I can’t run.
I don’t mean that in that sense that my legs have stopped working and I physically can no longer do it or in a way that indicates that it’s more laziness than ability. Rather, I can’t run because a medical professional has highly suggested that I don’t.
For most people, a doctor’s note to not run is like being congratulated for doing nothing. It’s the perfect excuse for not going to the party that you had no intention of attending. For me, though, not running makes me want to cause physical harm to someone else. The other day, while at the physical therapist, another patient mentioned that she had a long 10-miler planned for the weekend and I wanted to pull her purple Nike sweater over her head, like I was the bully in a 90s family sitcom. Of course I didn’t but I most definitely delighted in the thought of doing it.
The pain began when I was training for the Chicago Marathon last summer. I noticed an achy-ness in my left knee that wasn’t sharp but unpleasant. I took some time off, rubbed out my IT band, iced it, and lubed it up with IcyHot. The pain eased, returning occasionally for a few days, but it was mostly bearable and I ran the marathon without any knee pain (oh, but there were lots of other pains).
Going into this year, my plan was to spend the winter months lifting and doing speed workouts on the treadmill to build my base. Then, come the warmer temperatures and soft songs of birds of the spring, I would launch into training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October. I feel like I sort of phoned in my workouts for Chicago, but I was determined to reverse that in this cycle. I would focus on being stronger and faster, adding more miles, speed work, and cross training. I would train so that I would have the strength in mile 22 that I didn’t have during the Chicago Marathon.
I chose Twin Cities for some very specific reasons. While I loved running Chicago, I wanted to try a different race in a different city, plus my brother recently bought a house in St. Paul. I also liked that it was a day before my 32nd birthday, meaning I would have run two marathons at 31.
The biggest reason, though, was redemption. In 2009, I signed up to run the Twin Cities but life happened – I started The Post and moved to Sioux Falls – and I developed a knee injury. To others, I blamed the injury but really I was angry at myself for not taking it seriously. Seven years later, I planned to match my ultra marathon training and go into that race in great shape in an effort to win back some of my dignity.
After taking a few months off, I started just as intended. I lifted two to three days a week and started running with my coworkers during lunch. My excitement for training and running towards a goal built and I often fanaticized about long runs along Chicago Lake Shore Path on early summer mornings. Training, to me, is quite fun. It involves lots of schedules, numbers, mini goals. I like the drive to overcome some obstacle, whether it be a time or distance, and the elation of knowing that I could have done anything that morning but instead I ran. I was so eager to have all that again this summer.
Then, one day, I felt the knee pain again. I didn’t give it much validity and ran through it. It started to be more consistent, so I took some time off. I iced. I took the foam roller to the IT Band. I did all the things that I had done previously, but the pain didn’t go away.
At first, I was in denial about what this meant and that there was a chance it could be something bigger. I pretended that I could fix it myself, but the pain didn’t let up. Finally, I set up an appointment with my primary physician, who took an x-ray and referred me to a sport’s medicine doctor. Bu
Part of me wanted it to be a tear, a clear answer to this ailment; I also knew my body and my history with this injury. I knew that it wasn’t the case. It was something harder to define, in the gray.
The sport’s physician said that I stumped him, which is far from comforting. “If there was a tear,” he said, “there is no way that you would have been able to run that marathon.” He gave me two options: get an MRI to make sure there is nothing wrong or go to physical therapy. We both agreed that it was likely something mechanical and that I should see a physical therapist.
At the very first appointment with my physical therapist she said agreed that it is a mechanical issue. “You are weak,” she said. “Your hips are weak.” So, I see her to get less weak. I do a series of exercises that make me feel both like an elementary student in gym class and a professional football player. She rubs my knee and then ices it before I leave.
Yet, it’s not getting better.
When I first saw my PT, she told me that running a marathon this fall was very possible. That was about four weeks ago and she still won’t let me do a trial run on the treadmill so she can see my running form. She tells me that I can bike or use the elliptical (gross), but not run. I could set back my progress, she says.
Not running sucks. Every day, when I see people out on the trail bopping along, I want to stab something. I miss starting my day with a run. I miss trying to talk myself out of not running but then being so thankful that I did. I miss the sense of peace and stability that running brings me.
Running keeps me sane. It’s my glass of wine at the end of the day, my long pull when I need a second to think. It’s the one thing that I do for myself because I believe that I deserve it. And, now I can’t have it.
I am going a bit bonkers because of it. There are A LOT of changes happening in my life right now, so my emotions are extra high, as evident by the length of my short, stubby nails. I need running. I need to go out and tell it how I am feeling. I need it comfort me. I need it to tell me that I am going to be OK.
Running is the one thing in my life that I don’t feel pressure to be good at or that I measure with grand expectations. I don’t need to win races or be better than people I know. I just want to simply run.
When you lose something you love, sometimes there really isn’t anything you can do but mourn that it’s gone. You can’t replace it with something else or forget what it meant to you. You just have to say that it’s sucks and hope that once day you’ll find that thing again.
Missing running is worse on days like today, a cool spring Saturday. Instead, I am inside thinking about all problems. Social media is full of photos of people running races today and I felt like I saw every single person in the city was out running when I was getting coffee this morning. I think about saying, “Screw it,” and going out anyway. Maybe it would be OK, maybe it would not.
I don’t, though, because of that twinge in my knee when I walk down the stairs or the spark of pain that awakes me in the middle of the night. Running is a gift I give myself, but I have to abstain so that I can heal. Rest is my gift now.