A few weeks ago, my orthopedist let me know that I was looking at surgery to deal with the pains that started in my hip last October. The pains were caused by an impingement in my right hip, due to the shape and growth of the head of the femur, along with some tearing of the labrum in the hip socket. That diagnosis led to him suggesting a surgery that has an 80 to 85 percent chance of success. If the surgery does not succeed, it could lead to looking at a hip replacement.
While I wasn’t shocked that this was the course of action that we were going to have to take, it was still a sobering reminder of the fact that I am approaching a time in my life where participating in sports, or even simple exercising, could start to have large scale repercussions on my life and well being.
When I decided to take up running a few years ago, it wasn’t the first time in my life that I wanted to compete in long distance running. That began when I was 8 years old.
My parents divorced when I was 5 years old and over the next few years, my mother worked incredibly hard, taking on multiple jobs in order to support herself, my two sisters and myself. Eventually we left the town that I grew up in and we moved to a low cost (or poor, if you prefer) neighborhood in Madison, WI.
As a young boy who was confused about why his father wasn’t around and who didn’t fully understand why his Mom had to work so hard to pay to make ends meet, I gravitated to a man who paid a great deal of attention to me, my 3rd grade teacher. That teacher ended up abusing me and he indirectly led me to my interest in and propensity toward running.
When we moved after that school year, we ended up moving into a duplex in the small town of Deerfield, WI. The view from my bedroom in that duplex is one that I’ve never forgotten and through the magic of Google Maps, I can give you an approximate representation of what I still see when I close my eyes.
Every day that I woke, I could look out my window and see the track, across the street, that encircled the Deerfield High School football field, and when the weather was right, I would go out onto that track and run.
Running became an outlet for me as I tried to escape some of the issues that I was dealing with in my childhood. Having no knowledge of what therapy was and not knowing how to deal with what had happened to me, it made sense to run whenever I needed to get away from whatever problems were in my mind.
By the summer of 1984, and in the midst of the Olympic fever that was covering the United States, I was running lap after lap, nearly every day, and I felt that there was no doubt that I would be competing in long distance events for Team USA by the 1992 or 1996 Olympics.
Eventually though, running stopped being something I would only do for fun or exercise, but became something I did when I was scared or frightened as well. On multiple occasions, I ran from school when I made a mistake or things became too difficult to handle. Running wasn’t just an escape, it became the means to escape from my problems. I started to link the fear in my mind with the joy of the run and eventually, fear won out, and I stopped running.
A few years ago, I started to run again and I realized what a mistake it had been to give up this event that gave me such freedom and allowed my mind to operate with so much clarity. Ideas and problems that had been so hard to work out while I was sitting at home became easy to solve while I was in the midst of a long run.
The runs got longer and longer until I finally tackled my first half-marathon. I smiled as I crossed the finish line and saw my daughters and wife waiting there for me, proud that I had been able to accomplish such a challenging physical task. From that first half-marathon, I expanded out to three of them the following year, and with each race I became more and more comfortable and felt myself becoming more in tune with the runner inside of me.
Then a few days after my last half-marathon, the pains in my hip began and I started to feel pain on my right side with every stride. I pleaded with my body, through the means of rest, ice, and heat, that I would listen to, and take care of, it. I would let my body recover so that I could just keep on running. Eventually though, it became clear that rest and treatment alone weren’t going to solve the pains that had set in.
Depending on the events of my surgery, my running days may be coming to an end, as the doctor told me that some people who take up long distance running again at older ages sometimes do damage to their body that cannot be easily repaired at that stage in their life and he said that some people have to give up running when injuries such as these come up. Many of my friends, who do not run, have parroted that sentiment and have said that I should just give up running and focus on other sports and find different means of exercise without really understanding how important running has become for me.
As I look back on my past and the running that I’ve done, both mentally and physically, I have to hope that luck is on my side, because I know now that I’ve stopped running from things and that I need to keep running, not because I am escaping from something, but because it is taking me to where I want to go.