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Out There: Learning to Run Again

Susan Lacke recalls her first steps as a runner as she rehabs from ankle surgery.

Susan Lacke recalls her first steps as a runner as she rehabs from ankle surgery.

Five years ago, I went for my very first run.

It was hard.

That’s all I can really say about that first run: It was hard. I can’t remember much else about it, other than dialing down the treadmill to a walk, red-faced and puffing. I turned to my boyfriend at the time, who was lifting weights in the corner of the gym.

“If… five minutes…hurt…this much,” I coughed out, “how…am I gonna…do…a 5K?”

My boyfriend, who was largely disinterested in my New Year’s resolution to finish a local charity run, shrugged: “Hell if I know.”

As it turns out, those five minutes somehow turned into a 5K, then a half marathon, and more. Eventually, I did a few Ironman triathlons, too.

How? Hell if I know.

Running eventually became easier. It never became easy, but it did become easier. Things that once sounded so scary to me, like a 5K, became routine. At some point during the last five years, I became one of those people who would casually say things like “only a 10-miler today.” My mindset shifted from awe at all the cool things my body to could do, to an expectation that my body would do what the brain asked of it, to abuse when the body refused to cooperate.

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Somewhere along the way, I forgot the sense of bewilderment I felt on the treadmill during my very first run.

Until today.

A little over a month ago, I had ankle reconstruction surgery, a consequence of my brain asking too much of my body. Though annoyed by the forced break from training, I was optimistic I could rebound fairly quickly. With a good rehabilitation program, my doctor said, I could probably start running again within three to five months.

Today was the start of that rehabilitation program. I walked for about a minute. And it hurt.

Suddenly, my optimism isn’t there anymore. For as much as my coach and my fellow runners assure me that a return to running is imminent, the process feels daunting, even impossible. I’ve found myself in the shoes of five years ago, wide-eyed and—if I must be honest—terrified. This time, I’m not a healthy, ignorant newbie trying to make it through a fun run—I’m a broken idiot trying to get back five years of hard work.

Naturally, I cried about the impossibilities ahead of me to Coach Dude: If walking for a minute hurt this much today, how could I even expect to be running again in a few months? How would I get back to where I was before the surgery? Would I ever get there?

“Thinking is the enemy of the runner,” Coach Dude said pointedly.

When I took a moment to let the words seep in, I realized he was right. When I overthink things, I fall apart. (Exhibit A: The cast on my leg. Exhibit B: The snotty-nosed meltdown in front of Coach Dude.)

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But that healthy, ignorant newbie trying to make it through a fun run five years ago was probably doing something right. Somehow, in some way, things come together if I just let it. I need to stop thinking so much, and just return to a state of awe for all the cool things my body can do today, like walking for a minute—a whole minute! That’s more than yesterday!

Eventually, I’ll get where I need to be. It won’t be easy, but perhaps it’ll become easier.

How?

Hell if I know.

****

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