I used to run 3.2 to 5 miles every morning in the dark back in the 90s and early 21st century. I've never forgotten how good it felt to pound the pavement. It helped relieve all the stress from work, finances, lack of romance and dual troubled teenagers. It also completely held my diabetic tendencies at bay.
On August 15, 2001, I was hit by a car while riding my bike home from work. Two weeks later, the world changed. (9/11) My life took a series of dramatic hits during that time, too. Not in my price range, anyway.
The meniscus in my right knee was injured in the accident. Just like the discs in our backs, the meniscus provides cushioning for the bones it serves. It has no blood flow and cannot heal when damaged. Back then, there was no surgery to correct the problem.
I finally went to the doctor a year and a half later. Yes, I waited that long. Foolish, I know, but I'm stubborn. Plus, in that 18-month period, both kids had run away, my grandfather and brother had died and my uncle had suffered a stroke. Running hurt, but the hurt masked unbearable pain I couldn't manage or endure. Until I got drawn for my first Ride the Rockies in 2003, when healing of the soul finally began.
I wanted to be well when I lived out that dream. So I went to the doctor.
Off the bike and no more running for six whole weeks! I cheated every chance I got ("You didn't say I couldn't snowshoe up Mount Spalding!"), but I apparently got enough downtime to enable me to complete my first Ride the Rockies.
Then the doctor told me if I didn't stop running, I wouldn't be able to walk.
So I stopped running.
I never stopped wanting to run. Ever.
A year and a half later, a dime-sized bone chip found a comfortable (for it) resting spot inside my sciatic nerve. We don't know for sure how I chipped what we suspect from the location of the bone chip may have been my tail bone, but the first thing that popped into my mind when the neurosurgeon told me he'd removed the bone chip instead of the disc he was going to remove was a competitive volleyball game I'd played a month or so earlier.
I'd attempted to bump what felt like a 90-mph overhanded bullet serve from the other team to our setter, who had not been able to block the shot. Our spiker couldn't stop it either. The ball sent me to the ground so hard and so fast, even though I was perfectly positioned under it for the perfect bump, I literally didn't know where I was for a minute or two. I often joked I'd had birdies and stars circling my head while my eyeballs rolled around and around. I hit the gym floor hard. Really hard. On my derriere.
There had been a few other potential injuries that may have caused the bone chip, including getting hit by the car, and it's feasible a bone chip of that size could have worked its way slowly into the painful spot during the previous 18 months, but I've always thought the reason that particular volleyball game came to mind was because that's how it happened. I finished the season and have not played volleyball since. I've also not been hit by a car since then, I have not fallen on my hip while descending a 14er since then, and I have played softball only two or three times since then, and only because my work team would have forfeited without another female in the lineup.
My disc was fine when the bone chip was removed. But arthritis, nerve damage and back-arching prevented me from trying to run again.
Fast forward to last winter, when I finally went through physical therapy and slowly reclaimed portions of my life.
Ever since about March, I've wanted to take up running again. I finally took my first run in about nine years on Friday, August 23. I ran about three-quarters of a mile in quarters, and I felt as if I was in heaven. I didn't know how much endurance I had, and I expected it would take me a long time to work back up to a mile, which was my goal.
The next day, I ran nearly a full mile in roughly thirds. I was so excited, I began planning a blog post in which I'd share how I got better. I was so sure I'd be back up to a full mile by Labor Day.
We also took a mountain bike ride that afternoon. It was the first time I'd both run and ridden in the same day in about 12 years. I had planned to do only 20 miles, but the biting flies were so bad while I waited for The Lizard to finish his longer ride, I opted to keep riding without stopping because that worked better than my Skin So Soft repellent.
By the end of 27 miles, I was pretty sore. I'd allowed my Ride the Rockies saddle sores from June to heal before trying to slowly work up my mileage again, and this was the most miles I'd done since the MS-150, also in June. I thought that was why I was sore and stiff.
I didn't run or ride on Sunday. On Monday, I ran again, and I was exhilarated to complete a FULL MILE in halves. !!! Oh, I was doing SO well! I would be up to a mile in no time! I even told my neighbor, who also runs, that I felt better than I'd felt in years.
By the end of the work day, my back was nearly as bad as last year after the March bike wreck that damaged the very disc that didn't get removed in 2004 and after completing the second most difficult Ride the Rockies I've ever done because I didn't know I'd messed up my back. Once again, I couldn't move.
On the very day I published my "I feel good" post last week, I learned I did this to myself.
Mistake Number One: I sit eight to ten hours straight at work. Almost all summer long, I came home and sat at the computer to retouch wedding and senior photos for three to four hours straight. Sitting is the worst thing you can do if you have degenerative disc disease.
Mistake Number Two: On the day of our second MS-150 ice cream social, I carried all nine containers of ice cream all by myself because it was very hot that day, and I didn't want the ice cream to melt in my car while I went inside to get someone to help me. I knew any of my 130 co-workers would have jumped at the chance to help carry the ice cream, but I stubbornly did it myself. I knew when I put the ice cream in the fridge on our main floor I had screwed up. I could feel it. I thought it would be only a few hours.
(When my co-workers learned what I'd done, they threatened not to donate next year if I don't let them help me carry the ice cream next time.)
Mistake Number Three: People with degenerative disc disease are not prohibited from running, but once diagnosed, they are advised not to run at the intensity or the distance they were once accustomed to. And they are to work up slowly, never running back-to-back two consecutive days, even if they've worked up to a decent running condition. They are advised to run only three days a week, four days a week at most.
I didn't know that because my doctor and I had never broached the topic of me taking up running again. I suppose that would be Mistake Number Four. Had I known, I would not have tried to do in four days what I've now been told should have taken six to eight weeks or maybe even longer.
This serves as extreme punctuation to always discuss fitness plans with my doctor. I've got existing injuries, and I'm no spring chicken anymore. As much as I want to be normal, my traumatized disc demands I coordinate my fitness plans with a health professional.
Now I'm back where I started last summer, only not quite as severe this time around. Off the bike for six weeks. No more of the back maintenance I've been successfully doing since last December until I can do it without pain, and I likely will have to start over with baby steps when I am able to do my stretches and core-strengthening again. No more running until I can do it without pain, and that could take until December or January.
This feels like prison, but this time, I did it to myself. I don't like the punishment or consequences, but I would be even less happy if I were to re-injure to the degree I suffered last year. Stubbornness can take a backseat to determination, I'm learning. I can patiently wait until my body is ready for challenges again.
You can darn sure bet I will not make these mistakes again. If I can help it, I am not going to sentence myself to six weeks off the bike again. This will be the last time.
I will be well again. And I will be well in a healthy and structured manner.