I've been an on again, off again runner for most of my adult life. When I'm off, it's because I've overdone it and injured myself. When I'm on, instead of enjoying the run I'm on, I'm always thinking about how far I'm GOING to be able to run. I would read articles written by seasoned marathoners, and followed the advice of these experts who tell you that you can build your mileage quickly if you take a one minute walking break in the middle of a run, or that you can increase your mileage ten percent per week. I dutifully followed these rules, confident I was doing what I was 'supposed' to do, yet they still led to injury. I would end up with a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or incredibly painful clicking hip joints. I thought for a long time that soreness is simply a part of running, that it's normal. After all, most runners' magazines are filled with tips about how to wrap sore feet or properly ice a throbbing knee, so I ignored what my body was telling me. The truth is, I am an impatient person, I want what I want right now, and if that means I have to damage my body trying to reach my goal, I tend to grit my teeth and try to run through the pain --until I can't anymore.
Since the last time I was running in my mid thirties, I've had my kids, put on a bit of weight, and turned forty. For a while I tried to tell myself that I can't run anymore, that I shouldn't even try it. Instead I walked, or used my elliptical trainer. After all I've got kids to keep up with. I can't afford to be limping around after them. But I miss running. Nothing makes me feel stronger. So a couple months ago, I got an idea. What if it is possible for me to run pain free? What if I went even slower than the experts tell me to go?
So I started running again, but I'm building my miles at a snail's pace. The first week I got back to running, I ran for one minute. Was I tempted to go farther? Hell yes. It felt good to be on the trails again, but when my timer ran out, I quit and walked the rest of the way. The next week I ran for two minutes. I've continued the pattern for ten weeks now. I figure, since I'm slow, that once I reach twelve minutes of running I'll have broken the mile. The impatient voice inside my head demands, "According to the experts, I could be running a 5K by now!" But I ignore that voice. I'm no longer trying to be the hare. I'm going for turtle.
It's agonizingly slow, it's frustrating, but you know what? I've been running for three months now, and I don't have plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or clicking hips. I'm not limping. Instead of listening to experts about what my body should be able to deliver, I'm listening to my body, and it's working.
For a long time I made the mistake of trying to fit into the expectations of other people. I ignored the pain, which was a message from my body that I didn't fit into the experts' rubric, that I am different from the norm. Maybe my body is more fragile, maybe my joints are too loose and wobbly for me to ever be a marathoner, but maybe, if I pay attention to the signals I'm getting from my feet, knees, and hips, and take it slow, after another year of running I might finally reach my goal of five miles.
It's taken me four decades to accept myself as I am, to stop trying to measure up to an ideal that simply isn't possible for me. Just because I can't measure up to the ideal doesn't mean I should give up on something I enjoy. So what if I'll never run a marathon? I accept that. And, if I find my upper mileage limit is three instead of five, I'll accept that too. I'd rather run a regular three miles for the next ten years than run five miles this year, only to burn out and quit again. The important thing is to keep running, and to do it in a way that respects my body.