How I REALLY feel about not being able to run

After reading my enthusiastic posts about cross-training and 20-minute cardio workouts at the gym, you might think I don’t miss running that much.

Wrong.

Truth is funny. There can be more than one truth; every coin has two sides. If I asked you to describe a loonie lying flat on a table, and you didn’t know it was different on each side, you might think your description of the side you can see is all there is to it.

Maybe I choose to show my cheerful “heads-up” side more often than my despairing side. How do I really feel about losing the freedom to run? I think of Dylan Thomas’s words in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”:

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yes, I feel rage, despair, and disbelief. My body has become a cage, a reality from which no amount of positive thinking can get me into the striding, floating, climbing, forest-inhaling, race-bodies-jostling, finish-line-breaking world of running.

The running paths I love so much—Mundy Park’s trails, Mt. Seymour’s cruel rugged climbs, Colony Farm with its majestic mountain vistas looming above the wild shrubs and grasses, the 100m straightaway of the track inviting me to sprint—none of these will pass for me again at the speed of running.

Flying in Mundy Park the last year I could run fast--2008.

Flying in Mundy Park the last year I could run fast–2008.

Adapting

After being told two years ago by my orthopedic surgeon that I could no longer run, I was in shock for a while. I had just had the second of two knee surgeries and thought his news would be good: with both my ACL repaired and my torn cartilage removed, wouldn’t I be able to run more now than I had since tearing the ACL in 2009?

No, because the arthritis in my knee had progressed to the most advanced stage. Not only did I have bone rubbing on bone, but I had abnormal bone growth in the joint that interfered with my ability to straighten my leg and move my knee smoothly.

When I started to try jogging anyway, a couple of months after the surgery, I was very thankful to discover my knee could handle a small amount of running. Starting from a slow 2K jog, I worked up to about two easy 5K jogs/runs a week. My knee never felt “normal” running, and I had to be very careful on rough or downhill sections. My runs always started out at what I called an “old-lady jog,” but gradually, on my best runs, I was able to increase my speed enough to be breathing hard and enjoying the rhythmical striding of running. I even managed to do three races in 2012; two 5Ks (the better one in a time of 19:35), and the Remembrance Day 8K cross country race in Stanley Park.

Post-Remembrance Day

The 8K in Stanley Park was too hard on my knee. It didn’t feel very good in my runs after that. On December 17, I did one of my normal 5–6K runs and my knee felt terrible afterwards. I couldn’t walk properly because of pain and the constant “popping” and slipping of tendons in my knee that made me very unstable.

Although I stopped jogging completely, my knee continued to feel awful for a few weeks. I remember Christmas Day in particular. After eating brunch and socializing for several hours with my boyfriend Keith’s family, I was impatient to get outside and be active. Just before dusk, Keith and I went for a walk on the Inlet Trail near my apartment. My knee felt so uncomfortable that I was  miserable. It was one thing to be unable to run. It was unbearable that I couldn’t even walk.

I’m a restless person. I need to move. I love how every part of my body works together when I’m running and breathing and experiencing my environment with all my senses. Walking has the same harmonious rhythm as running but at a greatly-reduced level of intensity that doesn’t satisfy my need to feel the limits of what my body can do.

But to be deprived of that movement altogether—I was a caged animal, in a physical and psychological prison that tormented me.

Perspective

Human beings can adapt to almost anything. I had to adjust to my new knee situation: now I was facing the possibility that on December 17th I had gone for my last run ever.

Keith and Nancy posing with bike helmets

Keith and I cycling near the PoCo Trail in Port Coquitlam.

Keith, whom I didn’t meet until after my ACL was injured, has always been a great support and comfort to me with my knee injury. He helps me put my situation in perspective. Keith liked running when he was in his twenties, but he had to have major surgery on both his knees, and after that he was restricted to cycling and hiking. Even these activities often cause his knees to swell up and become very painful. He reminds me that other people are far worse off than I am, whether they have more severe injuries or are permanently disabled. I’m at an age, too, when I realize people my age are already dying of cancer or heart disease. Middle age is a time when many people are coping with their aging parents’ disabilities, diseases, and deaths. It’s a time when I’ve learned to be very thankful for the health that I have, rather than focusing with anger and frustration on the one part of my body that isn’t functioning perfectly.

Keith is compassionate, and he understands pretty well how much I miss running, but we’ve developed a code phrase for the times when I’m depressed about my knee. He says, “It sucks to be you!” We recognize that acceptance and a sense of humour are the best responses.

A new injury

About a month after my fateful December run, my knee had finally improved enough that I dared to try an easy jog on the flat trail loop at Como Lake. I jogged very tentatively, feeling about 80 years old, but I completed two 1K loops of the lake. My knee didn’t feel great but at least it didn’t get worse afterwards.

The following week, I went back to the lake. This time, my knee felt steadier. I was able to jog significantly faster and did three loops, loving every second of my little run.

The next day I suffered a bad fall and tore my right hamstring muscle at the insertion point. Walking and driving were painful for about a week. Now I can almost walk at my usual brisk pace, but jogging will be out of the question for many more weeks. The bright side is that my knee might improve!

Some runners retire; others “do not go gentle into that good night”

Some elite runners retire gracefully before they’re past their prime. Often, they keep running, out of the spotlight and purely for enjoyment, happy to be done with the pressure and relentless exhaustion of racing and heavy training.

Others retire and “let themselves go”. This was the old attitude, that sports and physical glory were the realm of the young only.

Some of us never want to stop pushing ourselves to the limit. The slowing down is inevitable but we console ourselves with the flattering numbers that the age-grading calculators spit out.

Some “rage against the dying of the light” until their candle sputters out. I still think every day of my friend and coach, George Gluppe, who died last year. George loved running in a wholehearted and uncomplicated way. It was his life’s passion. He was a great coach as well as a great athlete. (You can read my other articles about George in the coaching section of this blog.)

George started having serious trouble with his knees when he was only 53. He was forced to run less and less, and finally had to quit completely when he was in his mid-sixties. He wasn’t the same person after he stopped running. A joy went out of his life that couldn’t be replaced, even though he continued to be a devoted coach. People who met George after that time never knew the “real” George, the man whose sheer love of running encouraged countless young athletes to stick with running and fitness for the rest of their lives.

He thrived on the most intense challenges of running: doing all-out 400s until he was crawling and “eating grass” in the infield; finishing a day of masters’ pentathlon competition with the dreaded 1,500m; or pushing his sprinter’s body on grueling distance runs with his high school cross country teams.

George lived by the spirit of Dylan Thomas’s poem. We did our last workout at the gym together a few days before George was admitted to the hospital for the final lap of his life.

Dylan Thomas wrote the following poem in 1952, when his father was dying.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their works had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
This entry was posted in Injuries and Getting Older, Personal stories, Poems, Running. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How I REALLY feel about not being able to run

  1. Steve says:

    I really like what you wrote. I was touched.

  2. Margot says:

    Another great post, Nancy, that I have enjoyed reading – keep ’em coming!

  3. Caroline Crabtree says:

    Writen beautifully as always – right to the point! I always imagined myself running until the day I was put in to the ground -= who knows maybe I will but at the moment it doesn’t seem so. But you I won’t give up and when this old body says I can try to run again -= I WILL!!

  4. I’m crossing my fingers for both of us, Caroline. We know our bodies have remarkable healing powers. It may take a while but I don’t think either of us have done our last run yet.

  5. Pingback: My knee is an Alien | NancyRuns&Writes

  6. Martin says:

    I am a bit older than you. I broke my leg at the ankle two years ago and I have had trouble returning my ‘old’ activities. I was never a serious runner but I did run. I also was a soccer coach and occasional player. Those activities are gone for me and I lament the loss. So I realize how hard your loss must be. Running was your passion. I think you expressed the difficulty of the transition very well.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Martin! It is indeed hard to accept the limitations that getting older (especially after injuries) force upon us. I’m lucky that I can still run a little, and I really love every minute of running now. We always have to find activities (including non-physical ones) that we can be passionate about, but some things are irreplaceable.

  8. Jer says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been very very difficult for me to accept that my knee injuries may prevent me from ever running again. Two years ago I went through a period of obessing over “fixing” my knee injuries just to run again & it consumed my life. Finally I decided I just needed to stop because it wasn’t doing me (or my family) any good. I’m ready to revisit healing my body so I’m seeing a new sports doctor & physical therapist (they both helped me with my shoulder tendinitis earlier this year). I’m cautiously optimistic & taking my time. How long & often are you running these days?

    • I sympathize with you, Jer. From my blog post you know I can relate. I made the choice not to let “fixing” my knee take over my life. I had many good years of running, and though I miss it a lot I’m trying to focus on other activities I enjoy, as well as intellectual pursuits. I’ve been able to run about 5K twice a week most of the time–a very small amount of running compared to what I used to do. However, I enjoy those small runs immensely–they are a treat.
      Recently my knee has become much worse and I’m not currently running at all. Every time I have a setback like this I wonder if I’ve run for the last time. But psychologically I am gradually adapting and preparing for not being able to run.
      Of course I wish for you that you will be able to run, but if that isn’t possible I would encourage you to focus on what you CAN do with gratefulness and joy (even though whisper whisper nothing is as good as running!!!)

  9. Pingback: 2013 ends with a cough, a croak, and a spark of hope | NancyRuns&Writes

  10. Pingback: Happy New Year with a cough, a croak–and a spark of hope | NancyRuns&Writes

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