Running was my escape, my excuse to go outside, sweat off stress and let my body as well as my mind run free.
Sometimes I had to force myself to run, but it usually felt great once the heart rate rose, muscles warmed and sweat flowed. And I almost always felt better afterward. I usually didn’t run very far or very fast – little more than a jog – but I loved every mile.
For 35 years, I ran through injuries – sprained ankles, tweaked muscles, Achilles tendinitis. It rarely sidelined me for more than a day or two.
And then everything came to a halt. A nagging pain in my right hip surfaced several years ago. I made myself run through the pain. But about nine months ago, I couldn’t ignore the pain any more. Shuffling through one or two miles left me wincing and popping Advil for two days. Lifting my leg to get into the car was excruciating. Co-workers wondered why I always limped.
And so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when my orthopedist pointed to my X-rays and told me why it hurt so much to run. I had arthritis in my right hip. Bone on bone.
Just like that, my running days were over at age 59. I gave myself permission to stop running.
But here’s the thing: I really miss running. I didn’t understand it when I was logging all those miles, but running became part of my identity. I was a runner. Sure, I was a lot of other things – a husband, a father, grandfather, a sports editor – but I also became a runner. And for an ex-jock who was always hyper-competitive, though not all that talented, that was something I valued.
And now it is something I miss.
I’m struggling to find a physical – and mental – outlet. I realize it should be as simple as finding a new activity to burn calories, but here I am nine months after my running career hit a stop sign, 10 pounds heavier and a little lost. I need help.
Nothing is filling the hole. Walks with my two Beagles? They’re nice, but not the same (my 10-year-old Beagle, Willie, who use to hide when I put on my running shoes, now happily runs to the door in anticipation when I lace ’em up. I wish I had the same enthusiasm.) The elliptical machine we bought for my wife sits in a corner and mocks me. I use it about once a week, but I’ve found it’s boring. My 30-year-old son Derek lured me out to play basketball last week, and it was great exercise and a lot of fun. But I’m not sure what hurt worse – my hip or my pride after missing all those easy shots. I lift weights three or four times per week, but I don’t need a personal trainer to tell me why an anaerobic activity can’t replace running.
Swimming? I sink like a rock and hate chlorine in my nose. The only time I like to swim is on Maui when there’s a cold drink waiting for me on the beach. Cycling? Sounds good in theory, but I’ve always viewed Lycra-clad bicyclists with the same suspicion non-runners likely viewed me.
I read Monday’s Take 2 from freelance contributor Christine Blanchette with suggestions on what to do when you can’t run. One of her tips was to run in water. Great. The thing I loved to do (running) combined with something I hate (water). I’ll pass.
I’m so desperate that I’m actually watching those late-night exercise infomercials populated by former couch potatoes with rock-hard abs. The P90X DVDs loaned to me by my youngest son gather dust right in the same room as the elliptical machine.
So I’m reaching out for your help and your suggestions. I can’t be the only person who had to give up an activity or lifestyle he or she loved. What did you do? Tell me how you filled the void. Email me or leave a comment with your suggestions.
I promise to listen – as soon as I take the dogs for another boring walk.
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My wife and friends have good intentions, but they don’t understand.