focused on coloring it wasn’t as bad as outlining but there were a few quite painful spots anyway. Thanks to my experience with skin removal barely a few weeks earlier, though, I could put things in perspective and keep in mind that it could be way worse.

A week of no running was ordered again and this time I welcomed it as it was quite hard to run with still fresh scars anyway. I’m lucky to be a fast healer, though, so once i stopped tormenting myself with overirritating my scars everything started clearing out and I healed in no time.

It took me 11 months to start working on this tattoo again and that’s quite a long time. I realized that I didn’t want to get tattooed that fast as a full body suit is not in my plans and I wouldn’t like to run out of space too soon. At times I felt quite satisfied with the work I already had as tattoo sleeves were always high on my priority list and I finally got them! Besides, winter is not a good time for fresh tattoos if you live in a cold climate and need to wear layers and layers of clothes to keep warm. I didn’t mind *much* running around with an unfinished tattoo although there were times when it annoyed me.

In April 2011 I got to run my first half-marathon and I added yet another reason to my “why running is wonderful?” list and I decided to spend my summer on working out instead of modifying myself as in a body modification way. I signed up for a running camp and was very excited about it. My running camp was only in August, though, so I still had some time for some tattooing, so I scheduled my session for July 6, 2011.

I was actually convinced that I was booked for a whole day, so I thought that this would be the day when my tattoo would be finished but it turned out that I was booked only for a few hours. It was a good session as pain was bearable, a mood at the shop was light and cheerful, the inner side of the tattoo that was worked on ended up looking great (anatomical elements looked really nice!). Everything was awesome and the only thing that sucked was that I still had to run around with an unfinished tattoo and I knew that there would be no more tattoo sitting for me this summer as I had another half-marathon lined up at the beginning of September and you just can’t run over 20km at once without some km’s put in beforehand!

The calf healed nice and I was ready to face my running camp! The camp was very useful for me as a runner and I really think about going to another one some time in the future. But I was still quite unfinished as far as my calf tattoo was concerned and by then even my tattoo artist started to be like “you know, we have to finish it ASAP!”

During the next year I managed to stretch my ears to 7/16″ and then to 1/2,” I played with microdermals and even more with working out and running! It was a fun time but whenever I got to run in shorts/ skirts, I started being aware that my tattoo was still not finished yet and it wasn’t fun anymore!

In April’12 I called the shop to schedule my next appointment and we agreed on July 16. We agreed on the whole day then but when we met at the TattooFest, Slawek and I got to talk and somehow we weren’t sure about the whole day’s sitting anymore, so when I went for this sitting I didn’t really know if it would be finally finished or not.

Session#4 was as cool as all the others before. I was scheduled for 11.30am and managed to get the tickets to Hungary and stop at my bank beforehand. On my way to the shop I stopped at a small pastry shop and bought a few still hot-from-the-oven croissants for the guys. At the shop Slawek was already waiting for me and it took me only a few minutes to change from my jeans and sneakers into old shorts and a pair of flip-flops. With my Kindle in hand, I was more than ready to go under Slawek’s needles.

Both Slawek and I wanted to really have it finished but for at least an hour or so into this session I didn’t take a look at my calf and I didn’t ask if we would be able to finish it this time. I was just lying on my stomach, reading one of the books on my Kindle and silently hoping that this time would be it! Random people kept coming and going, my piercer kept coming over to talk things, there was a TV turned on to entertain customers and there was a guy getting outlines of stars tattooed on him, so I had quite a lot of things to keep myself occupied with. There were also moments of pain when I felt Slawek going over some more delicate spot and when I had to tense my muscles to prevent an involuntary twitch of my leg. I felt him working on my Achilles tendon and covering the skin over my muscles with color and I still didn’t dare to look at it.

And then I turned back and saw these massive pace on calf covered in bright red ink and I felt a surge of hope. Maybe this day would be the day and I would be able to say “I’m done!”? Slawek was hopeful, too when I finally asked him about it. My calf got swollen and painful to touch after like 2 hours of tattooing and I was looking forward to the final stop of the machine and Slawek telling me ‘ok! get up and take a look!’ and whenever he stopped the machine it was only to turn it on a few seconds later. I kept reading, watching TV, watching people and trying to control my growing frustration with the pain, swelling I could feel and my impatience!

session ivAnd finally the time had come and I could get up and take a look at the final result. My calf was already so swollen that my right ankle differed significantly from my left one. My whole body felt sore from keeping pretty much one and the same position for over 2.5h but my calf looked great and it was done and I really felt quite happy!

A lunch with guys followed and then a shopping spree on my own and even though it felt painful to bend my knee or walk fast, I didn’t mind it at all.

As of today my calf tattoo is 6 days into the healing process and my ankle finally looks normal. The swelling went down and the skin isn’t as sore to touch as it was on day 1 and 2 of the healing process. I keep washing my tattoo 3 times a day, patting it dry and then applying to it Bepanthen ointment (which is a standard ointment recommended to tattooees in Europe!). I’m also trying to remember about these parts of the tattoo that are well healed and quite old by now and these I treat with body lotion to moisturize them properly.

When I look at the final result and the original sketch/ project, I can notice some differences. I find it quite cool, though as – in a way – it reflects my own life changes. When I started working on it I didn’t even think about running half-marathons and now I have five of them under my belt. I knew little about running and now I know more. Running is about progress and changes, so it’s cool that my tattoo reflects these changes, too!

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Was it good to take my time to finish this one? Who knows? Delayed gratification isn’t a bad thing. My next step in this project will be working on my shin. Who knows how long this one will take me? 😉