It has been 10 months since my last blog post. A number of times, I have considered closing my WordPress account and deleting this blog. Instead, I am back.
This post is about why I stopped running and why that meant I felt I could no longer write a running blog. It is also about finding my way back.
My past post is entitled “Going from Bad to Worse” and it pretty much sums up why I haven’t been posting. Let me give you a brief recap of the last month I was posting, back in June 2016:
- I posted about having stomach problems; I even wrote a post from the GP’s waiting room.
- I posted about my half-marathon training, how I was in new, uncharted territories. I also posted my confession that I don’t like races.
- My very last post was about how I had a mysterious ‘twang’ in my mid-right calf and had to give up my run and hobble home.
Hindsight is a powerful thing. I can now see that I was over training. By other runner’s standards, I may have been going at a snail’s pace but still, I over did it. My body simply wasn’t recovering the way it should and the inevitable happened. I developed an injury. The twang I felt in my calf that day turned out to be a referred issue from my foot.
It was calcification on my right foot, where the tendons meet the heel and it bloody hurt. For a week, I could barely walk. Which would be bad enough, but I was supposed to be running my first half marathon four weeks later.
I rested for a week and tried again. Every time I ran on the foot I would be right back to square one. I sought medical advice from a fellow runner and medical professional. He recommended rest, elevation and rolling the foot. Rolling the foot (on a tennis ball and golf ball) helped hugely.
But I still could not run.
I had to make a decision. Attempt the half or not?
It took me 2 weeks of resting and trying again to realise that I had to concede defeat. The half marathon was not going to happen. Not only that, I may not be able to run again.
I tried to tell myself it was fine. That I was doing the right thing for my long-term health. That it was better than risk permanent damage. That I had not failed, let myself down. Allowed the challenge to overwhelm me.
I was lying. I was devastated. I think I am only now realising how upset I was. The day the chip for my half arrived in the post, I said nothing to anyone, just threw it straight into the bin and carried on with my day.
Each day that passed without running (or any other form of exercise) took me further and further from my goals, from my health and, to some extent, my self-identity.
From July to December 2016 I experienced a period of physical inactivity and another episode of depression. I can’t say that the lack of running caused the depression, or that possibly, the depression manifested as an inability to self-motivate to exercise but the two are intimately and inextricably linked for me.
In those four months I gained 20lbs. However, my foot got a lot better. Not perfect – I still have to roll it at least twice a week – but at least I could walk pain-free. I could see my body changing in both the mirror and the clothes that no longer fitted. I simply didn’t care. After 2 months, I no longer considered myself a runner. The running gear was shoved to the back of a shelf, the trainers stuffed under the bed. The Garmin watch I had spent a lot of money on beeped at me as it’s battery ran low. I ignored it until the battery died, then shoved it away in a drawer. I considered selling it. I had to increase my anti-depressant dose.
Christmas arrived and I ate my way through it. The idea of going for a walk seemed impossible. Running 13k became like a vague dream rather than a memory. Half marathons went back to being something other people achieved, not me. I’d tried and failed.
Despite that, I still had a small belief in the back of my head that I would run again. It had happened before, this utter lack of desire to run or even exercise and I had always gone back to it.
Then something changed. On Christmas Day we told our children that we are going on the holiday of a lifetime to the US. I had some time off work and an opportunity to take some time alone for myself. I decided to go for a walk.
Then, the next day, I went for another walk. I felt better. Ah well, I decided, walking is good. Walking is better than doing nothing. Stick to walking.
I set myself a goal. To be fitter and stronger for our holiday in June. To this end, I would exercise 30 minutes per day. It was a far cry from training for a half-marathon but better than nothing
One week in and something changed. It was the exercise, I can see that now. This is not news but exercise is a positive feedback loop; the more you do, the more you want to do. The hardest part is getting back into the loop in the first place.
On January 16th I recharged the Garmin. Of course, I had to spend half an hour finding the bloody charger first but I found it and I put it on. Then I signed up to one of Garmin’s weekly step challenges. I came first.
I downloaded the Garmin Heart Rate 5K training plan. The first three weeks involved mostly Zone 2 workouts, the longest being 35 minutes. I did them all. (I will write another post about Zone 2 training- its a metaphysical experience). I was right back at the same place I had been when I started running years ago.
Except that, although it felt like that, I really wasn’t. Despite my inactivity, I am amazed at how much muscle memory and strength I had retained. My legs, in particular had not lost as much strength as I had expected.
Then I added a small bit of cross training. Just a bit, just once a week and just for half an hour.
The first time I ran again, a two minute interval, was a wonderful day. It was very slow. It was very short but I was running again. By the end of January I had lost 10lbs and my waist was reappearing.
My progress was hindered slightly by the flu in mid-February but I am now back on track. My 5k training is 80% in Zone 2, which for me involves mostly walking with the odd 10 seconds of incredibly slow jogging thrown in if I am going downhill but I don’t care. I am also strength training 2 to 3 times a week. I even tried Pilates for the first time next week. For the last two weeks I have succeeded in exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes, 6 days per week.
My goals have changed. I am no longer trying to be faster or go further. I am no longer trying to lose weight or change how my body looks. Now, I am trying to be fitter than I was yesterday but still being kind to myself. Each day and each workout is valued for its own merit, not just as step towards one single goal. Each workout is a goal achieved. Tired today? Do 30 minutes of walking; it’s still better than doing nothing. The memory of doing nothing remains bright.
4 weeks ago I was able to stop taking my anti-depressants after a very gradual and medically-supervised reduction. I am still doing really well. I will absolutely go back to them if I need to.
Will I ever run a half-marathon. Maybe, or maybe not. We’ll see. At the moment, I have decided to complete the 5K training plan. There is a new ParkRun starting in my town in April and I will take part in that. I won’t be the fastest, I may even be the slowest but at least I will be back out there, still moving, still getting fitter. On the days when self-motivation is at a minimum, I remind myself that a 30 minute walk is the same for me as an anti-depressant tablet; it is medicine and I need it. It has far fewer side effects.
I may have taken some knock backs. I may not have always dealt with them very well but here I am. I am back running (very, very slowly) and even back blogging.
Hello, it’s nice to see you again.