Category Archives: Runs

And I Run Alone

I started running over eight years ago. Though an individual sport, it has always been a group activity for me all these years. Running mates, run clubs, races. Running, for me, has always been decidedly social (perhaps because I am decidedly social).

Until now.

For the first time in all my running, I really only run alone, except for a few anomalies sprinkled here and there. Run club conflicts with my dance class, which I prioritize, and wanes in the dark winter evenings. My running mates continue to run and train for half marathons while I instead work short distances on speed work. And races only happen in the fall and winter, so that season has passed for now.

I have almost always run alone for some of my training, alternating them with social runs. I have done races by myself. I just have never only run alone. I appreciate the balance between being able to focus and dissolve into an audiobook and run only at my pace versus being distracted and encouraged while sharing with other people.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Life changes. Schedules shift. Things get in the way. I am complacent with these sorts of natural shifts and evolutions. And my relationship with running overall has changed since my hip injury and then again since my hip surgery and recovery. I don’t know if I feel any sort of way about it. I always enjoyed social running, but I am not angry or sad that those situations aren’t currently available. I don’t think they are gone forever, and I don’t think the lack right now prevents me from running.

I wonder if my running circumstances have changed because I have fallen out of love with running or if I have fallen out of love with running because my running circumstances have changed. Perhaps a little bit of both. Either way, it does not really matter.

It is definitely less motivating to run alone. I no longer have the accountability of meeting someone at a place and time, of keeping pace with another body or more, It’s just me, relying on me to get out there and to push myself.

I just wonder if running is my thing at all anymore, if I even love it as I once did. I fought so hard to get back to it after injury and surgery. Now that it has finally been the year and I am finally as recovered as I will probably ever be, I find that it’s not the same to me anymore. Maybe I was fighting for the idea, rather than the reality. The current reality is starkly disappointing.

Switching to running alone could have changed the dynamic. Moving toward working on speed (which I hate) could also have soured the experience. The fact that I have made zero progress in all directions for months is definitely not helping. Run as I might, alone or together, fast or wogging, I only seem to get slower; it only seems to be more of a struggle. And that may be what poisons my affections and infects my high.

If it’s not running anymore, then it just is what it is. Like a dead relationship, I don’t know that I can necessarily reconjure the magic. I can’t force myself back into love. I don’t want it to be the end, and I have no intention of giving up already, yet the thought is starting to blossom at the periphery of my mind, back in the darkness where the answers usually come from.

But if not running, what? I operate on a very simple but delicate balance. Two days or more without a heavy dose of endorphins and the house of cards comes tumbling down. Running has always been the highest and most reliable dose of those endorphins. Better than barre, dance, hiking, or any of the other fitness I do. So, what moves in to fill the void? What slides onto the scale to keep the balance?

I don’t really have any interest in seeking out new passions. I would rather find a way back to my old contentment. Maybe I need to abandon the speed work that has done literally nothing for my pace. It has only stunted my distance.

Right now, I am just coasting. Doing what I have done because it’s what I have done and because I don’t know what to do next.

 

Christina Bergling

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PPYMCA Fall Series

I used to write about my races on this blog. Remember that? Back when running was my primary fixation and I was hitting a 5K, 10K, 10 mile, whatever race a month. Since running has slipped from my focus, so has my documentation of it.

I think I fell out of love with races first. After so many 5Ks, they all start to feel the same. After so much running, I questioned why I was paying for something I could just do anywhere, anytime. The gimmicks became too much. Foam run, glow run. color run, chocolate run. Metals for everything. And the race fees only went up with each creative coupling of running and whatever else.

So I started to race less and less. Then when my hip was injured, it was even less. I found other avenues of fitness. Despite the fact that barre contributed to my hip injury, I shifted my attention to barre and hiking. I returned to belly dance. I spread myself thinner across more interests instead of just running 30 miles a week.

Running has not returned to how it felt before tearing my hamstring and hip labrum. I have worked myself back up to decent condition multiple times. I can have good runs. Yet the relationship is just not the same, not as intoxicating or fulfilling or euphoric. It’s more struggle and frustration than any of the things it used to be.

However, I have always run the local YMCA fall 5K series.

In their simplicity, these have always been my favorite runs. The routes are decent. The prices are reasonable. And the shirts are awesome. They are just enough race to be worth it and not too much race to drive me away.

So, for old time’s sake, let me write briefly about my three races this year.

The series began with the Creepy Crawl near Halloween. This is our gimmick run. We always dress up in some of group Halloween costume. And, true to the culture of our group, these costumes have been escalating. The latest (Mario Kart) incorporated multiple couples and their children. We also tend to win some kind of costume award for our efforts.

Colorado gifted us with a hefty snowfall then some melting and refreezing, leaving a sloppy and slippery course. The route begins at a lake then does an out-and-back down a gravel trail. It is usually decently smooth and fast but not in these conditions.

This particular race was special because it was my son’s very first 5K. He began running at school this year and loves it in a way my daughter never did. His excitement is infectious. He struggled with the distance, but as a turtle shell, he distracted himself by knocking us off the trail. Ultimately, he made it, and I was so proud.

Maybe I have my little runner after all.

The next race/holiday was the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I love the Turkey Trot tradition most because I can run off my hangover of Thanksgiving eve and earn the calories I intend to binge with all the festive eating.

However, Colorado decided, once again, to coat the course in ice. The conditions did cut the usually teeming crowd in half, but my running partner and I ran in spikes to be safe. With traction to keep us from busting our asses, the morning was actually quite pleasant. We laid down a decent run before hurrying off the the holiday.

The series concluded with the Jingle Bell. Ironically, of the three, this December run had the balmiest weather. Due to an overbooked day, I had to run and then… run. I was hoping all my recent speed work and intervals would show on this largely flat (until the last half mile) course.

I have been doing speed work for the past couple months, in pursuit of bring my pace down to 9 minute miles. I have recently been able to run a single 9 minute mile (on a treadmill, at sea level). Unfortunately, that progress did not show at the race. I finished in my typical time, at my typical pace, which was more frustrating and disappointing than I anticipated.

Again, I have just kind of fallen out of love with running. And I am frustrated enough with zero progress on weight loss or other fitness. I feel infuriatingly trapped on a perpetual plateau in all things.

Despite this slump I find myself in, I still enjoyed the series. I will still sign up and run the races again. Perhaps if I keep going back, I can recapture some of what I lost with running.

 

Christina Bergling

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Over 5 Months Later

Here we are, over five months since surgery.

Four months is when I was supposed to start running again, but I have been running for a month (doctor approved and physical therapy monitored).

This is when I am supposedly “fully recovered,” though there are still lingering restrictions.

My hip is doing well. I would say the joint itself and the repair therein are fully recovered. The surrounding muscles, however, are still working through their discontentment. I can live with muscular pain; muscular pain can be worked and repaired without surgery.

Traditional physical therapy has been largely worthless on me. I’m too flexible to get any stretching accomplished, and the same disposition might also be why I don’t gain muscle strength (discussed most recently with my orthopedics PA). However, we recently added dry needling to my regime.

I did dry needling way back when the hamstring tear was new and my first asshole doctor treated me like a drama queen with a stubbed toe. Dry needling has apparently changed in that couple year window. Previously, the therapist stabbed me in the muscle with the thin needle then pistoned it until my muscle hypercontracted. Super painful. I bruised a lot. Now, rather, the therapist implants the needle into the belly of the muscle and zaps it with a tens unit, causing the muscle to contract by stimulation. Still unpleasant but far less so.

The dry needling is working surprisingly well this time. I see progress in the tissue after each session. The muscles have less knots. I feel less tension. Things hurt less. As I approach the end of my physical therapy program, I think this is exactly where I could hope to be.

There is still pain. Pretty much every day. But it is so much less than before surgery, and it is less than last month and the month before that. On a long enough timeline, this could just be working.

If I can calm down and step out of my own nature and into patience, I can see the improvement. The surgery definitely knocked me completely off mental balance, as I knew it would. I underestimated what it would be like to go back there, but I feel like I’m flirting with recovery on that front as well. My exercise routine is nearly restored; I just need to commit to it long enough to level things back out.

If I ever had any doubts of the effectiveness of my routine and coping mechanisms, this has confirmed that they work and I need them. I guess it’s just not an instant return to where I was. Mentally or physically.

So, I need to take a deep breath, tell myself to shut up, and stay the course.

 

Christina Bergling

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Back Again

I went for a run yesterday. A real run.

Embarrassingly, I have not gone for a real run in a long time. I have gone for runs, sure. Group runs at various paces for various distances. I have been content to jog and cut off miles, which is very uncharacteristic of me. I have even gone for solo runs. Yet I have been talking myself into keeping them short or slow.

I am not entirely sure what had been happening. I felt gun shy about running. In theory, I told myself I missed it and wanted to return to longer and harder running, yet I would permit myself the excuses for it not to happen. Again, not like myself.

I would say it was perhaps my perpetual hamstring injury, but that has not hindered me from running or exercising in the past 18 months, so why now?

I have definitely been distracted by other fitness pursuits. bodyboss was extremely time-consuming. Then there is barre. I have been practicing a lot of belly dance for an upcoming performance I’m traveling to next month. I also picked up a hip hop class (I am terrible, by the way). So maybe I have just been too distracted.

Whatever the bullshit reasons and excuses, I finally forced myself out for real yesterday. I didn’t permit myself the 2 mile or 3 mile I have been clinging too lately, even though they have come to feel like my comfort zone. I forced myself to do the 5 mile route, with the 2 horrible hills.

And it felt great. It felt just like it always did. It sucked; it hurt; I wanted to die. Then it was the amazing high. It was all so familiar, so comforting, so exactly how I left it. I even ran faster than I have been lately. I even managed to improve after such neglect.

That was comforting. Now, I remember why I need it. I recall it’s place in my life and my fitness routine. There may not always be time to satisfy it, but at least now I can keep in mind why I should try and prioritize it.

After reading The Obesity Code and recovering from mild surgery, I find my exercise addiction tempered. Finally, it is not the end of the world if I can’t fit in a workout every day. Finally, I am not doubling down on workouts multiple times a week. Finally, I am allowing myself rest days. It feels foreign and awkward but also like a relief. I have no intentions of falling off the fitness wagon entirely, so I am hoping this reduction is actually healthy.

In all my questing for the next time and the answer, I am hoping this is actually it. I might have just needed a good run for it to feel right.

Christina Bergling

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On Recovery Running

Calm down.

You cannot sprint off into the pace and distances you left before the injury.

Calm down.

You cannot run like the past weeks, months, and pounds never happened.

Calm down.

It is OK to be winded and weak and dying. It is OK for the pain to still crawl up the back of your leg and nestle firmly in the root of your hamstring.

Calm down.

You are still recovering.

Calm down.

Do not make it worse.

Breathe. Just run. Gently. Just enjoying being able to run. A little.

You’ll get back, just like you have before. Running will still be there.

Calm down.

Baby steps. Baby little zombie turtle wogs.

Take what you can get. You will find the float again some day. You will sprint again some day.

Today, calm down.

 

***

 

I am trying to be good. I am trying SO HARD to be good. I am trying to run infrequently, short distances, and slowly. I am trying to modify barre classes to avoid the exercises that aggravate my hamstring. I am trying to not work out every day or twice a day.

I am trying to temper myself. So far, I think I am managing to tame my obsession, but I am struggling on the mental side of it.

I feel that itchy, uncomfortable anticipation experienced in the race chute all the time. Those terrible last seconds before the start gun. Those wretched little pregnant eternities. Yet I feel that all the time. Restrained, held back, contained. Like I’m coming out of my skin.

Getting back to some exercise has helped, but babying the leg still gives me this trapped feeling. The benefits I glean from exercise come from pushing myself to my brink, from making it hurt until the endorphins wash over my brain. I can’t do that yet, so I’m just left feeling perpetually unconsummated.

I’m trying to think of this as an investment in my body. I am trying to process it as purchasing health on the other side of this injury. Yet, with my mental balance in free fall, I am finding it challenging to sell these ideas to myself.

Patience. Breathe. Calm down.

 

Christina Bergling

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Reading Running

Yes, I am in running withdrawals. I have not run, jogged, wogged, anything in weeks. So, instead, I read about running (or listen to books about running – I have no time to actually read these days). I just finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murahami.

I loved this book. The memoir is unraveled with such an effortless honesty and authentic humor that I was more than content to listen to the random interconnected fragments of life stirred up by marathon training.

I am no marathoner or ultramarathoner or triathlete like Murakami. I am no professional novelist like Murakami (yet). Even on my best days, I am just a zombie turtle wogging along and a horror writer on the side of being a mom and a software engineer. Yet, Murakami ruminates on such universal truths about running and writing and the relationship between the two that it resonated deeply with me. At times, I could confuse his voice and his words for my own. I laughed when he irritated me when he was being and talking like me.

This book helped me understand myself better, as both a runner and a writer. I suddenly saw the correlation between long distance running (yes, I am considering 10-13 miles distance running) and writing a novel. Murakami identified connected traits and attributes of both that categorized me so well, made me see myself more clearly.

As I listened to Murakami discuss both how he became a runner and a writer and how he was currently training for the New York City Marathon, I became awash with my own nostalgia about my journey with running and how it intersected so many points of my life, how it defined so many parts of me. I was entertained by Murakami’s story, but I was also able to wallow in the pleasant memory of my own.

The book inspired me, both to be more persistent and more lenient, to push myself and appreciate myself.  And it made me want to run again, be back with that version of myself.

While reading (listening) about running exacerbated my withdrawals, it also pacified them in a way. I felt closer to the activity, reassured that it didn’t dry up and vanish in these brief weeks away, confident that I can return and retrain back to my mediocre performance but obsessive commitment.

Deep breath. Take care of the body and the mind. Then find my way back to the trail.

Christina Bergling

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The Next Level of Failing Recovery

What I would not give to finally be able to write a damn post about running! For a running blog, this has been a sad string of whiny rants about not running for the better part of the last year.

And well, fuck. It’s only about to get worse.

The hamstring saga continues, unfortunately. I have failed spectacularly at physical therapy.

So injury in August. Initial doctor in January. My insurance company rejected the request for an MRI, so I was sent to the orthopedic in January. I almost immediately started physical therapy and went once or twice a week until the end of March, when my therapist and I agreed that I was making no progress if not deteriorating further. So I was sent back to the orthopedic who requested an MRI that my insurance company decided to bless this time.

Last week, I went for my first-ever MRI. Even as they were just imaging my hips and pelvis, leaving the crown of my head outside the torturous and constricting tube, it was a remarkably unpleasant experience. I do not like confined spaces, particularly those that restrict my arms. I would not call it claustrophobia. Perhaps a manageable discomfort. I also do not do super well holding still, much less utterly and completely still.

So I lay in the tiny tube, where it felt like I could headbutt the top of it. I breathed through my discomfort and the constricted feeling steadily climbing my limbs. As I held still longer and longer, I lost feeling in my hands. I had to peek through the bottom of my eyes to assure myself they remained folded on my chest. Yet even through the unrelenting slamming noise of the machine, I kept dozing off. Yet I could not be trusted to remain still while I slept, so I kept wrenching myself out of the twisted nightmares reaching up over me.

(not my MRI image)

The half hour dragged on in a shapeless and oppressive blur. Thankfully, my tech was very communicative. Between each set of images, he informed me of the duration of the next set and the total time remaining. That gave me landmarks back into reality. I held completely still, bobbed up and down on the sea of my subconscious, and made it.

The MRI revealed that I have a partial hamstring tear. (Pause for my complete and utter lack of surprise. Wait a moment for me to scream how I said this in August. And December. And January.) My doctor told me they would like to try plasma-rich platelet (PRP) injections as the course of treatment.

(definitely NOT my hamstring)

I had never heard of PRP (and my doctor and assistants are relatively terrible at communication), so I have done a fair amount of research online. To summarize, they will draw some of my blood, spin it down, and inject the platelet-rich layer directly into the hamstring injury. This should cause inflammation to go into overdrive and Wolverine up my body’s healing measures. It’s also supposed to hurt like holy hell for the first two weeks due to how inflamed it will be.

I read mixed reviews online. Studies that confirmed it accelerated healing and recovery effectiveness. Studies that claimed it does absolutely nothing compared to other therapies. People who swear by it and worship the results. People who scoff at or hate it. Thanks, Internet, for your reliable ambiguity.

Yet, at this point, I will try about anything. The pain is near constant and continues to interfere with my life, as simply as restricting activity and as grandly as influencing my behavior and personality. It has been almost 9 months with minimal improvement; I am over it. Depression is starting to creep in, flood and blur the edges, capitalize and take over. I feel it taking root in my brain, planting its awful seed in all the fissures the pain have created.

Besides, my doctor informs me the only other measure we can try involves completely severing the hamstring and reattaching it. I want no part of that very major surgery.

So the PRP injection is the next step. Once my insurance blesses it. Even if they do not, I may just pay for it. I need some sliver of hope.

What I have not been able to ascertain from my doctors or physical therapist are rules, boundaries, suggestions, advice, ANYTHING at all about what activities I should or should not be doing. The answer has been consistently vague.

“Don’t aggravate it.”

“Don’t do anything that hurts it.”

Aside from the fact that by personality defect alone I will push right through both aggravation and pain, activity has not hurt this entire time. It has felt fine to be active during the activity. If not much better than rest. Yet, clearly, that was not the case. I just want some definite answers. I get the liability portion; I get the variability between patients. But come on! Give me something.

So I stepped outside the therapeutic relationships and sought wisdom elsewhere.

Running has felt pretty good all along. No hamstring pain, no twinges, just perhaps extra pain after. Yet my logical brain has snagged on how it could be good or even ok for the injury. Besides, for all those months, I didn’t know what was really wrong. Yet now, running is off the table. NO RUNNING until it recovers.

I have trouble even typing that because I do not know how I am going to do it. It sounds silly to be so attached to an activity, but it has been my lifeline to sanity for so many years now. Even though my fitness has diversified over the past couple years, running has always been there; it has always been my guaranteed hit of endorphins.

No yoga either. The other activity I have used almost exclusively for the effects on the mind rather than the body.

SHIT. How am I going to hold my shit together?

I have been given permission to walk (in short strides) and dance (minus specific movements) and maybe barre (skipping key exercises). It is better than nothing, but I just do not know how I am going to maintain the balance I have cultivated through exercise when I am not allowed to push myself past my edge. My sanity is created by completely exerting myself, completely wasting myself in a workout to leave only the high.

I do not know how to moderate. In life.

I mean I’m grateful that it is not more restrictive or that my injury is not worse. Initially, I thought I would be 12 weeks with zero activity after the injection. That idea nearly sent me into a panic attack.

I am just trying to process how I am going to do this, what all it is going to mean. Ultimately, I will do just about anything to recover, to make the daily constant pain go away. Yet, a very nagging part of me is still lamenting what it is going to cost.

So expect even more posts not about running but more about not being able to run.

The saga continues…

Christina Bergling

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