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When I asked my neurosurgeon two weeks ago when I could run again, he said that running was simply not advisable with my spinal injury. Like, forever. There’s just too much repetitive jarring of the spine when you run, he said. Running could only aggravate my injury.

As for the other high-impact activities I loved? Like trail biking, step aerobics, and Insanity/T25? He said definitely not now, six months post-surgery. Maybe later on, he advised, but use my body to guide me. To be on the safe side, I think I’ll just avoid all serious jumping and bouncing all together for now and for the next long while.

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Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Thunder Bay, Ontario, fall 2014

Surprisingly, I’m not so upset about not being allowed to run anymore. You know how some people (claim that they) absolutely love running? While we’re all aware that it’s one of the best cardiovascular exercises out there (with health benefits aplenty), I know that it’s just not my sport of choice.

My love-hate relationship with running

Overweight and physically inactive since childhood (my ideal after-school activity was drinking Sprite and eating an entire bag of junk food from our neighbourhood sari-sari store while watching The Secret World of Alex Mack), at the age of 15 I decided to turn my life around by losing all my extra weight by dieting and exercising. Running was definitely not in my rudimentary exercise routine (I was 15 and doing this on my own!). I remember our annual physical fitness tests in high school, where in one test we needed to run as many laps as we could around our outdoor field in a span of 15 minutes. I would embarrassingly log so few laps every year since I basically walked a third of the time.

It wasn’t until my first year of university when I had to train my mind and body to run. I joined my university’s rowing team that year (though only briefly, since the training schedule was too much to handle for me while going to school full-time). Because the river was frozen in the winter (and so we couldn’t train on the water), we had to train indoors in the gym and in the rowing tank as well as run outdoors. On my first run I circled the campus in the dark at 6:00 a.m., walking every two minutes to catch my breath (of course in an area where my coach didn’t see me) while my super fit teammates whizzed past me.

Weeks turned into a few months and I got better and better at running (and rowing), 10 to 12 km at a time. I even willfully ran outdoors on my own for exercise. Then the rest of university happened. As I exercised only once or twice a week, my favourite workout became step aerobics and I just forgot about running all together.

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I can’t wait to go to step class again! I’m actually pretty good 🙂

Early in the summer of 2014, in my sheer boredom while studying for my law and ethics exam to become a professional geologist (really, watching paint dry was more exciting), I came up with the grand idea of entering a 10-km race so I could return to running. (I also coerced my brother to do it with me… thanks Pao!) I trained for 12 weeks and followed this very training plan.

In my off days, I made the mistake of cross-training with similarly high-impact workouts like T25 and Insanity. Although I religiously stretched, I didn’t include low-impact workouts to my weekly routine, workouts that still burned a lot of calories but didn’t require me to jump all over the place. I got addicted to the burn of a hard, bouncy workout. (Plus, I loved Shaun T.)

By Week 9 I started feeling pain due to the overuse of and impact on my joints, ligaments, and tendons. All that high-impact exercise took a toll on me (working in an underground mine where I had to drive on uneven ground everywhere also didn’t help). My lower back ached and my shins hurt. I had to stop running for a few weeks and stuck with low-impact workouts to keep myself active.

Lesson learned – cross-train with low-impact workouts too! Any athlete knows that having an injury sucks.

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I resumed my training when I wasn’t in so much pain anymore. On race day I finished with a good time, just less than 59 minutes. My goal was to finish in under an hour.

Yet I stopped running after race day.

The only thing I love about running is reaching that “runner’s high” – that euphoric feeling after a long run. That feeling of having accomplished something that’s measurable in distance and time. The actual act of running is another story. I’m fine during the first 30 minutes of my run, but I really need to push my mind to not give up, or even slow down, thereafter. I know that’s the entire point of endurance sports (shout out to my triathlete of a sister-in-law!), but hey, it’s not fun, at least for me.

Every minute after those first 30 minutes feels like an eternity, no matter which songs I choose to motivate me or which thoughts I fixate on to distract me. In those last six to eight minutes of a long run, I seriously have to get it together and not falter. Why should I put myself through all that when there’s so many other options for exercise? (And besides, YOLO, right?)

I also stopped running because I didn’t want to get injured again. Maybe I still wasn’t running properly (I had to correct my form after the first couple of weeks). Maybe running with those Vibram Five Fingers toe shoes my brother swears by for two weeks really did some damage on me. Maybe it really was all that high-impact activity that caused my pain. Whatever the reason/s was/were, I’m completely fine with not running for the rest of my life.

Up next:

Levels of impact

Impact vs. intensity

My selection of low-impact workouts of varying intensities

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