About a year ago, I started running. I needed an exercise I could do simply by walking out the front door, so I went to my local running store, got fitted for shoes, picked up some cold weather gear, and took to the streets (I don’t run on a treadmill, ever. Those who know me well can guess why.).
I surprised myself pretty quickly by working my way up to a mile, then two, two and a half. The neighborhood is hilly, making the run interesting. I think it was the shin splints that hit first. I thought my biggest limitation would be cardiovascular but it turns out that builds up pretty quickly (so don’t give up!). I started icing my shins, rode the stationary bike between runs. The shin splints eventually left me alone.
Then came the knee. At the end of my run as I tried to climb the steps into the house, my left knee would give way, sometimes painfully, sometimes not. It got bad enough that I had to take a break from my early morning rendezvous with the neighborhood deer and my late night runs under the stars.
When it didn’t hurt, it felt so good, at least some of the time. Some runs would feel like flying, others like crawling through quicksand. It was the flying I dreamed about at night and searched for on the road. The road is hard. The road is cambered. The road kicked my ass.
I spent some time doing my own knee rehab, riding the stationary bike, doing some knee exercises, and staying off the road. Soon my knee got better. And I head back out on the road. And that led to a nice hiatus from running while I leaned the best ways to ice a knee (frozen peas).
I started to read. I talked to other runners (I almost typed “real runners”). I read more. Form, I decided, was probably more important than I thought. I had figured running is like breathing—there’s nothing to it. Except the way I was running was hurting me, and my breathing sucked. As my breathing got better, I headed back out, this time on the trail. I watched my feet, my body, my arms. I looked for ways to land further forward on my foot. My stride shortened up, any speed coming from stride turnover rate rather than length. I kept my knees a bit flexed, letting my other muscles protect them from impact trauma.
My knees loved it. The trail was beautiful. And my feet started to hurt. So did my lower legs.
It turns out that with an activity like running, taking the stress off one part simply puts it on another. If you can move the stress along before a part gives in, eventually, each strengthens.
My speed has been picking up lately. The trail is great in the fall, the hills feel effortless, sort of. And now my left ankle hurts. So do my shoulders; that one surprised me.
So I’ll rest my posterior tibial ligament, keep my shoulders loose, give it a few days rest, and hopefully be ready for the trail in a few day.
Running is learning: learning about the sport, learning about your body, learning about yourself. It’s worth it if you don’t mind getting hurt.