At the beginning of 2019 I made a resolution to run. For health, for fitness, and overall general well-being. I had always enjoyed hiking and walking over the years and was looking to get into a positive healthy habit to get in shape and lose some weight. Now, if you are like me, I thought running entailed putting on my sneakers, walking outside, and then…well…running. And, on the most basic surface level I suppose I was correct. In actuality, the sport tends to be slightly more complicated than this, as I soon found out, to my own detriment.

I started out with some short runs 1-3 miles through the neighborhood at a pretty easy pace, over the course of a couple weeks. I felt great. It felt easy. And, best of all I quickly experienced what I had heard so many athletes speak about before – runners high. That rush of endorphins and good feelings that was supremely effective at boosting my mood and well-being. I was in love with my new hobby, and I was determined. These short runs were great and all but, I wanted to see how far I could go. How much I could push myself. With firm resolve, I set about my task, and attempted to run 10 miles. 10 MILES. In a new pair of shoes, nonetheless. A novice, a rookie, with almost no training, limited leg/core strength and functionality, attempting to run a 10K-plus right out of the gate. At mile 6 my legs were screaming at me, writhing in pulsating pain and agony. My lungs were on fire. My left knee felt almost completely numb. The arch of my left foot was covered in angry red splotches and blisters. Despite my ironclad resolve to prove to myself that I could run 10 miles, I quickly realized that I was finished. I limped along the streets of central phoenix, eventually resigned to the fact that even that was too difficult at this point, ordered a Lyft off my phone, and went home. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.

I awoke the next morning to a stiff, stabbing, ice cold pain enveloping my left kneecap. It hurt to get out of bed. It hurt to walk. It hurt to put my shoes on. It hurt to walk up and down stairs. It even hurt to sit at my desk at work. It hurt to do nothing at all. Nothing I did seemed to alleviate the pain. I continued to try and run lightly and was met with a sense of crushing defeat when I realized my body would not cooperate. After consulting with others who had some experience with the sport, and a physician, it was determined that I had incurred a nasty case of Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as “runner’s knee.” I spoke with a co-worker who used to run track in high school – she informed me I was looking at a long-term recovery period, wherein I may not be able to run pain free, at any distance, for months, even up to years in some cases. My newfound excitement for physical fitness and development seemed to come to a screeching halt overnight. Needless to say, I was devastated.

The doctor recommended physical therapy, rest, and cross training. My father, who has an entire life’s worth of experience as a hardened athlete, urged the same. He also told me if I didn’t address the issue at its core, it could worsen easily, and become a chronic problem that I wouldn’t ever be truly rid of. But alas, people like myself, of the addict persuasion, tend to learn things the hard way. I was foolish. I did some mild physical therapy, rested up for about a month or so and decided I was good to go. The underlying reason so many people incur these pain syndromes related to running is almost always due to muscle imbalances, poor core strength, over/under pronation, and mobility issues. Basically, you need to diligently work on strength training and flexibility. You need to get strong to run, to train, you need to work slow and steady, to a point where you can truly let loose and run pain free with impunity. It takes time. But, like so many times in my life before, I jumped the gun. To hell with learned physicians and career athletes’ advice; I figured after a month I was game to redline it down Maryland Ave at a million miles an hour. As you can probably guess, this didn’t come off so well.

I found myself laid out for the second time. I was frustrated. I saw others running outside with seemingly no issues whatsoever. I read about athletes running ultra-marathons – 50 to 100 miles and felt the sharp sting of jealousy. Why couldn’t I just do this thing that I wanted so badly to do? How difficult could it really be? People have been running for thousands of years. Alas, as long as my obstinance persisted, so too did my knee pain and weakness. I failed to take heed to more experienced individuals than I. I disregarded instructions and dove headlong into what I felt was the right course of action. I tried to run before I could walk.

As we find ourselves on the verge of not just a new year, but an entirely new decade, many of us will be making resolutions. They might be simple: dieting, quitting a bad habit, exercising more often, better self-care, etc. They may be more complicated as well – maybe we’re ready to take a giant leap of faith and seek treatment for alcoholism, addiction, mental health/emotional issues, or serious family problems. Whatever the case may be, I’d hazard a guess that several people will make the same mistake that I did this past year and bite off far more than they could ever hope to chew. Be realistic. Be practical. Set honest and simple goals for yourself and take them piecemeal, one day and step at a time. Sometimes folks will ask me what the most important decision I made was on my road to recovery from addiction, what the catalyst was for the most major psychic change and shift in behavior was that finally allowed me to walk the Earth as a free man. And every time, I say the same thing: I became willing to take suggestions. Taking suggestions. It’s as simple as that. Learn to accept the fact that maybe we don’t know what’s best in every given situation. Learn to internalize the staid truth that we need assistance, guidance, and counsel from others when we find ourselves in unfamiliar, treacherous territory. The ego is a mighty, powerful entity that will attempt at every turn to dissuade you from these simple truths. It can only be vanquished by acceptance, willingness, and full, complete trust in God. Maybe you’ll be like me and learn things the hard way. Or maybe today you can read this and see how silly it is to injure yourself consistently just because you thought you knew better.

I’m happy to say that my knee is slowly getting better. About a month ago, after continuously pummeling myself into submission with my attempts to run through the pain for an entire year, I gave up. I had had enough. I wholly and completely came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do it on my own with the knowledge and ability I had. I got back into physical therapy. I asked my dad, being the Ironman and marathon runner that he is, to work with me on a training plan. Most importantly, I listened. I took their suggestions. With their guidance and explicit instruction, I am finding true healing and personal growth. Not just in the physical sense – but in the grand scheme of life itself.

In just 3 months I’ll be running my first race, a ½ marathon trail run alongside a close friend and my dad and I couldn’t be more excited. What once seemed unimaginable to me is slowly becoming a reality, simply due to the fact that I let go, accepted my own shortcomings, listened to what others had to say and trusted them, and God with the outcome. Be wise my friends. Be well. Accept the help that is so freely given among your brothers and sisters; someday you’ll be the hand offering to pick someone else back up.

Peace be with you,

Sean – In Recovery

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