About two years ago, I developed terrible tendonitis in both my knees. Although I had been running for years, injury was very new to me. At first, I tried to just run through it. Every time I broke into a jog it felt like shards of glass were cutting through my kneecaps. The pain became too great; it finally forced me to stop, rest, and reevaluate my running.
I couldn’t run for about three months. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I had been running several times a week for about 15 years. Until I stopped, I never recognized what a constant it was for me, I felt like my very existence depended on it. I relied upon it more than I relied on anything, or even any person. I ran away from, I ran to, I ran for, I ran through. Running was how I coped, how I controlled, and how I freed myself of the anguish of my brain.
Part of my three month hiatus was spent trying to put more balance into other areas of my life. I didn’t want that feeling again of being so broken if just one thing was taken away from me; I needed to spread out my reliance upon all my available tools. I’ll talk more about this challenge another time.
The other part of my break from running was spent just how every other crackhead runner imagined — figuring out how to get back to running! Here’s what I did:
- Shifted my diet to an anti-inflammatory approach.
- Incorporated some anti-inflammatory and joint healing supplements into my game including curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), and grass fed collagen.
- Started strength training-recognizing that my weak hips and quads were destabilizing my knees and contributing to my pain.
- Adjusted my yoga practice-recognizing where I was hyperextending my hamstrings and relying on flexibility when I needed to focus more on strength.
- Started wearing Hoka running shoes, and stopped wearing each pair down to the ground.
- Started running on the treadmill at the gym instead of outside on the concrete.
As anyone who loves running and has been forced away from it by injury or otherwise knows, you have so much gratitude when you are able to get back to it. Although I preferred to run outside, I was so happy for the few miles I started to log on the treadmill each week. The machine just put so much less impact on my knees than the pounding of the hard concrete.
When I got injured, I was in the middle of completing the 4th of the 9 races I needed to qualify for the following year’s New York City Marathon. At the time I felt fully immersed in the community and camaraderie around road racing. Getting off the road and exiting this community compounded my feelings of loss. When someone would run passed me on the street a streak of sadness and jealousy would flow through me, even as I was on my way to the gym to run myself. It took some time to identify as a runner again, to recognize that the miles and the sweat and the tears that I was putting in were legit, even if I was logging them onto a machine instead of laying them out on the city streets.
After almost two years of pretty healthy knees and a mind and body that were surely content to stay inside and keep the mileage moderate, life has stepped in again and literally changed my course. I’ve got the Brooklyn Half in 4 weeks, and the NYC Marathon in November. Last weekend, I hit the road for my first long run outside in years. It was fantastic. Running in my favorite park (Prospect Park in Brooklyn) brought back all those old warm feelings of community that I missed. It is so inspiring to jog alongside runners of such vastly different ages and races and body types and athletic ability. The treadmill is great, I’ll continue to use it on shorter runs for the convenience and ease on my joints. But the energy I get from the streets of this city is something I’ll never be able to emulate indoors. When I feel tired or weak, somehow, the exact right person is always there to push me forward. Sometimes it’s a middle-aged overweight man who I wouldn’t pick out as a runner if I saw him on the subway. It’s his slow but steady struggle up a hill that pushes me upward as well, quieting the voice that’s urging me to walk. Other times it’s a made-to-run thin-limbed blonde floating past me, as if she’s on skates. As my envy over the lightness of her stride quickly subsides, I’m reminded that while I may have not have been blessed with a runner’s body, I was endowed with the ultimate runner’s heart. My determination is steadfast. Her athleticism ignites my will to forge my own path and stay the course.
Running the streets is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like I can fly. I know, I know, I’m still on the ground. But the freedom that I feel after that first mile or two — that feeling that I could go anywhere, and that I might never need to stop, and that no one could catch me if they tried. That feeling. I don’t know that I’ll ever find anything that can truly replace it. So for now, while I’ve still got the knees and the heart, I’ll be out there enjoying the hell out of every stride.