Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Runner…

Once upon a time I was a runner… inspired to try by a girlfriend of mine currently in London, a number of years ago I registered for a “Learn to Run” program through the Running Room in High Park (a ‘burb of Toronto in Ontario Canada) And bravely ventured forth on my first night of class… it was, well, just plain rude.

I knew nothing about running bras at that point. Nor did I know about proper clothing (I was wearing a lot of cotton – in many layers) shoes, gloves or (god help me) toques. It was 38*C BELOW zero, snowing, and after dark, and I'm from Vancouver Island for heavens' sake! I took the subway there, game to try. I was wearing a pair of Nike Air sneakers that were about 15 years old... One of the air pockets had been punctured, so every time I put a foot down it made a hissing noise, not unlike the wheezy ones I was making when I started that first run.

We sat through a 30 minute introduction talk – were introduced to our leaders and then they took us out into a frozen version of hell to run us around a loop and determine how fit we were at that point so they could divide us into running groups.

Before the class started, I’d looked over the training plans, and thought I would be starting at the very bottom of the pile – 2 minutes of walking and a minute of running. I could surely do that, right? The instructors had us run a single kilometre and when we crossed their ‘finish” line they numbered us off. I was a 2. Woo Hoo – that meant I could start with the slowest of the slow!

In between the first and second class we had 2 practice runs, and before my second practice run I got myself all kitted out with new shoes, proper winter wear running clothing and yes, a running bra – ever after known as “The Mono-Boob” for how it held the girls in place.

The second class rolled around and I found out that I was wrong. Instead of starting me off in the bottom tier, they started me off with the intermediate group – running for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES with a single teeny tiny little minute of break between hellish bouts of running. God – it was terrifying. Me, the one who had, for years, avoided exercise like it would kill me. Actually, on some of those first runs I thought it would kill me. It was cold. It was hard. It was depressing because I was so slow.

It was also amazing. I was seeing, week after week, for the whole ten weeks of the program, improvement. I was feeling better, more energetic, happier and less stressed-out at work.

About half way through the program I finally told people back home what I was up to.

The culmination of that program was a 5K race – the Toronto Achilles Track Club’s annual 5K St. Patrick’s Day run. Within 10 feet of the start line I was passed by a blind man and his running partner. Yes, truly. It was then and continues to be now, one of the most inspiring moments in my life. Here’s this man who cannot see and he’s flying like a bird along the run path. His running partner was even more inspiring to me because not only was he keeping pace the whole time, he was also, every single step of the way, keeping up a dialogue of what was coming up ahead of them on the road.


A couple of years later, When living in Courtice Ontario (just east of Oshawa) I trained for and ran my very first half-marathon - the Burlington Chili Half Marathon. It was agony. It was also, I thought, just the beginning. A couple of weeks after that, on my first trip to Scotland, I ran a half marathon in Alloa, Scotland. I have the medals to prove it.

A break, of sorts, and I started training again, this time on my own. I was losing weight at the time (through an organised weight loss program) and feeling fantastic. Out on a 12 KM run one gorgeous Sunday morning, I stepped off the sidewalk onto the pavement and something scary happened in my left knee. I felt a sort-of clunk and immediately, with every running stride’s footfall, agony. When I stopped and walked, the pain stopped too, but when I tried to resume running I couldn’t.

I had it checked out and it was initially thought to be what is commonly known as runners knee, so off to physiotherapy I went… about this time I was readying for a move to the Channel Islands and so, though unable to get running right away, I had hopes that I would be able to start again once I had rested and healed. Over in Jersey I tried a couple of runs but it was still sore and tight. A LOT of scary deep tissue ITB (here's a great website that explains it all: ITBS Help Site...) massage later my therapist pronounced me ready. Get out and try.

This time the pain was worse. I managed about 20 minutes and into my third ten-and-one running spot the pain almost had me lying on the ground.

This was in November of 2008.

Kim (my massage therapist on Jersey) insisted I see my doctor – who sent me for x-rays, which were inconclusive. Next up, in December of 2008, I was sent to a surgeon, Initially, it was thought that maybe I had torn something in my knee and that surgery might correct the issue. The surgeon sent me for MRI imaging on both knees and when he got the results (on December 21st, a day before I was to fly home for Christmas) he had me come into the office. The prognosis was not positive. No, I didn’t require surgery. No, I would never run again. My ligaments are apparently too long and loose to support activity like running and what was happening was that, when I ran, bone rubbed on bone.

The thing was (and still is) that I actually LIKED running. My brain would shut off while I ran. I could get into a really quiet mental state and just rest my heart and mind while I ran. I am not able to get there in a gym because it all requires thinking. Running was very instinctive for me – meditation.

Depressed about that (and a little lonely) I drank and ate myself silly. It wasn’t good then and it isn’t good now.

When I got back out here to BC and settled into a life here, I found a doctor who, when he heard the history of the situation and saw copies of the surgeon’s report, told me that yes, I could possibly run again – but need to lose weight and strengthen my legs and the muscles surrounding my knees before trying. My Chiropractor had more to offer. He was adamant that I would run again. No possibly about it. And no weight loss required before starting. What WAS required, though, was some serious work on my spine and joints. My back and hips were causing misalignment with my knees. Had I not been off to a vacation in November, I could have started running again around Christmas.

Just a few weeks ago I finally got my go-ahead to try. So today, finally, I was running again. This time I have to start right at the very beginning. This time I am starting with two minutes of walking and a minute of running - but that’s not the point. The point is that today – TODAY I got to go out on my very first run in a very long time...

And it felt GREAT.

With love across the waters,

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