Will there come a day when running is an enjoyable, exhilarating experience? When the challenge is outweighed by the rewards of increased energy, stamina, and strength? Conventional wisdom says that it takes a certain level of fitness before jogging is no longer arduous, painful, and exhausting and that once this fitness threshold is surpassed I can expect a flood of positive feelings along with the wind in my hair. I used to doubt this commonly-held truth, but I feel a new optimism today. I'll tell you why!
I tried to be a runner about ten years ago, and had a happy week or two of pushing through the burning lungs, pounding heart, and aching legs before blowing out a previously injured knee and spending a couple of weeks on crutches. I went to an orthopedic surgeon who recommended surgery (I opted out), said it was the loosest joint he'd ever seen that was still being walked on, and warned me off jogging. Years passed.
Two years ago, after some months of steadily-improving knee health, I ran two miles on a whim. I confess, that's the furthest I've jogged this decade. That's a terrible thing to admit, seeing as our species evolved for a life of daily prolonged cardiovascular effort, but at least I've been hiking, muleback riding, and cycling since. I haven't passed EVERY intervening hour on the couch! Anyway, I ran two miles in average running shoes with no regard whatsoever to my technique, which was at that time heavy on the heel-strike. My knees, which are pretty torn-up (with a completely torn ACL in the right knee, a partially-torn and now recovered MCL in the left knee, and trashed menisci in both), resented me for it. They were stiff, swollen, and bruised for days afterward and I decided jogging wasn't the sport for me. "I'm damaged goods," I told myself. "Barely pasture sound." My knees made a wonderful excuse for a sedentary lifestyle.
Since then, I've been brought over to the "barefoot"* side of things. I jogged a very little in handmade haurachas this summer. (By little, I mean less than half a mile per run). I learned, from a distance-runner friend, that a toe- or midfoot-strike can take a huge amount of concussion off the knees and instead dole it out among the many shock-absorbing joints of the foot and ankle. I read a little about running, watched a few video tutorials, and ran across the lawn with a new focus on my footfall. Most of all, I took inspiration from a friend who has powered through similar knee pain and become an accomplished long-distance trail runner.
It took Mr. Puddle Run's new interest in jogging (he's been going out almost every day for the last few weeks) to get me practicing what I preached, and I finally tried jogging again. I started last week with laps around the pasture. This isn't saying much: my pasture measures merely 170 feet on each side. I ran yesterday, covering two miles total but throwing in some ample walk breaks when my knees got too achey, and I ran again today. It was a little bit easier. I did it in some very simple shoes—no padding, no heel height, no frills—and it felt good.
I'd say my past running troubles have stemmed partly from footwear, partly from poor technique, partly from old injuries, and mostly from laziness and procrastination. I can't promise that I'll keep up with this fitness plan, but I will promise to try. Ask me about it in a week or two, please—I'd really like your encouragement to stick with it!
*I don't really mean "bare."I still wear shoes. I try to shop for minimal shoes that allow my foot to function in roughly the same manner, mechanically, as a naked one. I admire those who truly go without footwear but it's not how I'm using the term in this post.