Sunday, March 21, 2010

No pain, major gain!

Growing up, in high school and even a bit beyond, I suppose, I was never talented athletically, but I did strive to be active in sports and played several of them competently, if not well, and participated with a 'good' attitude. I was one of those sorts of players/athletes. I did like to push myself, and I very much prescribed to the "no pain, no gain" attitude that my coaches and even my dad espoused. Post-college, I *discovered* running and sort of got into it, running different road races and enjoying them, on the whole. I lived in Philly at the time, now does not strike me as an ideal place for running, but I was a bit naive back then.
As I've aged, my interest in running has waxed and waned, depending on other commitments, the weather, my physical and mental health. When I first moved to California, I was living in Monterey, and I optimistically signed up for the Big Sur marathon, a behemoth of a race, thanks to the killer hills. Still, it seemed like it would be a great personal goal, and I felt confident that I would embrace the challenge. I had started to log in those 12 to 15 mile runs, long slogs that give a person plenty of time to contemplate the meaning of life while tackling the next brutal hill, when I went skiing in Squaw Valley, went down a challenging black slope, and screwed up my knee, tearing the meniscus. That was two or three weeks before the marathon - not too smart. After that accident, I was tentative with my knee.
Flashback to last year when I was playing ultimate frisbee with students, my competitive spirit not content with watching the game (not that I was playing well, mind you, but I was playing). A quick cut produced a sharp pain, and then I limped, pathetically, off the field. That was in April, and I decided to finally see a doctor in May. And THEN, it was two months later when I begrudgingly decided that he might know what he was talking about, seeing as how he has spent years dealing with knees and elbows, so I should get that MRI that he recommended. One MRI later and a clear diagnosis: a torn ACL. I must admit that there was SOME relief that I had a legitimate complaint and ailment. After all, the first time I went to the see the doctor, I walked in there just fine, while all of these other individuals limped in, barely walking or on crutches or in a wheelchair. As much as I felt relieved to have a clear diagnosis, I then had to prepare myself for that next step - surgery.
There was little preparation, to be honest. I went on a road trip for a few weeks, pleading with the doctor that the surgery would have to wait because of the trip. He agreed, warning me that being active with my knee was like "driving without a seatbelt". Nice simile. I wonder if he uses that often on people?
As for the surgery, it was successful but the rehab process has been far more exhausting than I had expected going in, probably because I did not ask those types of questions. I definitely looked at the final product, a strong and healthy knee, and not the process. Still, throughout the process, I have tried to be a good sport and to maintain that "positive" attitude while going to physical therapy twice a week for 90-minute sessions, more or less, dealing with repetitive lunges, squats, and other exercises whose names would amuse the average person but bore me by now (flamingos, butt-burners, pile-drivers, axe-chops, up-and-overs, dolly-tucks, three-way step-down, just to give a few examples). In addition to the PT sessions, I probably lived on Advil and generic ibuprofen since September just to get through the day without pain.
Suddenly, without any warning, the pain stopped two weeks ago. The dull ache that would overtake me by 3:00 pm after being on my feet all day, or the sharp pain that accompanied some of the exercises that I had to do. Gone. Done. Over.
It's been transformative - I don't live on advil anymore, I have more energy at the end of each day, and I can actually run at the gym for the first time in years. Not that I'm running too far or fast, but I'm building up my strength, little by little. My shrunken left leg has begun to develop muscle tone, and each time I go to the gym, I try to run just that much further on the treadmill. Yesterday, I kicked the speed up to 6.2 miles per hour (for a minute). So, I didn't keep it on that speed, but it will eventually feel good.
Not only will I be able to run again, I have plans to ski (downhill and cross-country) again in this lifetime and take a major backpacking trip one of these days.
I had resigned myself that these activities, and maybe others, would not be a part of my life, and I had accepted that limitation. And so now, it is incredibly exciting and even liberating to think of all the places that I can run, the races in which I can participate, the ski slopes and trails that I will cruise along and the mountains and passes that I'll climb and explore.
I can't wait! And I thought that life would be downhill as I got old(er)!


Kim said...

Wow, that is so amazing and wonderful that you have no pain! I would probably cry tears of joy. How liberating to be able to participate in activities you used to love! Enjoy :)

Anonymous said...

I am with Kim...if I could run with no pain I would cry tears of joy too! I wish I could run like I used to. In my case things have gone downhill as I get older. :( But I am SO happy for you!!

kilax said...

I am so happy that all of the PT paid off! I cannot imagine devoting so much time to it a week. How exciting that you can run again!