Today for the first time, probably because my return to running will be tomorrow, I indulged in a moment of fear (and perhaps self-pity) over my knee problems. I was able to alleviate any sadness I might have had over not running Scotland by volunteering, but in less than 6 short weeks I have planned to run the Ragnar Relay one weekend, and the Brooklyn Half the next. These are not things I want to miss, especially Ragnar, and I needed to start training yesterday. In fact, since after the Manhattan half marathon in January, I have barely done any long runs, except for one 9-miler and a few 7s (at the insistence of my knee of course). If I run tomorrow, and my knee holds up beautifully, and I can get in at least an 8 mile “long” run this weekend, I will be back on track. Otherwise…. well, I really don’t want to consider “otherwise” unless I absolutely have to.
I have been running officially a year, and in that time I had one major injury (a labral tear in my hip), and now a classic case of Runner’s knee. I have always raised my mileage carefully, never more than 10% a week, and have never gone above 25 miles week (except one 30-miler, but only because I ran my long run on a Monday, instead of the previous week’s Sunday). Compared to some runners I know who managed to run 3 marathons in 5 weeks with less than 2 years running experience (Ok, I am aware this is a crazy exception), I seem to be very injury prone. I am very knock-kneed, with extremely tight hips and some slight scoliosis in my back. This is basically a prescription for, well, runner’s knee and a labral tear (believe it or not!).
But, instead of bemoaning my fate, I need to remember that there was a time that I thought I couldn’t run at all. Those of the “Born to Run” camp talk about how we are natural runners, before the restrictions of the “shoe industry” and other constraints are imposed upon us. One example is how young children run, fast and free, without a care in the world, and without injury. Not I. I, at 8 years of age, raced down a hill one day coming home from school and badly injured my knee. My mother, a ballet dancer who had had ACL reconstruction surgery back when this was a very very serious operation (30 years ago), insisted I not bend it if that caused me pain. Being perhaps too literal minded, I walked with a straight leg on an inflamed knee, until it completely locked up and would not bend at all. I don’t really recall the series of events after this, except that they ended up with an arthroscopy. This injury, probably also linked with the growing pains associated with being knock-kneed, made it so that every time I tried to run in the year following, I would have acute stabs of pain in my “bad knee”. And so, at 8-9 year of age, it was decided that I “couldn’t run”, something that I did not test for years.
As I got older I actually chose my sports to involve as little running as possible: volleyball, sailing in college, later rock-climbing. Because I never ran, my cardio was terrible, making it even harder and more painful when I did try. One thing that is interesting when I look back on that time, was that I loved to walk, and walk fast. I would go for 10 mile speed walks and loved every minute of them. They would clear my head, get my endorphins flowing, and I loved to cover large distances on my feet alone. Sounds a lot like running, true, but I never made that connection, didn’t even think of them as a sport, just something I enjoyed doing. I now realize I may always have been a runner– just one that didn’t run.
After moving to New York, my exercise regimen suffered greatly. So many of the things I loved to do in California (hiking, rock-climbing) just didn’t happen here, at least amongst my circle of friends. Last January I realized I needed to get into shape and so began attending the gym regularly. My friend, who had started running the previous November, was pushing me to join her. I can’t run, I told her decisively (something she never ceases to remind me of). What changed my mind was a dream. Not just the kind of dream that culls together random aspects of your life (the TV programs you watch, and something you overheard in the elevator), but a dream that you suspect is trying to tell you something: My friend was running a marathon and I was watching. Then, for some reason, I started to run. I ran, and ran, and ran, and did not get tired or have knee pain. In my dream I thought, I can do this! And I woke up thinking the same. The very next day I went out along the East river for 3 miles and found that I was way faster than on the treadmill, and that I absolutely loved it (I’d say “And the rest is history,” but that is very cliched, and a year is hardly history).
So now, as I take the time and maybe (hopefully not!) more time to rehab my knee, I need to remember that I have already come so much further than I ever thought possible. I may have had about three and a half months off due to injury, but in the remaining eight and half I ran 800 miles. That is a lot more than the mileage of someone who “cannot run”. I also learned the lesson that you should never decide you cannot do something, without properly trying. Running for me may be a more careful balance with injury recovery and prevention than it is for others, but it is certainly something that I can do and maybe, with a few more years of training, do well. And this makes realizing you can do that big thing you always thought you couldn’t, another reason Why I Run.
Simple shot today taken in the Cafeteria.