Running: A love lost and foundLos Angeles Post-Examiner

Running: A love lost and found

The urge never left. Refusing to die despite a ten year absence, I was never able to rid myself of the one thing that consistently made me feel alive. Like a junkie who quit cold turkey, not a day passed without my thinking of how great each day would be to go and chase a high that was no longer within my reach.

It was as a child when I first identified with running. It was the perfect antidote to the depression I was unaware I suffered from at the time. The solitude of being able to expel the pent up anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety I lived with while receiving a boost of much needed endorphins to balance my chemically malfunctioning brain helped me to traverse much of my childhood without the awareness I suffered from an illness no one liked talking about in the 1960’s and 70’s.

I’ve never enjoyed running with other people. First off, they want to talk which requires a runner to ease off the pedal. I always ran to feel a different type of pain, the type that comes from lungs and quads screaming at you as you push yourself to a maximum effort. Instead of someone talking to me, I preferred to talk to myself, work out whatever was bugging me, and if I had nothing to say to myself, then I just listen to the sound of my breathing.

In grade school, I raced the school bus home to the stop at the foot of my driveway rather than sitting with everyone else. In junior high school, I was one of only three students who went out for track because their first choice of events was distance running. It seemed everyone else wanted to run sprints or do field events. I also fell in love with soccer and never tired of running up and down the pitch. When I stopped playing competitive soccer after my first year of college, it was right back to running.

My 20s saw me running at my most competitive self. Long leisurely runs building up a strong base, sessions of endless intervals on the track, and weekend races where I would push myself to the limit just to see how fast I could cover a particular distance — it drove me.

By my thirties, fatherhood, work, and injuries would lead me to realize my fastest times were behind me but my desire to push myself was still inside me. I was also well aware of my bouts of depression which crept up more frequently and were harder to shake.

When I hit 40, I was now a part-time runner, no longer running six or seven days a week, but happy to get in three or four without feeling any negative side effects or falling prey to injuries. Like a lot of aging runners, I began working in weight training, cycling, and other activities to fill the time I used to run, but none seemed to do for me what running did.

At 45, I ran a half marathon, happy with my 7:00 minute per mile pace but well aware of it being much slower than when I used to clock a 5:30 pace. I was happy to enjoy whatever running I could and still got a much needed high from the increasingly fewer days in which my body ran pain free. By 49, I had developed a low back/sciatic issue when I fell victim to a horrible bicycle crash that of all things, ended my running days and turned me into an avid road bicyclist.

It was not an easy transition as each day I would tell myself how great it would feel if I could run. Periodically, the urge would overcome me, and like someone with a drug addiction, I would return to my old ways only to crash and burn. For me, this usually hit about the five-minute mark when my left calf would snap.

Each time, I would think I had running out of my system knowing that due to the severity of the injuries I experienced in that bike crash, I was not going to be able to run. Still, each morning, I would walk down to the bottom of my driveway and pick up the morning paper and think about how great it would be to go for a run. No amount of cycling could kill this urge. Nothing could replace what I missed which was the feeling of my feet pounding the pavement, my lungs pulling in as much air as they could hold, and whatever thoughts I had dancing around inside my busy head.

For the next ten years, I would ride my bike for  hours on end but never get the same high as I did with running. However, my back felt fine, there was no numbness from an irritated nerve, and I did enjoy testing the physical limits of my middle aged self.

Then last year, I was floored with the searing pain that comes from two herniated discs in the low back. Nothing was making it better and last February, I had surgery. I was fortunate to be one of the few whose surgery went without any complications and soon returned to my daily workouts in my gym and to road cycling.

I couldn’t believe how good I felt so I asked my surgeon what he thought about me trying to resume running again. Thinking he’d say no, I was excited when he said he thought it would be good for me so long as I started easy and stuck to a softer surface. Just to be sure, I asked both my physical therapist and my chiropractor what they thought and they concurred.

Unfortunately, my calves did not take to it at first attempt and I was frustrated over the plodding I was doing on the dirt track around the corner from where I live. Not yet ready to toss in the towel, I immersed myself into researching all I could for what to do with my problem. I took the time to do some very specific, and sometimes strange, exercises to retrain a bio mechanical problem.

After a month, I laced up my running shoes and prepared myself for what might well be the last run of my life. If I snapped my calf muscle after all I worked on, I would have to face the reality of never being able to enjoy running again.

As I nervously began my run around the track, I soon realized something was very different. I was not jogging with apprehension, almost expecting my calf to tighten up in a knot, but rather found myself gliding almost as if I had never stopped my love affair with running. As I completed a mile, I had to force myself to stop fearing I might overdo it and come down with shin splints. It was eight minutes of blissfulness. I was hooked again.

Since that first run back, I have been gradually building up my distance and can now run long enough and confidently enough to tune out the world and listen to my thoughts.

Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego

However, they have changed as well. Instead of focusing on what is bugging me, I am now able to appreciate all I have. My mental well-being is far better than it was ten years ago. There is a peace of mind that I have never before felt and with it an appreciation for all I have and all I have been through.

There are no guarantees in life and if I lost running once before, I can lose it again. The same is true with anything or anyone we love. I appreciate this second chance I have been given with running just as I appreciate the second chance life has brought me in so many other areas this past year: love, work, family, and friendships.

No longer am I an angry, anxious, or depressed runner; I am just a runner. Knowing and appreciating the difference has made the past ten year hiatus from a life-long passion well worth it.

Photos by Tim Forkes except top photo which is from Wikipedia





About the author

James Moore

Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program. Contact the author.

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