Friday, November 29, 2013

Mentally Becoming A Runner

About seven weeks ago, I decided I was going to attempt running. For more of the back story on that, you can read about it here: Running, Sjögren's, Races, and Disney.

As I mentioned in that blog post, this running thing is a big deal. First and foremost, it is a big deal because of my autoimmune issues, which include problems with my joints, asthma, fatigue, etc. The second reason it is a big deal is because I was told that I would never be a runner due to these issues. I will admit, it has been a challenging seven weeks. The very first time I ran, I thought there was no way in hell I could keep this up, never mind get up to the 3.1 miles needed to run my first 5K. At that point, a race was just a pipe dream.

For the first two or three weeks, I would run only a mile, and then feel like I was going to die afterwards. But also like I mentioned in the previous blog entry, I became very dedicated to doing strength training and other activities, such as yoga and Pilates, which would help prevent injury and make me a stronger runner. This week, I was able to run 2.30 miles; all at once even! It was an amazing accomplishment.

This blog entry is about more than that though. It is about the mindset we have and the self-esteem issues that sometimes haunt us well into our adulthood. Never an easy thing to write about and then present to the entire world in a blog. My thought is that if I feel this way, my guess is there are other people with similar thoughts and fears. It's important for all of us to know that we are not alone.

During my first few weeks of running, I ran into some significant issues with inner knee pain. I had been fitted for running shoes at a specialty running store years ago, as I wear them for any type of exercise. My current pair was only about two months old. I also had orthotic inserts in my running shoes that an orthopedic doctor suggested earlier this year when I developed plantar fasciitis. I wasn't sure if the knee pain was from my joints, from being new at running, from being overweight, or what have you. I was getting concerned that I had to ice my knees after every run. I did some research and found out that it was possible that the type of running sneaker I had, in addition to the orthotics, might be too much for me. I then came across the website for a running store in West Hartford, CT called Fleet Feet. Their website had an injury section and which stated that they had a full-time Sports Medicine Director/Athletic Trainer on staff, Stacy Provencher. Furthermore, they offered free injury assessments and could make recommendations based on the assessment. I thought maybe this was a person who could help me, so we set up an appointment.

Here is where I ran into problems. I had been to a running store before and had felt uncomfortable, but it was a few years ago, it was a very small store, and there were no other customers in the store while I was there. But this running store was much bigger and it was relatively busy for mid-week.

I felt self-conscious; and I mean VERY self-conscious.

See, I don't look like a stereotypical runner. I am overweight, a bit klutzy, and it is possible that the only reason I can run at all is right now because I am on a course of prednisone. As I was walking up the street from my car towards the store, I felt like an impostor. Like I was just pretending to be a runner. Like I didn't belong.

This is not the first time I have felt self-conscious about running. I have felt the same way when I pass other runners pounding the same pavement as me. Up until last week, I wouldn't even run with another person, no matter who they were...not even my husband. I thought I looked too awkward and ran too slow. But as the weeks went on, I began to realize one thing: I AM a runner. I work just as hard, probably even harder than most people who do not have autoimmune issues, just to run a mile. However as I walked into that running tore, my new-found confidence evaporated.

I knew they would be doing an analysis of my running on a treadmill. I don't run my entire run; I use the Jeff Galloway run/walk method. At the time, I was running a minute, walking a minute, running a minute and switching off like that every minute. So essentially, I was only actually running 1/2 a mile. What if I couldn't run long enough to do the analysis? What if everyone stared at me wondering what the fat girl was doing in a running store?

You know what? I had a great experience at Fleet Feet. Stacy was great and treated me just like any other runner. She analyzed my gait and put me through various tests. We determined that my current shoes and orthotics were fine for now. It seemed to be that the issue was not actually with my knees, but with my hips. I had hip weakness, which directly affects the knees. She also though that part of the issue could be I was a new runner. She gave me some ideas for strengthening exercises I could do and just as importantly, introduced me to the foam roller. I will do a blog entry about the foam roller at a later date because it is just that awesome.

After my assessment with Stacy, I wanted to just pay for my foam roller and leave. But, the thing was, there was stuff I wanted to look at. There was all kinds of neat running gear and I had been wanting to try some specialty running socks to see if they made a difference for my feet. I forced myself to take my time and browse through the store, just like I would if I was at a regular department store. I made eye contact with people. I acted like I belonged there. It wasn't easy, but there is something to be said for the phrase "fake it till you make it."

On the drive home from the store, I realized that while I am sure there are people who make judgments about overweight runners, the majority of my fear and insecurity was in my own imagination. Sure I know I am a slow runner and my cardiovascular status could use a lot of improving, but you know what? I am out there. I run when I am tired or when it rains. I run when it is ten degrees out and sometimes as early as 7:30am if it is the only time of day I can get it done. That is what makes me a runner; not the shape of my body or how my butt looks in spandex.

Since my appointment with Stacy and having worked on my strengthening, stretching, and cross training, my knee pain has disappeared. Of course I get leg pain later in the day on the days that I run and boy, do my muscles hurt at times, but I am no longer fearful that I am doing something to hurt my body. I no longer have to ice my knees after runs and I can feel the strength developing in my hips; not to mention how much stronger my legs look and feel.

I do belong in the running world because runners are dedicated and determined. They are courageous. Because I am weaning down on my prednisone dose, I cannot predict how this is all going to turn out for me. What I do know is that in thirty-four days, I will be running  my first race: a 5K on New Year's Day.

A race to start fresh a new year.
My first full year as a runner.

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