Last week, I wrote about my triumph of exercise and my inspirational, running-crazed parents. This week, I am happy and proud to report that I finished my first 10k! (Well, according to my Garmin, I actually ran .8 miles farther than a 10K, but…whatevs.) This after over four years of battling a (persistent) knee injury and mental roadblocks to even get to three miles and seven months after my first 5K. And instead of writing about all the people that inspired me to keep running, keep trying, go to the doctor one more time, to get some new shows, to change my gait, and to take it a bit slower, I want to talk about myself.
I tried to start running right before my parents ran their first marathon. It was the summer before my last semester in college, and I was enduring a boring, humid, and lonely summer in Boston after my first crisis of confidence in Los Angeles that spring. Running along the Charles River helped clear my mind and stay sane, and I got up to the 8 minute jogging week of the Couch to 5K program and was feeling awesome and accomplished. I was proud of myself for keeping up my running schedule and getting that far. I ran mostly to fast-paced Broadway songs – ashamedly from Legally Blonde as I was obsessed with the MTV reality show about it – and High School Musical 2.
Then my knee injury surfaced for the first time. The Physical Therapist I saw at the BU Health Center said it was an IT issue and gave me some stretches, but after doing everything he suggested, including ice and rest, I tried to run again and again with the same persistent pain that stopped my running in its tracks. So I gave up. And endured two years of explaining why I didn’t run when my parents were so into it.
Cut to last year, my third year of teaching, when, re-inspired by my friends Nicole and Christina, as well as some co-workers training for the LA marathon with some of our students, I tried again. I again did the Couch to 5K program, ran regularly every week, got better and better, listening to cheesy pop songs and Glee covers. It was, again, a fabulous stress relief and a wonderful way to feel like I was making progress in my life. I got to 10 minutes of jogging in the program, and like clockwork, the debilitating knee pain returned.
I was devastated.
The amount of calls I made to my mom in which I said something resembling the following were innumerable: “I feel like this is so easy for everyone else. They just decide to run, and they do it! I feel so mentally prepared and committed and my stupid knee just keeps stopping me again and again.” I just wanted to be able to do this thing that made me feel good, accomplished, and calm, and my stupid body kept getting in the way.
This started my monthly trek to my doctor to get my knee checked out and to get detailed instructions as to how to deal with it. This time, I was told it was runners knee and got new stretches and running suggestions. Some helped a bit; some didn’t. I got myself new shoes, a knee strap, and a huge pile of reading about how to prevent pain, but I couldn’t seem to get past 2.5 miles without it surfacing. I’d already signed up for a 5K, and even that seemingly small goal started to feel more and more impossible.
In January, I was dealt another blow – I pulled something in my hip just as my knee seemed to be getting better. Everything seemed to be against me. My first 5K was only three weeks away, and I had to stop running completely. I felt like I was just gong to do this 5K and then give up again.
The 5K approached and everything still hurt, but I’d paid $80 to run in Disneyland and darn it, I could handle pain for 3.2 miles! So I did. And it was awesome. I could barely walk afterwards, but I felt like I’d worked for three years to get to the point where I could even run that far, and I just wanted to do it.
Then I didn’t run again for two months, after finally seeing how run races were. I signed up for another 5K in April – The Color Run – but since it was just a fun run, I took it easy for a couple months and figured I’d just do it for fun and resign myself to running 5Ks forever, while everyone around me upped it to half and full marathons.
Then, I made it through the Color Run with minimal pain and had a ridiculously good time. I took this as a good sign and went ahead and signed up for a 10K in October, figuring that maybe, just maybe, if I took it slow, I could build up to run 3 more miles.
And from August until now, I did. Yes, I had low points in that training. I am still dealing with knee pain that cut some of my runs short, but I found I can get farther without pain on the treadmill and on trails than I can on pavement, so I adjusted my running locations accordingly. I took it slow. I started doing intervals of running and walking rather than trying to build up to just running for long periods. I started attending yoga more regularly and got some strength exercises from my mom to build up my surrounding muscle groups to help support my knee. I found a ridiculous looking knee brace.
And I didn’t give up. I finally allowed myself to truly believe that while it might take me longer than other people and might not be as easy as it is for other people, that since I was able to build up to 3 and now 6, I can keep building, slowly and surely and with kindness to my knees.
And yesterday, as I ran through mile three to “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde and finished my 6.2 mile run to the awesome one two punch of a mash-up from Season 1 of Glee and “All for One” from High School Musical 2, I flashed back to those runs one and three years ago, to those frustrations, to those feelings that I would always fail and not be able to do this, and I was proud of myself for continuing to try and to believe in myself, and I was proud of myself for achieving something I didn’t think I’d be able to do.
Now bring on the half-marathon.