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Out There: Back On My Feet

A second-by-second account of Susan Lacke's roller coaster first post-surgery run.

Yesterday, my doctor said those five little words everyone wants to hear: “Let’s try a short run.”

Six months after undergoing surgery to repair an ankle injury, I was finally (finally!) cleared to lace up for my first run.

And it sucked.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Like most runners, I’ve been through the cycle of injury-rehab-return-repeat several times over the years. Yet every time I hit the “return” portion of the cycle, I’m genuinely shocked at all the overwhelming feelings that come flooding in during the first run post-injury. All at once, I’m happy and terrified; cautious and foolhardy; drunk with endorphins and sobered by how much fitness I’ve lost. For all 30 minutes of that first easy jog, I simultaneously love and loathe running.

In every first run back, the timeline almost always is the same:

:00 Oh, running shoes! Finally, we’re reunited. This is going to be amazing.

:10 I’m running! I’m running! I’m running!

:45 This feels…odd.

1:15 Did someone put weights in my shoes?

1:30 Go home legs, you’re drunk.

2:30 Hmm. I don’t remember my body being so…jiggly.

3:30 I bet I’m doing, like, 8 minute miles right now. Not bad for a little welcome-back jog!

3:33 12 minute miles? No way. This GPS watch was always a little off. Accounting for wind, drag, altitude, planetary alignment and global warming, I’ve got to be closer to 8 minutes.

5:00 Oof. Hill. Let’s take a walk break.

6:00 Alright, let’s pick up the pace. I came to run, not dawdle.

6:05 Aaaaaand no. Y’know, dawdling’s cool with me.

6:30 Now let’s run.

6:50 Hey! I’m running! Whee! I’m running! Downhills are the best. I should find more downhills. Let gravity do its thing.

7:30 Why does my ankle hurt? It’s not supposed to hurt.

7:31 Oh, god no, why is this happening to me?

7:32 Nooooooooo! This sucks this sucks thissucksthissucksthissucksthissucks.

7:35 DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, DOG WALKER. Like you haven’t seen someone spontaneously ugly-cry while running.

7:37 My life is ov – oh, hey, look at that, ankle’s fine now. Heh. Well, then.

10:00 This is kind of hard. I like running, right? I seem to remember a time I liked running.

12:45 Maybe if I bought new shoes. I would like running more if I had new shoes.

13:30 And a few pairs of new shorts, too. Oooh, and a new GPS watch. Yes, running would feel easier with all of those things.

15:00 This isn’t so bad, actually. I should totally sign up for a marathon.

18:00 Hmm…maybe just a half.

20:30 A 5K. I should dominate the hell out of a 5K.

22:00 Y’know, maybe I’ll just finish the 5K first, then work on the whole “dominating” thing.

22:30 Is it almost over yet? I need a nap.

25:00 25 minutes is a long time to run.

27:00 Scratch that, 27 minutes is a long time.

28:00 How did I ever run for hours at a time? Was I high? I must have been high.

30:00 I can do better tomorrow. Please let me do better tomorrow.

So, to recap: My first run back post-injury made me feel fat, slow, ill-equipped, maudlin, exhausted, and disappointed in myself. In other words, I felt like a runner again.

The logical part of me knows that with consistent training, I won’t feel so out of shape. Meanwhile, the emotional part of me wants to scream “I CAN’T DO THIS. NO ONE CAN DO THIS.”  It’s easier to give up, walk home, text some curse words to my coach and eat a box of cookies to stave off the feelings of impending doom. But frankly, I’ve been doing those things for the past six months of forced rest, and I’ve been miserable. My brain is ready to run—I just need to give my body some time to get with the program.

Then one day, when I’m almost convinced my tired, jiggly body will never regain any semblance of fitness, I’ll try just one more time, because why the hell not? And that day, every single interval will feel effortless, because of course.

It will be awesome. And terrible. And so worth every second.

Just like running should be.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke