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Starting over

It’s been 10 months since I ran pain-free. After countless optimistic attempts to start-over that ended in setbacks, today was different.

Running used to be like a reliable friend — always there, helpful and an important part of my life. But now I feel anxious and uncertain about trying to run again. Running has become my biggest obstacle and frustration. How did this happen? I’m a runner, or I used to be.

I’m awake at 7:30 a.m. and today I will try to run again. An hour later, I finally build-up the courage to get dressed and head out to the door.   As an incentive, I pick my favourite place to run, the boardwalk in Eastern Passage.  The familiar smell of salt air always calms me. This is where I taught myself to run 5 years ago. I know the route well, and am comforted knowing that it’s flat.

With so much time off from running, I feel like I’m starting over again, almost as if I am a new runner.  I need to build my endurance, so my goal today is simply to run 15 sets of one minute running, one minute walking.  I promised myself not to be obsessed with my pace, so I change the settings on my watch to only display the interval time.

boardwalkI’m standing at the boardwalk and it’s a beautiful day.  Normally I’d be eager to get started, but today I feel overwhelmed and I decide to walk for 1K before attempting to run. Clearly, I’m stalling. Tears well in my eyes, and I realize that I’m actually scared to try to run.

I can’t put this off any longer, before I burst into tears. So I take a deep breath and go for it. The first couple of sets I feel burning in my thighs, but no issues with my achilles, the source of almost a year’s worth of frustration. What a relief.  My lungs are gasping to get the oxygen that I need.  The recovery walks are just long enough to get my breathing under control and then my watch beeps to tell me to run again. The walk breaks are going by too fast. The weight that I’ve gained during my injury is definitely not making this any easier.  I honestly don’t know how much weight I’ve gained, nor do I want to know. With every set completed, I tell myself this will get easier and the extra weight I’m carrying will eventually disappear. I just can’t give up.

It feels like I’m pounding the ground with every step, so I try to focus on being lighter on my feet.  By the time I finish six sets, I feel a high that I used to only get after 10K – this is pretty awesome!  Before I know it, my 15 sets are done.  I feel great but I’m tired, even though I only went 3.5K.  I could do more, but I don’t want to get greedy and take another step backward. The only thing that matters today is that I didn’t feel any pain in my achilles. To my surprise, the hardest part of this run wasn’t physical, it was mental.

I’ve instructed hundreds of people in running clinics and I understand and appreciate the biggest struggle that most people face with running is the mental component. I know how to motivate and encourage others to run, but right now I’m having a hard time convincing myself to do the same. I feel like a has-been; I used to run 20K without stopping and now at 45 seconds, I can’t wait for a walk-break.  I need to get over this and stop the pity party. So during my run, I consciously tried to stop negative thoughts when they entered my head. Instead, I tried to think about all my friends who used to run and because of health issues or injuries worse than my own will never run again. I dedicated this run to them. It helped me to realize and celebrate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to continue running, even if I’m starting from square one.

With one successful run under my belt, I now need to make a plan and forge ahead. Next week, I’m going to see Jeff Zahavich. He’ll be helping me train and become the running machine that I used to be.