I tried running when I was in college. It didn’t last very long because of shin splints. Of course, that I was trying to run in my K-Swiss, which were designed to play tennis, not for running, may have been part of the problem. But after a few weeks or months of painful shin splints with every run, I gave it up.
Fast forward 20 years and I tried it again. Off and on, I had tried cycling, but that takes more time and more equipment and … just more. When I started running again, my goal was to simply be able to run, or jog, for 30 minutes. Around the same time, my brother-in-laws company was sponsoring a sprint triathlon and my family formed two teams to participate in it. On my team, my wife took on the swimming, my brother-in-law took the ride, and I ran a 5k to finish it off. My sister ran the 5k on our other team. By the time we started running, my team was several minutes behind. While I made up almost all of the time, I didn’t quite get there.
What I did do along the way was crack the nut of running. I didn’t get shin splints anymore, but I did have a wall that I had to climb over. The early stage of a run is, on some level the hardest. At least for somebody like me. It does not come naturally for me. So, in the opening couple of miles, my breath is ragged, various parts of my body hurt and cramp. It generally takes two or three miles for me to find a breathing rhythm and for those initial aches to fade.
When I first started running, I kept having to take a walk break at about 15 minutes. I thought it ridiculous that I couldn’t push through that point and keep running. But for several months, I could not. Then one day I just decided that no matter how I felt, I would keep going. No matter what. And I survived. Not only that, I learned I could keep running through that wall and on the other side of it was the most incredible part of any run I went on in the years ahead.
For the next five or six or seven miles, I could run in rhythm with little pain or discomfort. If my run got into double figure mileage, things might crop up now and then, but I cracked the nut.
Over the next few years I ran a lot. In my neighborhood and in organized runs throughout the community. 5ks. 10ks. And four half marathons. My first half marathon came with it a personal goal of breaking 2 hours. I finished in 2 hours and 32 seconds. The last three miles were difficult as I learned afterwards because of a weak sartorius muscle in my right leg. It was fine for most runs, even longer runs, but every once in awhile, once I topped ten miles, it would rebel. It did that day and prevented me from reaching my goal.
Each half marathon after got worse.
But I kept running, because I could and it is the easiest, most convenient form of exercise there is. As long as your body can handle it. You can run anywhere as long as you have your running shoes.
For a handful of years, things were good. Until they weren’t anymore. For my first three half marathons, I trained on my own. For my last one, I signed up for a training program run by a guy I went to high school with. He owns the company that puts on most of the organized runs in the community. At one time, he was one of the best distance runners in America. He is a running evangelist.
At the same time I started the training program, I was also playing indoor soccer for the first time in my life. Also, for the first time in my life I was taking stretching seriously, including stretches for my groin. And … I tore a groin muscle while playing soccer. I stopped playing soccer, but kept running because it didn’t seem to bother me while running.
A couple of months went by. My groin muscle seemed OK. I played soccer again. I tore the muscle again.
I kept running because it didn’t seem to be a problem. Well, except maybe towards the end of longer runs, but I thought I was OK.
That October I ran my final half marathon. I was not OK. My torn groin muscle let its presence be known at about the 7 mile mark. For the next 6 miles I gutted it out, running and walking and walking and running. I describe it as essentially having to drag my right leg with me as I completed the last 6 miles. I finished in 2 hours and 15 minutes, which pretty much amazes me given what I went through during the second half of the run.
I didn’t run anymore the rest of the month and into November. And then I did a stupid thing. I played soccer again. And tore the groin muscle again.
And only then did I finally see a doctor.
I tried physical therapy for almost a year and occasionally went for a run. Just a short run and I couldn’t do it because of that muscle.
Then I didn’t do anything for another year — no physical therapy, no running, nothing. And then I tried to run again. It wasn’t that bad, but I had lost the ability or motivation to run as much as I had before. So, I ran in fits and starts, taking long breaks, then running steadily for a few weeks before taking another break. I wasn’t running for distance. Just trying to run three or four miles several times a week.
And I also stopped tracking my time and distance and other stats. I thought that if I let go of those things, I might be a better runner. But I wasn’t, I’m an internally competitive person. When I engage in physical activity of any kind, I want to beat myself. To always “improve.” Without those stats, I couldn’t motivate myself to run regularly.
About a year ago, I decided to get a running app for my phone. Maybe having the stats would motivate me to run more and get in better shape. Maybe I could crack the nut again and see if things had improved through my years of relative inactivity with that ol’ groin muscle. (Yeah, I know, probably not.)
The app worked to an extent. I have run more in the last year than I did in any of the previous three or four. But for every month where I ran 60 miles, there was a month or two when I only ran 30 or 40. And I am no longer as comfortable running in the dark evenings in my neighborhood as I once was. I joined a gym a few months ago and discovered that the treadmill is now deadly.
Back when I was running a lot, I would go to the gym during the lunch hour and crank out really good 30-40 minute runs. It helped me do some speedwork and just put in miles to get stronger and faster.
This time around … it has been the complete opposite. I simply am unable to run on the treadmill. And so my running is suffering.
And I have now got to the point where I may just give up running. A few months ago, a friend and I decided to try to run together every weekend. He lives right by the river, so we can run along the trail there. We have a out and back route that is about 5.5 miles. We talk about trying to extend our run as we go on. We ran 6 miles once. And the last couple of runs have been incredibly difficult for me. A couple of months ago, I was running the 5.5 mile trek and doing pretty good. Running at what is a good pace for me now. Not needing a walking break. Last weekend though — I needed to walk after 1.5 miles. And again later in the run. Runs I have done at home in recent weeks have been barely better.
Today, I ran the Sacramento Beer Week 5k. My only goal was to not have to take a walk break during the run. If I can’t run 3.1 miles …
So I achieved that goal, but each mile was slower than the last. I know I shouldn’t care about my time, but see above about my internal competition. And it’s more than that, I just don’t feel like I have anything at all when I run. No power, no motivation. No ooomph.
Today may have been my last run. I’m running out. I’ve started to switch to the exercise bike at the gym. I’m thinking of going for a bike ride along the river tomorrow to see how it goes. Maybe I’ll start taking spinning classes again.
Getting old sucks.
Not having the time to stay fit sucks.
Not having the energy to stay fit sucks.
But I have not yet given up. 😉