About 8+ years ago I decided to take up running. I had been going through a tough time and had been overeating, gaining weight, feeling depressed and just very unlike myself. At the time, I was working a steady retail job, that while I was good at and enjoyed initially had started to wane on me. Everything was in an upheaval. My boyfriend of 3 years (on and off) had moved on and I was upset I couldn't because I knew I should have (hello ego hurt). The restaurant I had worked at for 5+ years let me go due to "scheduling conflicts" and with that many of my long-time friends fell away. I was barely making ends meet and stressing about finding another serving job to supplement what I was earning at my retail job. I was also disappointed that the job I had hoped would grow into my career was looking less and less appealing. There were silver linings of course and that retail job had ended up being a blessing with my schedule and depression following the death of my father in 2011, but at the time I was having trouble seeing any light. I needed something and since I loved walking and had always wanted to be a runner, I decided to give it a try.
Running is the one place that I felt (and still feel) like I was really de-stressing. I could physically feel my emotions releasing, my tensions and worries falling away and where I truly felt closer to myself. I felt like myself again, if even for a moment.
As a child, around 12, my school started a running club and in the mornings before school, where you could meet and go for a run with other kids around the area. I think I did it all of one time because I couldn't find any friends to go with me and 12-year-old me was very, very shy. So I would wake up early and walk around the block pretending I was still a part of the club. Growing up I loved playing a game called "Chase" with my friends on our street, where one person would be "it" and as they caught the next person the group of people who were "it" would also grow until one person remained who was not "it" and they would be the winner. I was pretty good at it too! Somewhere around this time or maybe a bit after I started being told: "that I ran like a chicken" which grew into me being teased for the way I ran, which made me horribly self-conscious. As the years went on, I would periodically try to go on a run but again I'd be nervous people would see me or make fun of me. Out with my mother, we would sometimes see runners or I'd mention I wanted to try running and she would make little comments "that runners are crazy" because they would often run in the snow or rain, etc. She didn't mean to discourage me and genuinely thinks fitness is important but the idea of running just never appealed to her. However, her comments only fuelled my long-seeded fear of running in public.
When I decided to try running again, I began with little spurts while walking my dog but being a pug/Shih Tzu he is NOT a running dog and I quickly had to give up on that safety net. I then tried a few times during the rain, so that fewer people would be out on the sidewalks and see me. Again, that worked briefly but I absolutely hated being rained on. Then I moved closer to the bottom of High Park (Toronto's Central Park type space) where there is a nice flat paved trail and some more secluded spots. There are also certain times of the day that are more sparse for foot traffic. But the biggest realization was that I started to notice that people weren't really looking at me as I passed by them and if I wore sunglasses I felt I could hide that much more! Finally I felt more confident in my running and began a regular routine. My problem was I started too over-zealous and would run almost the whole width of the park from the get-go and often back as well. I also wanted to see if I kept it up before investing in proper shoes (again financially, I couldn't afford new runners) which was a HUGE mistake.
Shortly after taking up running that time, I began to get severe shin pains. Coming from the service industry I knew about shin-splints and how to get rid of the pain but it didn't really go away. In fact, a lump developed on my left shin that is still visible today. I went to two walk-in clinics, a specialist, my family doctor and even had a bone scan because this pain continued for years afterwards. It would subside but if I ever attempted running again (even after getting better shoes) I'd get this pain again. Eventually, I started taking Pilates and subsequently teaching it, where I learned many tips and tricks for strengthening my shins, ankles and ways to release the muscles. This seemed to help and although I wasn't consistent, I was able to go running again. Then in 2015 while bartending one day I turned to say something and did not move my lower leg and twisted my right knee so badly I had trouble walking for 3 days afterwards. Back to square one.
This is during my teaching training program for Pilates and shortly after I began working at the studio. The access I had to knowledgable instructors who gave me information, exercises, tips and advice is what really helped me. I began realizing my alignment issues, muscle imbalances, hyper-extension tendencies and began working to improve my strength and stability. This is also where I became more aware of my body in general and what movements I'm prone to that may cause injury (not just in my knee). I have still run over these last few years but I have been more cautious and run less distance. I have still had minor injuries during this time also but again, I try to be more careful and aware. Over 4 years later, my previous limitations and concerns have gotten so much better and I am ready to really try this running thing again.
This time around I'm trying the Couch to 5k app, which I sort of tried before but definitely did not follow as you should. It builds up your endurance over 8 weeks using intervals of running and walking in different timings. I'm making sure to stretch before and after while also doing some Pilates techniques to help keep me from re-injuring my knee or shins. Before sitting down to write this, I just completed my 6th run and so far so good!
Now, all that said be aware, running itself is often not good long term on our joints, due to the repetitive impact. But like most exercise, if you're not enjoying it you should probably find something else you enjoy more. You'll never stick to an exercise regime if you don't enjoy it and there really is something out there for everyone. I love Pilates whole-heartedly but I also really love running and I want to keep trying to become a better runner.
Would you like to see the exercises I do to prepare for running? Comment below and I will make a blog post with all my tips!
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