Running Update #2 – Progress Isn’t Linear

Progress isn’t linear.

We think it is. We want it to be. But it isn’t. Two weeks ago, I was reminded of this when I started having knee pain again. Except, um, in my other knee? WTF BODY.

I was hoping this next knee/running update would be a little more encouraging — I was hoping I would be able to tell you that I’ve been able to run for longer than 30 seconds to a minute, but unfortunately, that is not yet the case.

From one of my 30 sec on / 30 sec off runs.

I realize now that when I set my goal of running three miles by the end of the year (sans knee pain, which is the tricky part, of course), I had already written my story in my head. It would be hard. I would have to start very, very, very slow. I would have to listen to my body. I would have to start very, very, very small with hip mobility stretches and calf raises and toe yoga. There would be setbacks, naturally, but of course I would overcome. I even wrote a piece for Runner’s World about trusting my starting place — I was confident that I was giving myself the space to be successful and that I could deal with potential setbacks.

What I failed to remember (and I should know better) is how goddamn discouraging those setbacks can be when you are in the weeds of them. It’s all fine and dandy to look back and say “ah, look what I overcame” but in the moment it’s a helluva lot harder because GUESS WHAT? You don’t know that you’re going to overcome this at all. You don’t know how your story is going to end because it’s not a novel, it’s your real life. And that can make even the littlest things, the things that will later be a blip on your radar (like a week of knee niggles), feel like a mother-effing apocalypse.

I know this. I know better. I have been here before – oh so many times. And yet, still, I sometimes let the doubt creep in and I massively overreact to things that are just, at the end of the day, blips. (Please do fill up the comments section assuring me I am not alone in this.)

So the update is basically as follows:

– After a month of good training on the bike and in the gym here in Tucson, I was finally working up to a few “mini runs” a week. Basically 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off on the way to the gym. Small potatoes, but progress none the less.

– Then my right knee started hurting and I ignored it because “that knee is fine.” If only I knew how to do emojis on my computer, I would put the facepalm one right here.

– We went to Sedona and Phoenix and did several rides that involved a lot of techy punchy climbing and not very good post ride recovery (read: I went and got Mexican food instead of stretching).

– My right knee hurt more. Duh.

– Because it was feeling left out, my other knee decided to start flaring up massively as well.

– We went back to Tucson, I took a few days off, and now I’m fine. Actually, I feel great. GO FIGURE.

Guys, this is why I’ve avoiding writing about my physical ailments on this blog in the past, because it’s basically like playing whack-a-mole with my joints and it’s just as hard to keep track of as it sounds. And also, it’s booooring. Boring in the worse way, which is to say both tedious and miserable at the same time.

But here’s the thing – this was a blip. I am still making progress. It was a setback, but not even a very big one. I haven’t been brave enough to try running more than a teeny bit since, but I probably will soon. My bike training was barely interrupted. In fact, adding a few extra rest days in whenever possible has been the name of the game for me this year, and so nothing really changed. Come to think of it, all the extra recovery I have incorporated this year is probably why this was a blip and not a major flare-up.

It was a blip that sucked at the time, but also one that inspired me to take some steps I might not have otherwise. I finally got in touch with nutritionist to start talking about diet and how mine might be affecting the way my body processes inflammation (poorly). It’s something I’ve been thinking I should do for ages, but I needed a kick in the butt. And honestly, while I had a few down hours thinking “oh my god this is impossible I’m never going to be the athlete I want to be blah blah blah,” I pulled myself out of this place quicker than usually and mentally I’m in a good place. I’m excited to trying new things and pushing myself to be a better and healthier athlete.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t ignore your blips, but recognize them for what they are. Listen to what they are telling you and then take a few breaths and deal with it. Recognize that you are deep in the weeds, that this is a setback, but that in three weeks it might barely even look like one. Remember that progress isn’t linear, and that it will all be okay.

[For previous posts about my journey back to running — click here.]

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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