October 11 2017
One runner shares her story of fighting for her country and maintaining her love for running-despite her Gulf War Syndrome diagnosis.
Moving my body through the great outdoors makes me happy. Running, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, whatever it takes to keep it interesting and me fit under the wide-open skies. Just head out the door and do it!
But all that changed on a trail run one October day. As I ran along the rugged terrain, my foot got stuck between some rocks. My body kept moving forward while my right foot stayed behind. In my attempt to free my leg mid-stride, I tore my hamstring in two places.
The pain was immediate and excruciating. I felt faint and nauseous. I tried to sit to avoid passing out but my leg was locked straight in rigid spasms. My mind was screaming, “Don’t faint and fall on a cactus!” I forced myself to stay conscious by yelping in pain and breathing hard, Lamaze-labor style.
I was several miles from a road. No one else was on the trail. And no, I did not bring my cell phone. I was going to have to get out by myself.
I’d take a step with my left foot, drag my right leg, yell in pain and pant to recover. Take another step, drag my leg, scream, pant, etcetera. I think I went sort of insane because when a woman eventually came running along the trail, I said nothing—I didn’t even ask for help. I just stopped moving to let her pass. I must have looked strange because she asked, “Are you okay?” I shook my head and started to cry.
Long story short, she helped me hobble back to the trailhead and find someone with a phone. I called my husband and he picked me up and took me home. Running has not been the same for me since. A doctor told me that it would have been better if I’d fallen and broken a bone, which takes six to eight weeks to heal, because soft tissue injuries like hamstrings take forever to recover from.
As I work through the healing process and return to running, I feel as if I am trying something new and foreign, even after years of lacing up my shoes. It is not fun. I remember how it used to feel when it felt good; but it doesn’t anymore, and that messes with my mind. As I try to build my time and distance, my brain nags, This sucks! Go ride your bike! It’s way easier!
Which makes me wonder: Why does anyone start running in the first place? How can they think this is a good idea? It’s so hard!
Yet this injury got me thinking about when I first started running 30-plus years ago. (Okay—I also had youth on my side.) I remember how it felt when, once committed, you can get past the hard parts, mentally and physically. You feel confident enough to join friends on group runs, who then encourage you to sign up for that first 10K. It’s literally one step after another; then your pace picks up, and the next thing you know…you are a runner.
I can’t wait to feel like that again: to run effortlessly. I want to reach that meditative state where the miles slip past, the legs turn over, the breathing is methodical and the mind is free to wander. To get to that point where, once the run is done, you think, Wow–that was awesome.
So keep it up, new runners: those who have committed to taking that first step of walking or jogging, those who have signed up for their first 5K or half marathon or whatever it is that running will represent for you. Because I am inspired by you. And I know that when I, too, can run effortlessly, the satisfaction will feel just like that first time—all over again.
Susan Eastman Walton is the owner of RecoFit Compression Gear. She can’t wait to say that she just finished her latest half marathon. Or 10 mile. Or 5K. Or run around the block.