In the last eight months I've begun to question whether I'm still a runner. After a serious few years of speedy races, 2017 was a disappointment. I ran the Detroit Half Marathon in October of 2016 and ended up in the hospital the next week with a serious abscess. It sidelined my running for months. Finally last summer I ended my running drought by running three 5ks in July. They weren't my fastest or best work, but I was feeling like myself again.
After the third 5k in as many weeks I tweaked my knee but thought it was no big deal. In August I found I was unable to run at all. And then after a few months of physical therapy I found out I had a torn meniscus that required surgery.
I did not run a single step from August until February. I felt my body start to change. I didn't really gain weight, but I didn't feel as strong. I didn't feel as focused. I lost my favorite form of exercise and my best (and in some cases only) meditative time. My meniscus was repaired uneventfully in November, and I thought I'd be running again in four to six weeks. Part of my knee surgery also involved removing torn cartilage from under my kneecap which delayed my recovery a few more weeks.
The last six weeks I've been running once, maybe twice a week if I'm lucky. It's been slow. It's been ugly. It has made me worry that I'm no longer a runner. I can scarcely remember the Saturday mornings where I got up and headed to an early race or logged a lot of miles, returning home exhausted and satisfied.
Last weekend I decided to run a 5k on St. Patrick's Day. I am really not even in 5k shape right now, and when Saturday morning came around I considered canceling. I wasn't in the mood to run, and I was questioning my ability as a runner. Was I still a runner?
The course was an out and back at Lansing's Hawk Island Park, a course I've run a million times. The morning was colder than I expected, and I was stoic at the start. I was nervous at a 5k start for the first time in years. I had no idea how fast I was going, but all I focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on my breath. I focused on my overworked muscles screaming at a mere 3.1 miles when a few years ago I could effortlessly run three times that amount.
|Okay so I wasn't THAT stoic.|
I wanted to run the 5k in less than 30 minutes, and I had zero expectations. I finished in a respectable (for me) 27:24. But my time didn't matter. I was reminded of the most important thing about running: it is nearly all mental. That 5k was a reset for me. It was a reminder that I love running. It was a reminder that I'm stronger than I think I am. It was a reminder that I am still a runner.