Recovery, Part V - Running, Redefined

Recovery, Part V - Running, Redefined

Finally able to run as she recovers from surgery, world-class ultrarunner and uber-competitor Stephanie Howe is looking for a fresh start. Or better put, she's forced to start fresh. Redefining what a "run" is to her may be the next step in her recovery, but the tougher part is regaining the trust in her body that she once had, what seems like so long ago. Blessed to be surrounded by a stellar team of professionals, and dedicated to trust the process (hey...it's the first step), Stephanie is well on her way, 30 second "runs" at a time!

By: Stephanie Howe

It happened. After months of anticipation, I finally took my first steps. And it was not what I at all expected.

It was running, but not running.

Yet another unexpected part of the recovery. What actually happens when I do get to run? I hadn't put my thought into. I just assumed that I'd more or less resume my normal routine. Wrong.

My first few runs were somewhat anticlimactic, and to be brutally honest, a little depressing. My very first session in the AlterG, I was thrilled about the prospect of real, actual running! I arrived dressed in my running shorts and tank, anticipating a sweaty, satisfying treadmill session. Wrong. Under supervision, I was guided through intervals of 30 seconds of running at 65% body weight at a 12 min mile pace, with 1-minute of walking between intervals. Walking to my mailbox was more effort than what I just did. I was cold. That was not a run. Nonetheless, Burke, my ever enthusiastic physical therapist, high fived and congratulated me on my first run. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry.

Don't compare. Start fresh.

Over the past couple years my idea of running has been steadily creeping upwards. So after my first "run", at a grand total of 3 minutes, including 6 walking breaks, I had to redefine what it means to run. Because if I'm fully honest, my bar had been raised pretty high. Likely to an unsustainable level.

My idea of a run was suddenly ripped up, stomped on, and shredded into a million little pieces. Really.

I reached out to a good friend who's been through this before to ask about getting past this. He told me "you can't compare to the past; you have to start over from where you are now." At rock fricking bottom. I needed a fresh start. No running was my new normal, so really there is nowhere to go but up.

Progressing with pain.

Despite starting...ahem...conservatively, to put it nicely, I progressed fairly quickly. By the next week I was up to 6x 90 seconds of running at 80% body weight, then 20 min of sustained running at 65% body weight. It happened really fast.

But, with the addition of each new stress, the pain would creep in and cloud my rosy outlook. I hated it. Not only did I feel like I wasn't really "running", but I also knew the pain was coming. This is part of the progress I was not expecting. But, just sitting back and waiting for things to feel better is not going to happen.

First Steps. Acceptance.

My first day running at full body weight was a small victory that snuck up on me. I had skied for the first time over the weekend, and was feeling the aftermath the next day. I had been looking forward to idea of trying a run, but my foot was so sore that I didn't even want to try. I just didn't want to hurt anymore. But, after some encouragement from my PT I reluctantly got on the treadmill to try. Why not? I didn't have much to lose.

It felt foreign. My legs each felt like they weighed a million pounds as I labored to move in something that resembled a run. For 30 seconds. And you know what, my foot didn't feel any worse afterwards. Sometimes moving forward means working through pain. And beginning to trust again.

Trust.

I don't trust my body. I haven't for a long time and I it's become a complicated mind body relationship. In the past, I knew if I put my mind to it, my body would respond. It would follow without a second thought. But after all of this, well, my trust has been broken. My body has not responded or done what I've asked of it. And that's been hard to accept. Now as I begin testing the waters, I have a lot of doubt, and can see it both physically and mentally as I re-learn how to move. It's going to take a long time for me to feel comfortable pushing my body, but I learned after my first run that sometimes a blind leap of faith is necessary to move to the next level. I just have to let go and trust.

Thankfully, I'm not doing this alone. As I mentioned in my last post, my physical therapists at Focus have been there with me every step of the way. Literally and figuratively. Part of learning to trust my body has also been to trust the process. I'm still working on this, but slowly learning to let go and appreciate the little victories. Like running for 30 seconds!

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