We know we have a lot of runners in the house, but what happens when you can’t run?
I started running reluctantly. I’m a doctor, and everyday I tell people to exercise. After giving people this advice for a month or two, and completely neglecting to engage in any physical activity myself, I started to feel guilty and hypocritical. I made the decision to start running.
It started with exercising in front of the Wii Fit three times each week. After several months, I moved my exercise outdoors and started running two miles.
I was surprised at how hard it was to breathe. My breath came in short, hard pants and I felt nauseous. While I knew intellectually that the air was entering my lungs, it didn’t seem to make a difference to how I felt. My body desperately needed oxygen. I couldn’t BREATHE. As the weeks passed, I felt this rhythm making sense and my lungs expanding and contracting with better oxygen penetration. I might still pant and gasp while running but at least I could feel the oxygen hitting my lungs.
I ran two miles three times a week for several years. Both before and after I started running, people would ask me if I’m a runner. I would smile uncertainly and ponder how to respond. Were they asking because of my body type? Was there something they recognized in my energy that identified me as a runner? Did my two mile runs make me a runner? To me, this barely counted for anything, although I knew that I felt better about myself and my life when I ran.
Speaking of life, it hadn’t been standing still while I’d been training. I had quit my job, started a new one, quit that one, and started a very part time job. I barely had time to run with my previous full time job and my 20 minute runs just barely fit into my schedule. Now, I could sleep in as late as I wanted and had the whole day to get around to my exercise routine. I liked staying home, but I knew in the long term I would need a job for a more secure future.
So with my extra time I started running a little bit more… Other people mention their 5ks and their 10ks casually, like this is something you just “do.” I don’t have anything to prove to anyone, I thought — I run for myself. Plus the idea of competing makes my stomach churn. I knew though, that I could run the distance required in a 5k, so when I stumbled across a 10k, I registered. I signed up without telling anyone and quietly started bumping up my mileage. My runs became 3.5 miles, then 4, then 4.5. Gradually, I was running up to 6 miles per day. The race came and I suffered from nerves, but sailed through at a great pace.
I kept running 6+ miles and looked for a half marathon, landing on the Canyonlands Half Marathon in Moab. I signed up, got my brother (an Ironman) to sign up as well, and kept training. My running went up to 21-23 miles per week. I felt exhausted after my runs. I felt strong. I ate ravenously. I looked at my muscles and felt proud.
Around this time I was hired to work full time at a clinic some distance away. So I timed my runs on the weekends, before work, after work, and pondered if I could fit in a lunchtime run.
Then I ran my half marathon and conquered it. I didn’t feel the same sense of pride as I had after my training runs, but by the time of the race, I already knew I could run 13+ miles in my goal time.
Two hours after finishing my half marathon, I drove out to Arches National Park. I walked an eighth of a mile when a sudden, stabbing pain in my right knee almost dropped me. Being me, and being that my Ironman brother expected me to keep going, I kept on for the next week, hiking and walking every day. I was pretty sure I just needed a day of rest for my knee to feel better.
I took the next week off all exercise and then, finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I ran seven miles. I knew this might not be the best idea but I wanted so badly to be okay that I told myself that the run WOULD BE OKAY. I will power through many things but these seven miles hurt so badly, I needed to keep stopping for walk breaks.
I realize now how much I want to run. My swimming and biking relax me but don’t replace running. I realize how much of my identity is tied into running and how accomplished I felt after a long, hard slog. I look at running gear and want to cry. I realize now, that for the last few years, I had been “a runner.”
Now though, am I still a runner if I can’t run?