Yes, Sometimes I Am An Ass.
Photo: Katie Anderson
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.