Coming to terms with limitation and failure: my running days are over

Coming to terms with limitation and failure: my running days are over
My daughter and I in May 2011 after completing the Gold Nugget Triathlon.

I wanted to be a runner. Ever since I completed my first Couch to 5K class six or seven years ago, I caught the bug. I remember the first day that I was able to run for 30 minutes, the feeling of exhilaration and freedom. It was so empowering.

Once I was diagnosed with cancer, running became my way of fighting back and trying to reclaim my body. I felt betrayed by my body, and somehow running was my way of taking control.

And then I injured my knee and had to have surgery. My surgeon (I call him Eyore) was a very negative guy. He repeatedly told me that I shouldn’t ever run again. “Your running days are over.” He was actually the second orthopedic specialist who told me that.

I’ve been fighting to get back to running ever since, with some success. This fall I signed up for the Hot Chocolate 5K and started a training program to be ready by the end of October to run. Things were going well. I was looking forward to training and I was making visible progress.

Until the day I decided to break from the program and just run. At the 15 minute mark, running down hill, I overextended my knee. The Hot Chocolate 5K is over for me, just like that.

I’m limping again. The knee is swelling. I’m in pain. These things are irritating and frustrating. But life goes on. There is real suffering in this world, and, frankly, my knee just doesn’t rank on the hierarchy.

But, it ranks in my heart. I don’t want to succumb to black and white thinking, but I think it’s time for me to accept that running isn’t going to work for me.

As much as I want to heal this stupid joint and get back to training, I also want to live a normal, productive life. A life where I can walk my dog three miles a day, and work hard in the yard, and move around my kitchen with ease.

I’m starting to realize that my orthopedic surgeon is probably right. My running days are over. Accepting that means that I may have a much healthier body and a higher quality of life.

I love riding a bicycle, and I enjoy swimming. I love walking my dog. There are plenty of other ways to be fit and to feel empowered.

But this is hard. Running was a small part of my identity. It’s hard for me to run, and I have to concentrate to do it. I push myself when I run in ways that I never push myself. It was my way of fighting back.

Radical acceptance is about living in the moment. It is about learning to live with what life is. It is about letting go of the past and letting go of our deeply held visions of the future.

For me, it means giving up running for now, accepting that I’m likely never going to be a runner, and it means not wallowing in self pity about it.

I’m terrified of failure. Consequently, I live a fairly conservative life. I don’t push myself as hard as I should. You don’t fail if you don’t try hard things. I pushed myself on running. I ran in a public place where people could see how out of shape I am, where people could see how much I don’t look like a runner.

Running has been a risk for me. But it hasn’t worked out. What I’m struggling with now is accepting that it’s ok to fail. It’s ok to let go of this goal. I have limitations, like everybody else in the world. Dwelling on this one thing, on running, is getting in the way of other things I need to do.

It’s time to accept that my running days are over. And, sadness about this is ok, too. But, letting go might help me move to other things.

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