Running: The Upside of Injury

What I love about being sidelined

I am grateful not to be one of those runners who are perpetually injured. You know the type: If it’s not a tight IT band, it’s a sore Achilles or a case of shin splints. And when I do get hurt, I’m not the sort of person who “runs through it”; I take note when my body speaks up with an urgent “Ow!” Which is why, since mid-March, I’ve been running a whole lot less than usual, thanks to a bout of patellofemoral pain syndrome (codename: runner’s knee).

When the pain started, I seriously slashed my miles and devoted the time I’d normally spend running to figuring out what’s wrong. One X-ray, an MRI and several doctor’s appointments later, I learned that I have a trio of pain-causing circumstances: 1) muscle imbalances in my legs, which have led to the runner’s knee; 2) a meniscus that’s either damaged or torn—my doctor couldn’t say for sure, since the MRI didn’t give a totally clear picture; and 3) arthritis, at this ripe old age of 27. I began going to twice-weekly physical therapy appointments, where I’ve been strengthening my hips and hamstrings, to support my knee and help the joint move as it should, and my core muscles, which will help me keep good running form and prevent undue strain on my knee.

Happily, now that I’m getting stronger and feeling almost no knee pain, my physical therapist is letting me not only run a few times a week, but also steadily build mileage.

And this brings me to my favorite part of not being able to run: the re-experiencing of that initial runner’s high, the feeling you once got when you learned for the first time just how good it feels to let loose and hit the roads—the feeling you inevitably lose as you become a more experienced runner. When I began running as a college freshman, it thrilled me, this new activity wherein I ditched my books, huffed and puffed a couple loops around the campus, and returned to my dorm feeling strong, confident and capable. As the years passed, and the bibs from past races accumulated on my bedroom wall, the distance between that feeling and me grew.

That feeling is one I wish I could bottle up and store for the days when I need a little bit more from my runs. And while it’s been tough to miss the Broad Street Run in May, process my day-to-day stress without the release of running, and realize there’s virtually no chance I’ll run another marathon before 2012, this silver lining sure has made things easier.