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How to Cope With The Agony of Not Running

Updated on December 23, 2016

Don’t overestimate me: this isn’t an uplifting story about overcoming all odds to achieve my dream. I’m neither a Somalian refugee with God-given talent and man-made poverty, nor a young, barefoot Afrikaans girl with wings on her feet and stars in her eyes. I’m not even an aspiring runner whose dreams were cut short by a horrific accident or an incurable disease.

And I definitely didn’t win the race.

I’m a white, 40-something mom with two young children and a husband. And I stumbled into running – but it wasn’t until I was faced with the prospect of not being able to do it anymore that I discovered it had filled a hole in my soul that I hadn’t known was there.

This is less a story of overcoming the odds than it is of good old-fashioned stubbornness. After I sustained an injury, I ignored professional advice that didn’t agree with my training goals – and as a consequence, prolonged my return to running.

If my parents are reading this, I picture them nodding their heads in sage agreement. My husband, having lived with me through my period of non-running, will be grinding his teeth. But also, quite possibly, thanking his lucky stars that I somehow managed to bleed, sweat and cry myself to the point where I could cross the finish line at the New York City Marathon – without at least one part of my body going on permanent and irreversible strike. You see, two years ago, experts told me I’d never run again.

In an effort to cut a rather long and oft repeated story short (or at least shorter), let me say my running career started with a group of moms I met at my daughter’s school. Having given up my brilliant career in favour of freelancing when I had my children, I was feeling a little lost in the goal department, and a regular run in the morning not only provided my day with much-needed structure, but also gave me a deep sense of accomplishment – a feeling I had almost forgotten.

Frustratingly, just when the rest of my group started finding their long-distance legs – and just before we’d all signed up for our first half marathon – I began to suffer from ITBS. No form of deep tissue massage, foam rolling, strapping, or even needling seemed to alleviate it.

I bounced between physiotherapists, biokineticists, chiropractors and podiatrists. I took six weeks off the road, diligently performed glute- and core-strengthening exercises every evening, replaced running with mind-numbing swimming, and even signed up for private Pilates lessons twice a week (also, for the record, mind-numbing).

Still, 5km into a run, the ITBS returned. I kicked many concrete dustbins, which probably didn’t help. Okay, maybe on some level it did…

Then I upped the ante: a visit to an orthopaedic surgeon, and a cortisone shot or two. I had an MRI, and saw a neurologist and two neurosurgeons. I seriously considered having surgery. But then a friend warned me that it’s never a good policy to be on the wrong end of a surgeon’s knife – especially when it’s voluntary.

The general consensus was that my knee issues were related to a series of badly-bulging discs in my lower back, and that any form of running could seriously damage my health. I was advised, by several professionals, to stop running completely. I didn’t want to hear it.


Ignoring their advice, I carried on running as best I could. I walked. I limped. Sometimes I hopped. I kicked more dustbins. I swore a lot. I snarled at the people I love. And I have to admit that I fantasised – quite often – about running those happy runners over with my large SUV.

The pain only worsened.

In a last-ditch attempt, I found a new physiotherapist. Thankfully, this one reassured me that my back was simply my back. It was showing signs of being old and worn, but what back doesn’t at the age of 40 (okay, 42)?

She glanced at my MRI, but paid more attention to the fact that I could fold myself in half when I touched my toes. She diagnosed joint-hypermobility syndrome, with a score of 7/7 on the Beighton Scale. (On a basic level, this means that I have a greater range of motion in my joints than most people. When it comes to running, I think of it like those cars on the highway whose wheels are wobbling so much, you’re scared to drive behind them.)

The physiotherapist advised a measured and safe return to running. We began to address my imbalances, instead of ignoring them. Inspired by reading Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, I adopted a forefoot strike, and ran with a pelvic-stability belt. Both felt terrible. My calves ached every time I hit the road, and my hips felt like they were being hugged by the Hulk. But the net result was a more stable body, and thus a more stable run.

More stability = less injury.

Encouraged, I began to see a biokineticist, once a week, to improve my core strength.

Stronger core = more stability.

I gradually weaned myself off the belt, but I still run on my forefeet. It still hurts my calves.

I ran my first 21.1, and survived. I ran a couple more.

After my last appointment with my physiotherapist – and a promise not to inject myself with cortisone before I ran ‘just in case’ – I was finally given the go-ahead to fulfil a long-standing dream – my husband and I conquered the five boroughs of New York together, and lived to tell the tale.

But it had taken me two years to return from injury and prepare for the New York City Marathon.

I had learned the hard way that I couldn’t simply ignore my injury, in the hope that it would go away.

© 2016 john4fx


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