One Year: Life After Running
According to my Facebook “Memories,” one year ago (plus a few months…I’m pretty behind on life right now), I found out running was no longer going to be a part of my life.
One year and a few months ago, I learned that the one part of me that I felt so confident about, so certain about, so comfortable with was being taken away from me. And trust me, it didn’t go down without a fight.
If you’re new here, let me catch you up just a little. And, if you’re my best friend (or probably just my mom reading this), just skip a paragraph or two down. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible. Here goes. I started running in high school and continued on past college - 5ks and half-marathons. In 2015, I had an unexplainable, biting desire to sign up for a full marathon, and without overthinking, I hit “register” for the 2016 LA Marathon and began training. It was the best I had felt in years running, and I knew without a doubt that I could qualify for the Boston Marathon, a pipe dream I never wanted to publicly acknowledge. My body felt healthy, but I started to notice some nagging hip pain after a trail race that I used as part of my training cycle. I assumed it was my lack of pain tolerance and a strained muscle, so I embarked on a 16-mile training run the next weekend…only to call a Lyft midway through my run, completely unable to even walk. The next day, I found out that I had fractured my hip joint at age 22. Needless to say, my marathon and Boston dreams (and even walking or driving) were tabled. Fast-forward to September 2016. I was back running (though it took a lot of time to rebuild even an ounce of the same cardio endurance I had before) and pain-free…until I started to feel the same type of pain in my opposite hip. After a cautious visit to Urgent Care, I found out I fractured my opposite hip in the same exact spot (along with tearing quite a few tendons). Two broken hips at age 22. And…well because third time is a charm…I’ll skip all the minute details…just a few months after getting off crutches, I found out I fractured my original hip again. Three hip fractures by age 23.
Throughout this whole saga, no doctor had been able to explain why the fractures kept happening - and why at this point in my life. My bone density was great for my age, all my vitamins levels were on target, my running form was fine, I had strong muscles, I wasn’t running drastically more than usual and my hormone levels were normal. On the outside (and inside), everything was picture-perfect healthy…until I saw a final specialist who I was sent to for possible hip dysplasia. Instead of dysplasia, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. He explained how this confusing condition was likely responsible for my hip fractures and my inherent inability to heal properly. The one way to help prevent fractures? Stop running. He warned that continuing to run would continue (and speed up) my cycle of fractures…and eventually lead to some pretty nasty breaks and potential bone graft surgeries. Yikes.
If you skipped over that all, welcome back!
While I still have some lingering questions over if I really have EDS, I ultimately quit running just over a year ago. The risk of the months-long excruciating pain of a hip fracture (and the inability to walk or step into the shower or drive or grocery shop…) is not worth it. And, in that moment of heeding the doctor’s advice, I truly believed that life would not be okay again.
Well, a year later, I still miss running more than I often care to admit, but life looks so much different…and honestly, somehow better in a lot of realms.
Running used to be a prime source of solo time for me to focus on my thoughts and work out my negative energy. It was a moving meditation to breathe, process…or not think at all. Nothing felt better than the endorphins on a long-run following a moment of anger, anxiety or sadness. Nothing gave me confidence than completing a hard run - no matter how fast or slow. And nothing filled my cup like getting outside and exploring the city on foot with some solid beats playing in my ears.
So, when I lost this ability, I didn’t really know where to turn. I felt like I had zero outlet…and just uncontrollable anger and sadness with nowhere to put it. And yet, I felt empty too.
So, while I used to consider running a cheap form of therapy, I actually invested in real talk therapy. My therapist and I talked about my past issues, my present issues, my career, my relationships, my identity with running and ways to handle and cope. It was incredibly helpful to have an objective individual just listen and provide actual, tangible strategies and solutions without being involved. I realized that I had been using running as type of band-aid to treat some symptoms of my mental health (stress, anger, etc.), but it hadn’t been addressing any root causes of my mental health or acting as a longer-term, sustainable solution.
(Side note: I no longer see this therapist due to financial reasons, but 10/10 recommend her if you need someone to go to in the San Diego area.)
On top of therapy, I turned to my yoga practice, which had been growing increasingly consistent throughout the years. It was a place to quiet my thoughts, focus on my breath, open up space in my body where I was holding tension and negative energy, and just embrace the moment - good or bad - because it was ultimately leading me down the right path. Bonus: it didn’t hurt my joints!
Friendship & Community
One of my biggest fears about post-running life was that I was going to lose friendships and a sense of community. Honestly, I did to an extent and this has been one of the hardest adjustments to a running-free life.
I’ll be frank, I’ve lost a lot of friendships and grown apart from a lot of people. When I stopped joining group runs and stopped going to November Project as much, my social life took a weird, hard pause. I felt so out of sight and out of mind - quite literally removed from group chat and group chat and group chat. Beyond that, I had some difficult realizations that I wanted friends who talked about more than just running and what race was next. It became harder and harder to relate when I couldn’t contribute over and over again.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, 90% of my friends in San Diego came from November Project. Following the diagnosis, I continued to go to November Project…and was graced with the nicest gift I’ve ever received (and likely ever will receive). But, as months flew by, I noticed myself getting slightly sad after workouts. Admittedly, I felt obligated to continue to go after the gift, but a few months ago, I decided to only go as it serves my mental health. It may be selfish, but I am learning that sometimes you have to prioritize your own health and sanity. And, now when I do go…there’s nothing better than having fun with that community at 6:29 AM - regardless of what parts of the workouts I can and can’t do.
And, while I did lose a lot of friends, I also have gained a handful of really amazing individuals in my life - through yoga teacher training, through a group of gals called The Happsters, through mutual friends. All in places I would have never discovered had the lack of running not pushed me towards.
If you asked me a year ago how I was going to stay in shape, I would have shrugged. I had zero idea. I hated swimming, I didn’t have a bike, and I didn’t think strength training or yoga was going to cut it.
But, after quite a bit of trial and error, I ended up finding my sweet spot after a freelance writing gig led me there for a piece. Right now, I have a membership at Renegade Fitcamp - a unique strength & conditioning gym that offers group fitness classes broken into three parts: treadmills (I modify with walking vs. running) and assault bikes, weight racks (dumbbells, bars, TRX) and a turf section (kettlebells, bodyweight, gliders, battle ropes). Music blares, the lights are down low and the coaches are all so well-versed in setting up smart workouts…and explaining why. No matter how often I go, these classes still kick my ass…and I keep craving more and more. I never saw myself at a strength/bootcamp type gym, but I’ve never felt stronger and find that I push myself much harder in a group setting than on my own.
In addition, as I mentioned, yoga is a huge part of my fitness journey. But, I tend to look at it more as a mental and spiritual “workout” vs. just purely physical - though, the physical benefits and results are hard to deny.
But, while I’ve found my sweet spot…the one part I’m still getting used to? Having my exercise dictated by both my budget and a studio’s schedule. Running was always free (excepting shoes) and could be done on my own time. But, I remind myself that the budget item now is important for my mental and physical health and is something I feel really strongly about.
For years, my whole routine was based around running. I woke up early to fit in training runs before school or work, I scheduled in cross-training, yoga and foam rolling time, and my bedtime was dictated early so I could make sure I was rested enough to beat the heat for those morning runs, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.
A year or so later, I still can’t say with confidence that I have a routine that really fulfills me. I’ve sampled things here and there, but nothing has stuck long-term. So, in the meantime, I’m trying to embrace doing whatever feels good on weekends - and swapping between yoga (home practice or at Mosaic) and Renegade during the week. It’s been an ongoing practice in learning to go with the flow…even if just a little.
When I broke my hip the first time, I didn’t know who my identity was outside of running. Over the course of all three fractures, I started to explore who I was outside of this, but I’ve made the most significant progress in this quarter-life crisis in the last year or so. I am an adventurer, I am a friend, I am a sister, I am a daughter, I am a partner, I am a cat mom, I am a reader, I am a writer, I am a soul, I am a working professional, I am a yogi, I am an animal lover, I am a foodie, I am a fitness lover. Mostly, I am more than just one piece of me. And I’m still discovering new pieces.
I miss running…a lot. I miss it after a long day, I miss it when I see people running on treadmills next to me and I miss it when I see Justin wake up to head out on a run. And, I’m sure I’ll continue to grieve the loss of my first love for a long time…but life goes on and you adapt and move forward.