Day 18: My Love-Hate Relationship with Running

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the fact that I really think running is a bad idea. In general, the only good reason to run is that you flat out like running. Since I run, logic follows that I am one of those weirdos who actually likes running.

Crazy, I know, but true.

My relationship with running is complicated. On one hand, I really love to run. On the other hand, the health of my knees seems to be fairly precarious, and this knowledge has a strong tempering influence on my running practice.

Learning to Love Running

I realized that I love to run sometime in the second half of my 20’s.

I had played soccer in high school and college and was in pretty great shape throughout my teens as a result. I then graduated college just before by 21st birthday and promptly settled into real life, and immediately stopped any sort of regular exercise. Approximately 6-7 years later, during which time I worked at a desk for the most part, I decided to get into running as part of an ignorant attempt to get into better shape (I say I was ignorant, because running is a terrible choice if your goal is to improve your overall fitness).

To my shock and surprise, I really enjoyed it.

In high school and college I had always run for the purpose of training to play soccer. So my runs were hard and fast and generally involved a lot of sprinting. As a result, I thought that I hated to run because I had always run really really hard when I had run in high school and college.

Imagine my surprise when in my mid-20’s I took several short leisurely runs and realized I was really enjoying them.

What Changed?

When I think about what changed between my teens and mid-twenties I can think of three things that made the difference:

  1. In the past, I had always run in order to do something else–such as be in shape for soccer. I had never gone running where the object of the exercise was the exercise itself.
  2. I no longer felt pressure to push myself so hard. I still pushed, harder than I should have, but not anywhere near as hard as I had pushed in high school and college when I would run so hard I would start to black out and see stars.
  3. I had spent more than 5 years sedentary. As a formerly athletic individual, it was pyschologically rewarding to start reclaiming my prior athleticism.

Suddenly I went from being a guy who had hated running back when I had to do it, to a guy who wanted to lace up his shoes and run for 30-45 minutes every day.

Running is a Risky Endeavor

So there I was: 27, a cubicle farm resident, bent on turning myself into a marathoner. Quite rapidly I went from not running at all to running 3-4 miles per day 4-5 times per week.

It was fantastic, until it wasn’t.

Within just a few short months I had developed significant issues in both of my knees. No problem. I had dealt with all sorts of aches and pains in high school and college. Just push through, right? No. The body of the 27 year-old sedentary cubicle-dwelling male is not the same as the body of the 17 year-old soccer-playing physically fit male.

My aches and pains simply grew progressively worse until they forced me to stop. Once I had stopped, I’d take a week or so off, and then get right back to it. This failure to adequately recover would then put me even further behind the injury eight-ball in short order.

Recurring injury eventually forced me to slow down and learn more about what I was doing. Once I had done so, I realized I had made at least two crucial mistakes:

  1. I was trying to do way too much, way too fast.
  2. I was pushing my body hard without first developing a solid foundation of overall physical fitness.

What I learned over the convening months and years was that I needed to allow my body to recover fully when it was hurting. I learned that running frequency and distance must be built very slowly to avoid injury. I learned that years of sitting at a desk had caused my core muscles to atrophy which was producing sloppy form and that running had to be part of a much larger overall exercise regimen, not the only thing going.

How I Approach Running Today

It’s only been in the last 2 years or so that I feel like I’ve finally found my stride, so to speak, with regard to running. Today, I have several rules when it comes to running. Here they are:

  1. I can only increase my running mileage by 1 mile from one week to the next. So if I run 3 miles one week, the most I can run the next week is 4 miles.
  2. If I take some time off, say over the holidays, when I start back I have to deduct several miles from my last tally. Before Thanksgiving I was up to running 7 miles per week. I took a break over the holidays and have only gotten back to that 7 mile tally in the last month.
  3. If I feel any acute or sharp pain while running, I have to stop running and start walking immediately until the pain goes away. If it doesn’t go away, I’m done for the day.
  4. If I feel any throbbing or dull pain I can keep going. However, if the pain gets gradually worse, I have to start walking until it goes away, and if it still doesn’t go away, I’m done for the day.
  5. If I feel any residual pain 2 days after running (sore knees, etc), I have to measure at least 7 consecutive pain-free days before running again.
  6. I don’t run more than twice in any seven day period.
  7. I don’t run hard. I take it easy. If I push it, I’m capable of maintaining under an 8 minute mile pace for a 5k distance (3.1 miles). I only push it if I’m running in an organized event. I run closer to a 10 minute mile pace most of the time.
  8. Running must be paired with regular bodyweight workouts (4-5 times per week) to ensure my running is balanced by good core strength and overall fitness.

These rules aren’t universal. I don’t think they’re the right rules for everyone for all time. However, they seem to be the right rules for me and my body at this point in life. These rules have kept me running and injury free for about 2 years now.

I love running, and I hate it when injury keeps me from running. I do have some running goals, which I’ll get into some other time. Even as I pursue those goals, I’ll do so under the guidance of these rules.

Featured image by lucas Favre on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Day 18: My Love-Hate Relationship with Running”

  1. I think you might enjoy Haruki Murakami’s book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. While I still don’t love running, it gave me a bit of a different perspective on what people who are crazy about it really chase in the first place.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. Just ordered it. I have a really vague memory of the book — I can’t recall if I saw it somewhere, or someone recommended it to me, or what. Looks really interesting.

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