The Courage to Begin Again

My return to running has, more or less, sucked.

I mean, really sucked.

I started running again upon the suggestion by my physical therapist that it would not hurt to give it a go again. So, I went to the YMCA for my usual injured biking and light weightlifting workout, and somehow decided to end the day with a mile. A slow, painful mile. It felt wonderful to run again (and even more wonderful to be pain free) but I knew the road back to fitness was going to be long, hard, and, frankly, exhausting. I drove home, stumbled in the door, and headed straight to my bed for a nap.

The next time I decided to run, I wanted to add more minutes (and mileage) but did not want to overdo it. So, I put myself on somewhat of a “Couch-To-5k” Plan like those you’d find on Pinterest. I begrudgingly decided to run for a few minutes, walk for a minute or so, and repeat, for about 20-25 minutes (an arbitrary time I set for myself to keep from overdoing it). I was extremely frustrated with how out of breath I felt after only a few short, slow minutes of running. I wanted to get better, but the first steps to getting there seemed to be so much.

After another week of the same sort of thing, I did not seem to have much better results (at least not emotionally). Physically, I may have been improving a little, but emotionally I was simply not feeling like myself. I felt defeated, knocked down by a small lumbar stress fracture, sciatic nerve pain, and 5-6 weeks of absolutely no running. I was not sure how to proceed–nothing seemed to be working (not to mention, my pain had decreased significantly but my recovery was beginning to plateau at around Level 2-3 pain (on a scale of 1-10). I grew tired, frustrated, and even a little angry. I hated every minute of those first two weeks. Sure, I was grateful to be running again, but I did not care for running when it felt like that.

But then, I took to the trails. I decided to run at whatever pace felt good, with my iPod shuffle to accompany. I settled on “Lover of the Light” by Mumford and Sons as my first song–if you were unaware, Mumford makes for the perfect trail running music–and started off at an easy pace. Partway through the run, I was surprised at how good I felt. I felt as though I was capable, strong, and able to finish the run. This strength carried me through to the end. This run served as a turning point for me. Suddenly, all the work I had been putting in for the past few weeks had meaning; it was all worth it after all. My mood was lifted, my attitude toward running was much more positive. I knew, once again, what I had forgotten for so long: I could do this.

Today, I set out again for another run, beginning my fourth week back to running. Sure, my pace is nowhere near where it normally is, and is even further from where I’d like it to be, but I’m keeping it realistic for now. I’m going to continue to push myself within the limits of my recovery in order to improve and get better with time. I’m going to be tough. I’m going to be strong. I’m going to do this. Running (currently) sucks, but not running sucked worse.

Like with anything, running again after a long break is not easy. It is challenging. It is trying. It is difficult. It is worth every frustration, setback, and struggle. Greatness after a struggle comes down to one thing: the courage to begin again.

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