Monday, March 18, 2013

I am (not) a runner

Or maybe I should say: I am a runner trapped in a non-runner's body.

It all started in my 20s when I discovered that I had early osteoarthritis in my knees. The right knee was worse than the left, but it was present in both knees. Ugh. I asked what I could do about it and the guy casually said, "eventually you'll need a knee replacement, but until then, just ice it occasionally and take nsaids when it gets too painful. Stay off it when it hurts." Seriously? I was probably 27 or 28 and this was a low blow. I had been pretty active and was about to test for my black belt in karate, so yes, I had been using my knees pretty heavily. But still. It sucked.

Even though I had this osteoarthritis, I figured out a way to work around it and for most of my 30s, I was an on and off again runner. I've written about it here from time to time. I was a slow runner (10, 11, sometimes 12 minute miles) and I practiced a form of running that was less interested in endurance than in just plain running. I did a walk-run sequence where I'd run for a minute or two and walk until my breath caught back up with me, then I'd run again for a minute or two.

And honestly, I loved it. I knew I wasn't "good" at running in the sense of being able to train for a race or in improving my times. I was happy when my mile speed was around 10 or 11. My body felt strong and I felt good about what my body could accomplish.

I am no longer a runner. At least, I'm not a runner right now. I know this because over the last few weeks, I had started to run again at the gym. Just two or three times a week. Slowly (not even a 13 minute mile--it was probably closer to 15 because I was just starting again after being very inconsistent with my gym walking for most of fall 2012. On monday of last week, I had what felt like a great workout. Just a little bit of running (probably 5-6 minutes max out of the entire 35 minutes), but at a nice speed. I felt invigorated.

A few hours after that workout, my left knee started to stiffen, and by the next morning, I could barely walk. I spent most of last week hobbling around instead of continuing to run a little bit here and there. In fact, I didn't get to the gym at all last week.

So for right now, for this next five or six months, I need to not run. I need to get my walking program back. Elliptical is fine (I can push myself there, I think, without aggravating the knees). Walking is fine, even relatively fast walking (like 4.0-4.5 on the treadmill). But I need to stay away from running. I am not a runner at the moment.

I did my workout this afternoon and felt a serious envy for the woman on the treadmill next to me. She was running, slowly, but she was doing it. I wanted to stop and tell her how lucky she is. Hopefully I'll get back there, back to my slow walk-run cycle. I just need to take it even slower than I've been taking it, which is so slow I've been bored out of my mind. The reason I had started running again was to keep away this boredom and to get back my love of working out. Walking just doesn't do it all that well, but until my body is used to the movements again, until this 30 minutes 3-4 times a week thing is fully part of my regular routine, and certainly until this left knee feels no twinge at all after a hard elliptical workout, I am benched from running.

It's amazing how closely connected one's intellectual sense of self is with one's body, and I sometimes marvel at this connection. I am my body but I'm not my body, you know? I see myself in the mirror when I'm out doing errands and sometimes, I don't recognize myself. Who is that middle aged woman with the beginnings of lines on her face? Who might be developing age spots from so much sun damage over the years? Other times, like this morning, I see my face and smile because it IS me. I know me and I'm there. Still. Always. I usually see myself as I was in my late 20s when I was a runner, a real one, and when my body was strong and faithful and capable. This new middle aged body is strange. This new post-two-babies body is strange. It's me, but it's not me, if that makes any sense. How do we even know who we ARE in mid-life, when so much has happened and we're on the precipice of so much change and mellowing (like a fine wine maybe? hopefully?)? And what does it mean to be a mother and have a body that reflects that equally strange identity, because sometimes I feel like a mother and then I'm shocked ("Am I really someone's mother? How the F did that happen?").


  1. There are times, more so than not lately, when I catch myself in the mirror and I have no idea who I am looking at. My face just looks, older. There are definitely age spots (bits of melasma from my first pregnancy that never went away) and lines and just a, I don't know, hollowing of my face. My hair is longer now than it's been in a long while and when I comb it after a shower (on the rare occasions when I actually wash it) I am presented with a strange staring back at me. It is the oddest feeling in the world. I assume it will only get worse and sometimes it frightens me. My current plan is to just avoid mirrors for the rest of my life. That seems like the right mindset. Don't you think?

    I'm sorry you can't run. That absolutely sucks. I really hope your knees mellows out soon and you can get back on track.

    Abiding with you.

  2. "I see myself in the mirror when I'm out doing errands and sometimes, I don't recognize myself. Who is that middle aged woman..." Yes. Not just looks, my body FEELS very different to me these days. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin, the way my clothes are fitting on me (even new, larger ones), the way little bits jiggle or move. I just don't feel like myself. And all the gray hairs---both my mother & MIL color their hair, so I feel super decrepit with all my straggly gray strands! But also, YES, the mellowing. I'm feeling it. Many things I can no longer get worked up over. Its so freeing. I can only imagine that will get better. Oh the paradox of aging, the more you are comfortable in your psyche and your life, the more your external body fails you...

    As for running, I am so sorry you are unable to move your body in the way that gave you joy. My knees are also messed up from a period of intense distance running...but I've found that if I take it VERY easy (never running 2 days in a row, very slow pace, short distances) I have been OK lately. Hopefully you can find some sort of schedule that is ok on your knees.