September 19, 2011

Running Into Trouble

Yes, Sometimes I Am An Ass.

Help--I need an intervention! I lost control last week and did something incredibly dumb.

I went off for a "power" walk in the woods--and in the middle, for about fifteen minutes, it kind of turned into a run.

Granted, for many people, running is not a dumb thing to do. For most people, it's an excellent form of exercise! But... I ain't most people.

I am just now finally starting to recover from plantar fasciitis in my right foot after struggling with it for more than two freakin' years. I'm thrilled that it's almost gone--the last time I was feeling this close to healed was over a year ago. And guess what I did then? I went for a short run. And felt ok!  So the next week I went for another short run, re-injured the foot, and sent myself back to square one.  I couldn't walk more than a block for months and months. AGAIN.  (Oh, and before the plantar fasciitis ever hit--I had chronic knee problems from running too).

So WTF? Why would I be so idiotic as to endanger my tentative recovery from an injury that has plagued me for ages and caused me so much angst? And in exchange for what--a few minutes of trotting on a trail? I can get all the aerobic exercise I want on the lovely low-impact elliptical machine in our basement home gym.

Does anyone else struggle with an inability to leave behind an addictive physical activity no matter how stupidly abusive it is to your body?

Should You Stop Running When You're Older?

For tons of people the answer is a resounding: No! Keep running if you can, it's ridiculously good for you. A Stanford study of older runners found: "Elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths."

There are plenty of folks who can keep running pain and injury-free as the decades roll by. And there is a ton of advice out there on the web for preventing over-use injuries, stretching and strengthening various body parts, correcting biomechanical issues with orthotics, getting physical therapy, injections, electrical stimulation, surgery, etc, etc, etc.  However, I am not going to write a post right about that.  Honestly, the thought of all those happy healthy older runners out there training and competing and chugging away in their f#%cking marathons makes me so cranky I want to spike their water bottles with prune juice and metamucil and padlock all the portapotty doors.

Because for every cheerful article reassuring people that yes you can keep running your entire life if you just follow a few simple tips--there are thousands of us former running addicts who have followed all those steps, gone to multiple doctors, physical therapists, etc. etc. and tried every damn thing we could think of... and still can't manage to run without injuring ourselves.

And it's not just plantar fasciitis; according to one article, common injuries in older runners include back pain, bursitis, stress fracture, hamstring injury, problems with the kneecap, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, heel pain, nerve disorders in the foot, calluses, bunions, and a "host of other leg and foot problems."

Why Is Running So Hard To Stop Doing?

This must sound like the most ridiculous problem in the world to those of you who hate to run. It would be like me trying to relate to articles such as: Do You Keep Your House So Clean It Intimidates Your Guests? Or Are You Making Way Too Much Money? Or perhaps:  Is It Time to Stop Meditating So Much--Before Your Head Explodes From All the Bliss?

But, odd as it may sound, here are some of the reasons I keep "running" back to reinjure myself:

1. Running is cheap, convenient, and happens outdoors where the Sun and the Breeze and the Trees and the Beach and the Birds and other Lovely Things live!

2. Running involves launching yourself up in the air and coming back down over and over. The inherent bounciness of it is way more satisfying than the staid and steady plowing forward of walking or biking.

3. I started running at an impressionable age (17) and my still pliable brain was twisted into thinking that running was the only authentic, virtuous and noble form of aerobic exercise that existed. Decades later, I still can't entirely un-brainwash myself. All the wires deep in my brain apparently rusted together, and I don't have access to a brain-blowtorch to excise this stupid idea!

4. Other people still get to run and I don't. This drives me ape-shit crazy.

So How Do You Stop Yourself from Running When You Really, Really Want To?

In the unlikely event anyone else is currently tempted to return to an activity they know they shouldn't, here's what I'm trying:

1. Blog about it. I actually was heading out for another run before I started to write this post.  I then realized just how much of a jackass I was being, and changed my mind.

2. Avoid Triggers! Last week's foray into running happened on my old running trail, as I was listening to an old song that was on my running playlist. It felt so much like old times I couldn't seem to stop myself.

3. Or, If You Insist on Flirting With Triggers Anyway: Pre-exhaust yourself! We went back for a walk on the Trail of Temptation this weekend, but this time, I made the Lobster wait for half an hour while I went down and did intervals on the elliptical first.

4. Choose Your Wardrobe, Shoes, and Accessories Strategically.  I also made sure to wear pants, not shorts on the running trail, did not wear running shoes, and left my iPod at home.

5. Confront Denial and Remind Yourself of the Hideousness of the Possible Consequences. It's always hard to pass up a certain short term endorphin rush in order to avoid a danger that is only hypothetical. Even though I was hoping I might not re-injure myself, I needed to remind myself of how furious and miserable I'd be if I guessed wrong about that.

6. Bribe yourself with "later." Like other addictions, running is best dealt with one day at a time.  I haven't ruled out trying to start running again later, when my foot is completely healed. I reminded myself that the lovely trail in the woods would still be there for me to ruin my foot on later, once I'm entirely healed, if I feel so inclined.

7. Pump Up the Variety! I don't think I realized that I was getting so bored with my biking and elliptical routines until I found myself rationalizing my way into a run. Time for new tunes and routines and activities! Fortunately, our bizarre bi-coastal lifestyle means that in another month or so, I'll be on the other side of the country, with a whole new set of workout options--if I can keep from re-injuring myself before we get there.

But, I don't think I'm "out of the woods" yet! Anyone else struggle with this or have any good advice? 

On a serious note, if you struggle with addictive behaviors that are interfering with your life, that's not a joke. There is help out there. One option is  Above It All Treatment Center.


  1. I'm recovering from an injury and have not been able to run for about 6+ weeks. Last week was the first time I walked on a treadmill since, was feeling great and felt my addiction take me over and I ran. I only ran for 2 min but I felt it later. But it felt so amazing while I was running...I just couldn't control myself! I feel your pain!

    My tricks - I don't wear my running shoes when out for a walk. For now, I will walk in birks so I won't run. I've also learned to keep a more mellow playlist on the ipod and go for a walk with others - specifically non-runners.

  2. Steph, OMG, I love that there's actually someone else out there that has to monitor their shoes and tune selection to keep themselves from losing control and breaking into a run! I thought perhaps I was the only kook out there. Hope your injury gets better quick!

  3. Be strong, Crabby. The day will come when you can run again.

  4. I totally know what you mean. I go running every second day. Given the state of my knee, I should be running all of never. But I'm addicted to teh adrenaline!

  5. Hey, you, stop that! Ya know, some of us just can't run.

    I am tired to going through explaining to some folks why, much as I may WANT TO and have the URGE to some days, I cannot run. Crap joints. Plantar fasciitis is remission, and I don't want to awaken that beast and start with steroid injections in my feet again!

    I walk. I can walk. That's it. I can't even walk VERY FAST....cause that's asking for knee pain.

    I've read over and over how heavy folks ought not run. Period. BEst way to kill the knees. Sure, best way to burn calories like mad and lose weight.

    But I wanna keep what's left of my lower extremity joints. ; )

    Happy..WALKING to you. :D

    Ice. Rest. Exercises. Those stretching exercises for the PF are essential as you know.

    Later, C.

  6. I'm sorry, Crabby. It totally sucks to not be able to do the things you love to do. Not that I can really relate WRT running, mind you...I run when training for an event, when good friends wheedle me into it, when my trainer says I *have* to, and when chased. (Also occasionally to catch Muni.) But that's it. When I've got about two months of solid running in and I'm doing distances between 3 and 10 miles I do actually like it, but getting there is pretty much just torture and I'm way more likely than not to just give it the hell up for something more interesting.

    However...If someone, e.g. my physician/PT/coach, were to tell me I wasn't allowed to do any (for example) Olympic lifting or jump rope for two years, I'd go full on batsh*t crazy. And yes, I'd be sorely tempted to cheat and just go back to it, damn the consequences. I've been LUCKY, LUCKY, LUCKY not to have done myself any serious harm (knocks wood) in several years of CrossFit and similar workout programming, but I've seen multitudes of post-injury workout modifications for others in that time and I just think to myself how incredibly horrible that would be for me. I do not do well with others setting limits for me. One day, no doubt, I'll be haunted by that.

    In the meantime, thanking my lucky stars. Thank you, guys. For realz.

  7. I hear ya.
    I can no longer run regularly after a knee injury. Now that I've rebuilt the muscles in my leg and those supporting my knee 9oh so very sloooowly....grrr) if I'm good with my knee on other days, about once or twice a month I can go for a run/walk for about 30 minutes, but anything more often than that and my knee screams bloody murder. And I ahve to stop all fitness for it to heal, which is more frustrating than not beinga blt to run - so I just don't anymore. I've learned.

    I will say that I am tired of my friends who run all the time (like I used to) who tell me I jsut need to strech more or do (insert thingy here) and my knee will be OK...cuz it just won't. I've found a lot of alternate things that I love to do now as much as running which has helped a lot. I save the odd short run for times that are just too good to pass up (like last weekend - run along the seawall in Vancouver at sunrise? Hells Yes!) and all other days just NOT do it...because it hurts when I don't listen to my body. I want to be able to walk around when I'm older :)
    Being a grownup sucks doesn't it? :)

  8. I tell you what. Why don't you just send that running mojo over my way? I want to want to run, but I just never get into it. Netflix streaming while I'm on the 'mill helps...but barely.

    In the meantime, swing by my part of the country while you're traversing and we'll knock out a great hike up to the highest point in North America east of the Rockies (aka Harney Peak). I promise you won't want to run. :)

  9. I had this exact problem a few months ago - I tore a tendon in my knee and was forbidden from running for several months. And this was just after I had recovered enough from my first marathon to begin running again, so you can imagine how much I wanted to run! I coped by finding other, less jarring exercises I could do - a lot of yoga, pilates, and some swimming. But what non-runners don't get is that it really is an addiction. And it SUCKED. Great post!

  10. Hi, my name is Danielle. I'm not sure how I came across your blog and I'm sorry to hear about your injury :( I used to run a lot and my knees started to get "bad." I now do some Beachbody programs that are fabulous and I am getting amazing results. You can go to my site to find out what type of programs they have or email at Hope you feel better!

  11. Oh crap. Do you mean I have to worry that someday I may have an uncontrollable urge to run? I thought that was only a myth - something that happened to Olympic athletes. I am sorry, I have nothing to help repulse you from such behavior except to watch the hobbling scene in the movie Misery. I cannot even walk when I watch that part.

    I also get plantar fasciitis and have been free of it for almost a year. It has not re-appeared with the mild running I am doing these days but the second it does I will gladly trade in my running shoes for another activity.


  12. Crabby, I so understand as I am addicted to my workouts! I know I have mentioned my Hoka shoes to you BUT before I got them, I would not stop exercising,as bad as my feet were & all the imbalances causing hip pain & much more! I had so many probs from continuing my exercise yet throwing the bod off balance due to my feet pain.

    Once I got the Hoka shoes, it took some time to recoup but all is good now!

    I understand!

  13. Crabby, I feel your pain as far as the plantar fasciitis is concerned! I had shock wave therapy on my feet, which finally rid me of the pain, and it has not returned, thank heavens. I hope you will eventually heal up enough to return to running.
    (But I am definitely not the person to ask about ridding oneself of addictions. ahem)

  14. Sorry Crabby! Running certainly is not a must for anyone!

    I wrote a column, "Running, our feet, and the shoes that cover them," a while ago where I discussed the main cause of planter faciitis and how to prevent it.

  15. I've had plantar fasciitis for almost 3 years now. As soon as I think I'm recovering I start squating or some other weight bearing/impact exercise and there it is again.

    After this long, the tissue is so damaged and inflamed that it needs full rest for several weeks and I'm not sure how, short of putting it in a boot. I've got it taped up now and doing no weight bearing exercise. HATE IT!

    May try laser therapy because of the scar tissue and would like to know more about the shock therapy someone already mentioned.

  16. I am very concerned.
    I think you could use your own services.
    Only please pay me for telling you that.

  17. LOL.

    Great post.

    You may be the anti-me. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog, now that I discovered it.


  18. YES
    Ive never been told not to lift (fingers crossed) but I know Id not be able to listen if I were...

    Id love for someone to tell me NOT to run :)

    sign me:


  19. At first i couldn't think of a parallel (hate running; it hurt after fifty yards when I was a child) and I've never had a problem that would be aggravated by walking (except being on crutches from the sprained knee--kind of easy to not walk then!) Then I thought of my early years of yoga, when I know now I stretched my left knee much too far trying to make it as flexible as my right knee. Now I must be really careful when I do things like Bow. This is not an addiction; I don't find myself absentmindedly stretching the knee farther than I should; but I sort of mourn the old days.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  20. (Psst! Miz? I haven't been told not to lift, but I have Great Difficulty following the advice not to work the same body parts day after day. It is the wrist curls...soooo addictive!)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  21. Wow - SO much in this post I can relate to! (Seriously!) I think there are more runners sidelined in your position than you know. And I have the same drive to run too, even when I know it's not helping me and could be hurting me. I do the shoe thing too - purposely wear shoes I can't run in. Very interesting post!

  22. I feel really bad for you not being able to run! That is truly a drag! I love to run and Oly lift and if I can't do those I get kind of crazy!

    I try to just find different things to add variety that I can pretend are almost as fun, but it can be hard!

  23. I don't really love to run - I get terrible cramps in my entire lower legs no matter what...BUT I recently discovered this machine at the gym that feels just like running, no impact, its called the precor efx547...burns way more calories than the elliptical and with all the resistance and the crossramp features that create an incline, your legs get a killer workout - I feel fine skipping legs and doing a slower paced high resistance session...I mix that up with sprints, and the arc trainer - another elliptical like machine that feels like running upstairs on the highest incline, no impact. Addicted to all these things - glad I don't have to stop :)

    1. Tired of PF (REALLY tired)January 13, 2013 at 9:40 PM

      OK based on what you wrote, there ain't no way you have PF!

  24. Feel you on this one, went on a walking holiday to France and thought I got a stress fracture after a while discoverd it was plantar faciitis. Coming up for two years now and no real improvement and limited ability to do much walking. Got a friend and I might have to use the term losly who keeps at me to get out more, walking on the bike etc and as he cant see a big wound or something he cant understand.

  25. Tired of PF (REALLY tired)January 13, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Does any one try to recover and yet still can't even do elliptical (because it is weight bearing?). Been months. Forget running - walking more than 1/2 mile and/or elliptical is my goal. I can use the recumbent stationary bike that uses arms and legs. That's it.

    Anyone else ever have PF that bad? I hear of people with PF walking long distances, even running (but less) and wonder "man, is my case THAT bad so no one else has to keep off the feet?"

    Am I alone?


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