Running – The Final Lap?

Up until this time I had never run farther than a 10K (6.2 miles). For the first offering of the 10-miler, I was out of town on business and so missed it. And when I got back from my trip, I came down sick with a sinus infection. I had no time to make practice runs longer than the 3 miles I normally ran. I didn’t want to drop out of the series so without any extra training runs, I decided to do the 10-miler.

In spite of no long practice runs, my confidence grew as I reached each mile mark. When I passed the 7-mile marker, I knew I had achieved my longest distance ever. But somewhere close to the 8-mile marker, I began to notice a funny sensation on the outside of my left kneecap. By the time I made it to the 9-mile mark, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was quite painful. Having come this far, I was determined (my wife would say stubborn-headed) to finish. I managed to hobble in the last mile to finish the race. That comment made to me previously came to mind; I had succumbed to my first injury running and sadly supported his statistic.

Having finished four of the five races, I was even more determined to run the last race, a half marathon (13.1 miles) so I could attend the Christmas party and receive my plaque.

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I went to the race that chilly November morning with my friend who had encouraged me to run the series. I started out thinking I could do it but before I had run a single mile, I was already hobbling again. I would walk a ways and then run a few hundred yards before having to walk again. I ended up walking most of the half marathon. In fact my friend already at the finish line began to worry about me as there were fewer and fewer runners crossing the finish line. I finally made it to the finish line myself hobbling so I could cross the line not walking. At that point, I decided, I didn’t need to run any farther than a 10K, a distance I knew I could run without injury.

It took me several months to recover before I could run again. But recover, I was determined to do because by this time running had gotten into my blood—the kicking in of those endorphins that give you a runner’s high. Once the pain went away, I had to build back up my distance. But it didn’t take as long as the first time.

Around this time, I became the president of the Runner’s Club at work and then I got to pick the races each year. We had good participation at work and even won some awards for having the most participants.

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But in 1998, I suffered a far worse injury than the “funny” knee feeling I had trying to run 10 miles, an injury so severe that I thought it might end my running career.

For some time that year, I noticed during my leg stretches prior to running that I was having difficulty stretching out my right leg. Being stubborn-headed, I still ran, as it didn’t seem to be a problem while running. At the end of the summer, I went water skiing with my son and his Boy Scout troop. When it was my turn to ski, I got up but immediately noticed a painful sensation. I struggled along for a while but then threw up the rope and sank in the water. I was in such pain, that my son had to drive me home with me lying down in the back of the van—I couldn’t sit up without feeling excruciating pain in my right leg.

What I found out the next day at the doctor was that I was suffering from sciatica, a condition that made it next to impossible for me to sit for any length of time without experiencing significant pain. Over several months I tried spinal shots and physical therapy to remedy it but with only temporary relief. During this time, we even traveled to Hawaii and I had to stand up most of the time on the plane.

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Right after Thanksgiving, an MRI confirmed that in fact I had a ruptured disc. I selected to have back surgery since the continued pain made me feel as if my life was over. Surgery made all the difference in the world. (Interestingly, my sister who is the only other active runner of my three siblings had the same problem and has actually had the surgery twice).

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Following surgery, I had to go through several months of physical therapy but by the summertime, I was happily running again.

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Since that time, I have had several flare ups of sciatica but none as severe as the original. Each time, I have had to put aside running for a while. A few years ago following an over 2,000-mile road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in my little red sports car, the sciatica didn’t stop and so I gave up running for what I thought might be the last time. This was one of the hardest things I ever had to do as whenever I saw someone running outside, it made me want to run so badly.

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Starting first with an Elliptical, I gradually worked back up to running on a treadmill and have been able to do this consistently. The additional cushioning of running on a treadmill seemed to keep the sciatica at bay. Then last fall, the gym where my wife and I were going closed. We joined another gym that actually had an indoor, cushioned running track and over the winter, I managed to run several times a week.

Once the weather got warm, I decided to take back up running outdoors for the first time in almost five years along the trail that runs around the lake in our subdivision.

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And I have been successfully doing that pain free for several months now. As a result, I have become so encouraged that I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes.

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Based on the date stamped on that first Oak Hall t-shirt, I have been a runner now for over 23 years. And over these years, this has been my primary source of active exercise in my adult life.  I have slowed down a lot over the 20+ years, rather than the 8 minute pace I started out, I now run around a 10-minute pace. In comparison, marathoners who are contenders to win the race complete the 26.2 miles in about 2 hours, an unbelievable sub 5-minute mile pace. I long ago gave up on my goal of a sub 20-minute 5K and running long distances. And I don’t even run in races anymore so most of my running t-shirts, rather than being from races, are now from when I give blood.

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When this photo was taken of me, I didn’t know it at the time but I was probably at the summit of my running career.

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But even at the more leisurely pace I now run and with no motivation to compete for time or distance, I still love it and I hope to be able to continue to run for years to come.

4 responses to “Running – The Final Lap?

  1. Enjoyed reading your running series. Never liked running but glad you do and are able to continue for the time being. Ready, set, cheers!

  2. Wow, I must have forgotten the arduous struggles you went through to be able to keep running. Thanks to you and mom (I remember grumpily waking up to go running with you at 6AM), I also know the addictive feeling that comes from the “runner’s high” and in pursuit of that feeing I have had my own repeat injury experiences though luckily not nearly as bad. You know what has a lower injury rate? Swimming!…which I am pretty good at, also thanks to you and Mom. I just worked up to a 1-mile non-stop swim last week and, like you, am looking to build on that in terms of distance, moreso than speed!

    • I must give your mom full credit for getting us started running and getting you kids swimming. Swimming does have a much lower injury rate and your mom is now encouraging me to really learn how to swim. Stay tuned…

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