What do you do when you can’t run anymore

There’s a post sitting in my drafts on here that pontificates about just how much running means to me. I never finished it, because - ironically - I was part way through writing it when I injured my knee and it held back my training. Turns out, I probably won’t be able to run seriously again and that sucks.

When I was a teenager, I weighed 22 stone. I was a sensitive kid with a big appetite and I quickly learned to eat my feelings. I distinctly remember ordering a giant burger in a restaurant and eating so much I had to throw it all back up in the toilets. The more I put on weight, the less I did anything but sit around and eat and the more weight I put on.

Eventually, I was persuaded to play rugby for my school; more as my dad had played throughout his youth rather than through any concern about getting exercise. After all, losing weight isn’t something men are supposed to do; dieting is for girls.

So, I was left running my 22 stone around a rugby pitch and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t do me any good. I still remember my doctor telling me to “start jogging” at one point, like that would fix all my issues. Heavy exercise when you’re overweight can kill you — literally. At the very least, it can damage your body.

This is the main problem with shows like The Biggest Loser. Everyone is convinced that fat people are that way because they’re greedy. Just make them suffer for a bit to punish them for having eaten too much and they’ll go back to “normal”. Well, a quick check on Google will show you how much benefit those shows do participants in the long run.

In my case, an awkward tackle led me to go down hard. My highly-qualified coach helped me up and told me to “walk it off”. As soon as I put weight on my leg, it bent sideways at the knee. My coach went pale and nearly fainted.

Turned out, I had shredded my anterior cruciate ligament, one of the four muscles that connects your thigh bone to your shin bone. I could barely walk for weeks and missed a lot of school. After that, I couldn’t play rugby anymore and I had to wear a knee support to stop my knee from bending the wrong way if I stepped awkwardly.

I knew I needed to lose weight, I just had no idea how to do it, of course, as men don’t diet, so I just stopped eating. I would pretend I’d eaten breakfast before anyone else was awake, throw away my packed lunch at school, walk three miles home, say I’d eaten on the way and then exercise in my room for hours. I never weighed myself to see how much I lost, but it was a lot.

Of course, that kind of weight loss doesn’t stick and as soon as you get coupled up and comfortable, the weight tends to re-assert itself. It fluctuated for the rest of my life, but eventually I ended up back at 22 stone and my knee suffered. There had always been times when the knee played up and I had to wear a support for a while, but I really did a number on it slipping on a wet bathroom floor in a shopping centre, leaving me unable to walk for weeks once again.

This time, I did something almost as drastic, but slightly more healthy. I worked my arse off and lost eight stone, getting me down to the lowest weight I’d been. I’ve gone over the details in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat it all here, but one of the ways I accelerated the weight loss was by taking up running.

Initially, my wife dragged me along to watch her run and gradually nagged me into running for a few minutes at a time. She found that her hip flexor gave her pain and had to give it up, but I carried on.

I found I loved it.

Running is freedom. It forces you to be alone, without your phone, without TV, without anything but a little music and a good view if you know the right routes. It’s time to clear your head, be “mindful” and come out of it sweating buckets and buzzing on an endorphin high, with stretched out muscles and a huge sense of achievement.

I can’t understate the confidence boost you get from knowing that, should your train ever be cancelled, you could run home from work in a couple hours. From being a kid too fat to play with his friends, I was suddenly out running 10km before work. From 22 stone, I was now looking to get up to 22km for a half marathon.

That’s when it all started going wrong…

I ran my first 15km and finally managed to get my 5km time down to under 30 minutes, both in the same week. I flew out on a business trip and started walking to the conference I was attending.

As I was walking, my leg started to ache. By the time I arrived, I was limping. By the next week, I was wearing my knee support 24/7. By the week after, I’d had to buy a walking stick.

I thought it would get better and it did. I don’t need a support or a stick any more, but I’m still not up to running. I was referred to a physio and this week he told me that if I carried on running, I’d probably end up needing a knee replacement. Basically, the damaged bit of my knee was the shock absorber and, without it, my knee joint will crumble if I keep smacking my leg against the pavement.

So, no more running, and without exercise, I’ve started putting on weight again; 2.5 stone now, so I’m back on the crazy diet again and it all feels somewhat as if being fat and out of shape is my destiny.

I’ve abandoned this miserable shitpost half-written about four times now. I don’t particularly feel like anyone should care about my troubles. However, plenty of people have told me that my weight loss inspired them to work on their own fitness and I don’t want my Runkeeper posts to vanish and pictures of me with regained weight to appear without explanation, for their sake.

I want to make sure that anyone who felt inspired that I could lose weight, and might now be worried that losing weight is impossible given my setback, knows that changing your life is still possible. There is a line from the second of the three attempts to revive the Rocky franchise that has stuck with me, while the film was largely forgettable:

Enjoy this awful quality clip and Sly’s pause-face…
Let me tell you something you already know: the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.

Thin, beautiful, rich, successful, professional athlete; everything you own is only yours through providence and something can happen to take it all away in the blink of an eye at any particular moment. The commiseration when it does, or if you never had anything worthwhile to begin with, is that your curse is as much a fluke of fate as any gift anyone has ever been blessed with; and you no more deserve to suffer with your problems than Trump deserves to be president.

Every single person living will end up ugly, infirm, senile and probably incontinent, in the end, so there really is very little point in priding yourself on your own wonderfulness. The only thing you can do, the only way to claim any dignity back when life takes a huge dump over everything you have, is to get back up and keep on going.

If you’re not happy, do what it takes to become happy. If you do that and then lose it all again, dust yourself off and start over. That’s the only thing that makes you worth a damn, not what you have but how much you can lose before giving up.

I’m not giving up.

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