I wrote previously about my journey to identify myself as an "athlete." But I didn't delve in that post into another significant factor to my identity as a "non-athlete," which is my unique physiology.
I have had trouble since adolescence with cracking and pain in my knees, although teasing about how I walked and ran "like a duck" began in elementary school. General consensus was that I was too lazy to point my feet forward. It wasn't until I consulted with a sports podiatrist in high school that anyone ever pointed out that my feet and knees simply didn't go in the same direction. When my knees point forward (as they should), my feet naturally splay out at about a 30 degree angle (relative to straight ahead). If I turn my feet to point forward (which looks "normal" and makes other people more at ease), my knees point inward--alignment not conducive to walking or running, hence the years of discomfort and noise.
With this as my starting point, it's little wonder that I thought of myself as incapable of doing anything vaguely athletic. After all, my body wasn't built right for physical activity. And more than simply physical pain, running gave me plenty of the emotional variety, as well, as invariably someone pointed out how spastic I looked when attempting it.
How to run in a body so obviously not equipped for running? After I was inspired to try and start running in the spring of 2007, co-workers assured me that I would be fine with the "right" running shoes. I went to a fancy (i.e. "elitist") running store, and was equipped with a pair of fancy (i.e. "really stinkin' expensive") shoes. After all that expert advice and all those dollars, I should have been golden right? Right! Especially if by "golden," you mean "mega-dosing ibuprofen and ice after every run, none longer than three miles"! Yeah, I hurt.
But somehow, the aching and swelling didn't phase me. I told myself that I was a novice runner, with congenital knee problems, and conventional wisdom said that running is just hard on the human body, irrespective of the level of experience. I took the pain in stride (HA! Get it? See what I did there? Running pun! Ahem.)
To play Junior Psychoanalyst with myself for a moment, and with the benefit of four years' hindsight, I suspect I still harbored vestiges of the idea that I was not truly an athlete, and so the constant pain I was in as a result of running merely served to reinforce that. As if I "deserved" to hurt for trying to do something I really couldn't.
In spite of the difficulty and pain, I completed my first 5K in June 2007. Then life intervened, as it so often does. I underwent a personal and professional situation that left me reeling, grappling with my sense of identity and self-worth. During this time, running did not make it to the top of my "to do" list. When I started to come out on the other side of this crisis a few months later, I tried to get back into running--but I just couldn't. It hurt too much. The physical pain in my knees, on top of the still-fresh emotional and mental wounds, was more than I could take on.
What turned things around? How did I ever get from that point to this one? Stay tuned for more . . .