Why Don’t I Just Stop Running?

My relationship with running is on the rocks. Meaning, while I love it and I need it to feel complete, it is difficult right now and is causing me grief. Also meaning, it feels like I have rocks in the muscles between my hips and knees that are grinding into my bones.

I am halfway through training for a half-marathon. OK, not A half-marathon, THE half-marathon. The Indianapolis One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon. The largest half-marathon in the U.S., and arguably the best. This is my third Mini, and still a big deal for me. It is a spectacle to behold, with over 35,000 participants. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, as well as bands, cheerleading squads, and volunteers line the 13.1 mile course. The course itself is excellent, and includes a lap around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The atmosphere is unlike any other race I have participated in. The crowd, itself, seems to push you spiritually toward the finish line. And you need that push at the slight incline (which I refer to as “Slight Incline, My Ass”) on New York street at about mile 12.

I have 68 days and 11 hours to finish training for the Mini. I’m telling this not only to you, but to my hips, which really hate my ass right now.

Five years ago, I decided to train for a full marathon. During a 10 mile long training run, I felt a nagging pain in my knees that within the next mile, turned into an excruciating 5 mile limp back home. A trip to the orthopedist showed that I had Iliotibial Band Syndrome. Basically, the muscles from my hips to my knees had nasty knots on them that caused them to pull my knees and hips out of whack. I rested, went to physical therapy, and gave up my dream of 26.2. Now, 5 years later, I can run shorter runs with no pain; long runs, however, are literally a pain in my ass. More specifically, my ass, hips and knees.

Normal people would have just stopped running long runs by now. I’m not one of those people. As I said, I love running. I need it to feel complete. The pain is just part of the deal. Not that it isn’t tempting. As I’m spending 20 minutes stretching before each run, I hear the voices of friends who have said, “Why don’t you just stop running?” As I’m writing the check to my massage therapist, I hear the voice
of a former family doctor that said (in a thick Indian accent, of course,) “Why don’t you just stop running?” As my husband is rolling the Evil Stick over my hips and outer thighs, making me wince and cry, I hear my own voice in my head scream, “WHY DON’T YOU JUST STOP RUNNING?”

My response? Running might cause me to be in pain, but not running will cause me to be obese again, raising my blood pressure and putting me at risk for diabetes again, making me shop at Lane Bryant again. It’s just a different type of pain. Running may hurt physically, but not running hurts spiritually. Running gives me time to clear my head. I can literally run away from stress. It is time that I can think and pray. I listen when I run – I listen to my breath, listen to nature, and if I’m in the mood to be fast, I listen to Eminem.

Running also tricks my body and my mind into believing, at least for a very short period of time, that I’m not middle-aged. I might look like some old, slightly roundish, red-faced, sweaty woman in need of an EMT, but I feel young and fit and sexy. At least until an hour later, when I’m groaning as I limp into the kitchen for ibuprofen.

And so, when my body says quit, I find a way to work harder. When I feel defeated, I remember the feeling I get each time I cross a finish line, knowing that I accomplished something I couldn’t do 20 years ago. I’m at war with my body, while at the same time, I love and admire the way it has survived the fight. Like my soul, it is stronger for its weaknesses, and it is resilient from its past pain. It is the enemy and the thing I am fighting for, all at once.

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