My proudest moment from running is probably my first half marathon – Rock n Roll Las Vegas, 2009 (before they started running it at night. We started at 6 in the morning and got to see drunks stumbling out of the casinos looking completely confused as to why there were thousands of runners instead of cabs all over the street).
But it’s not actually finishing the half marathon. It’s the decisions I made a year and a half prior that led to me being able the finish it.
See, even though I’ve been running most of my life, and been a Runner’s World subscriber since I was 14 or so, I quite frequently run like I have no idea what I’m doing. Add in a reluctance to ever go to the doctor unless I legitimately believe I’m going to die in the next 24 hours, and, well, it’s a small miracle I haven’t been injured more often.
I’ve been lucky, actually. Aside from a minor Achilles’ tendinitis flare-up when I was 15 (after which I said good-bye, Nike, hello Brooks), my running-related injury sheet is one that 99.9% of runners would likely be jealous of.
And then, senior year of college, I went on a “date” with this guy who took me to an indoor rock climbing gym. I hadn’t been rock climbing in something like 6 years or so, but I figured, no big deal, I got this.
I only fell twice! I made it to the top of one of the (easiest) routes! Yayyyy!
The next morning, my knee was stiff and did not want to bend much. I figured I’d just tweaked it a bit, wrapped an ice pack around it, and went about my day.
A day or two later, my knee still hurt, was noticeably swollen and not bending, and I went on another date with this guy, hiking, during which I joked about how my knee had been bugging me since rock climbing. I may have jumped and climbed around on some boulders during the hike. I may have slid off a boulder and landed hard on that knee.
The next week, I was leaving class and chatting with a classmate, who happened to be a Kinesiology major. He noticed me struggling to get down the stairs, due to my knee still not wanting to bend more than, like, 5 degrees. I told him I thought I’d tweaked it last week (yes, “tweaked” is my technical term for any minor ache or pain), I’ve been icing it and trying to take it easy. “Yeah, knees aren’t something to mess with,” he said.
Within the next month, I got an MRI (my first ever!), saw a sports doc/orthopedic surgeon, and had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. The diagnosis was a partial tear in my LCL. In the initial consult with the doctor, I told him under no circumstances are the words “no more running,” or any variation of those, to leave his lips. Luckily, the surgery was fine and the doctor said to just take it easy and not push my body too hard as I picked up running again.
Guys, that summer was both one of the most fun I’ve had and one of the suckiest. Most fun because I was dating this great guy, made a bunch of new friends, and began developing my love and appreciation of craft beer. Suckiest because my knee hurt. All. The. Time. Running wasn’t an option. I could barely walk without pain. I took handicap ramps and elevators wherever I could.
So sometime in August, I think, I went back to the doc and asked for a referral for physical therapy. I think insurance approved something like 3 sessions a week for the next two months. I went to all of them. I…made an effort to do the exercises I was given. I swam laps at the pool. I hate swimming. It’s the worst. But that and easy stationary biking and the elliptical (all the low-impact exercises I really don’t love) were all my knee could take.
(I also took up yoga and it was awesome but that’s another story.)
I finished physical therapy cleared for “easy” jogging. Short and slow. Pick things up gradually. Keep stretching and doing those stupid exercises to strengthen my knee.
I was going slightly crazy without running. When I saw other people running, I had the conflicting impulses to both shake my fist at them in jealousy and frustration, and to tell them “You’re so lucky! Don’t take it for granted!”
I was also determined not to do anything stupid. Not to risk my long-term well-being and joint health for a stupid five-mile run. So I started my own training regimen of “running” three days a week, on the treadmill or at the track only. Jog for 30 seconds, walk for 90 seconds. 10-15 times. Each week, if my knee responded well, I upped the jogging intervals by 15 seconds. Slowly I started decreasing the time of the walking intervals too.
It sucked. I all but accepted that I would likely never run two days in a row again, that I would probably never run more than 3 or 4 days a week. I got a neoprene knee brace and tried to figure out how many of those I’d end up going through in my lifetime.
But! I kept at it. I increased my mileage slooooooowly and gradually. I celebrated tiny milestones like running for 10 minutes straight or my knee not hurting the day after one of those easy walk/jogs. And then, sometime in 2009, I got the crazy idea that maybe I could actually finish a half-marathon. And I did! It was, in many ways, the worst half-marathon I’ve run so far (slowest, terrible pacing – I was ambitious and started in a too-fast corral and ran the first three miles at least 3 minutes/mile faster than I finished – awful pre-race routines, painful recovery), but it gave me the confidence to not let my running be defined by my “bad knee.”
So my proudest running moment was seeing a doctor about an injury I didn’t think was that serious.
All because I listened to an offhand comment from a fourth-year Kines major.
(Former classmate, I’ve forgotten your name and pretty much everything about you except that you were tall and lanky and blond. But thank you! If you hadn’t said anything about not messing with knees, I honestly don’t know how long I would’ve waited to see a doctor, if I would’ve seen one at all, or how much worse the tear would’ve gotten. I probably wouldn’t be contemplating the training for my 8th half and 2nd full marathon right now. So again, thank you.)