Everything was going swimmingly. In February I proudly amassed 184.8 miles without going batshit crazy with long distances. Merely running most days, sometimes twice, though admittedly without a foam roller or an elaborate set of dynamic stretches in sight. And then disaster struck.
Last month my milometer totalled zero. Nada. Zilch. The reason for this dramatic decline, a fateful morning run-commute which lasted only a few yards. My abdomen yelled in excruciating agony. Shooting chest pains, leaving me bent double, struggling to walk let alone jog. The intense sense of discomfort lessened as the hours passed, but I was still grimacing a few days later. No more parkruns, no more run-commuting, no more endorphins. I’d been relegated to the non-runner’s corner, longingly eyeing other runners and reading their endeavours with more than a hint of jealousy and frustration.
At the beginning, on reflection, I experienced a mild dose of denial. A bit of rest would be beneficial – after all, running is fraught with aches and pains – and that I’d be back pounding the pavements in a matter of days rather than weeks. That self-diagnosis was naively ignorant of the promises I’d conceded to concerned family members that I wouldn’t be lacing up my trainers until I’d got properly checked out. A sensible resolution given that I’d almost lost my Dad two years earlier to a near fatal cardiac arrest.
Having to come to terms with putting a habitual part of my daily life on the backburner has, understandably, proved a challenge. I’m clearly not alone in this. A study by psychologists Robbins and Joseph (1985) examined the types and frequency of sensations experienced by committed runners when required to miss a run or a series of runs. The majority of the 345 sample of runners reported some kind of distress, including irritability, restlessness, frustration, guilt, and depression.
Exercise withdrawal isn’t unusual when you consider it in the greater scheme of things. Whenever you have to relinquish something that is a defining part of your life and who you are, withdrawal occurs. I can certainly empathise with the participants cited in Robbins and Joseph’s research. I’ve felt a mixture of agitation, annoyance, crankiness, as well as an expanding waistline.
Fortunately the GP’s verdict is positive, giving me a clear bill of health, albeit with a slightly higher cholesterol than average. The ECG revealed no abnormalities and my chances of experiencing a heart attack in the next ten years is 1.5%. In the last week I have gradually been getting back into the routine of running. My first foray after a protracted six week layoff was an inglorious return – a stuttering 3.3 miles – but sometimes it is the sense of loss that makes you appreciate things even more.