A running junkie’s withdrawals

I will be OK as long as I can consistently keep in my bloodstream a steady flow of that magical stuff with which running injects my psyche.

Alternate headlines — “how not running has made me a miserable bitch”, “Crazy, fat and pitiful”, or “I know I am a self-absorbed whiner, but allow me to continue” or, for Google-bility, “Running injury recovery.”

Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega

Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega

As many of my friends and readers of our city’s daily paper already understand, I have gone through drug withdrawals. Bad ones. If you want to know the whole gory story, my memoir-ette won a prize in 2011 and was published in a literary journal, and an excerpt ran in the Morning News last year.

But, as badass as it makes me sound, I am not here to brag about my drug addiction, jail time, rehab. The reason I bring it up is because withdrawal from running, though not nearly as intense, bears a striking resemblance to withdrawal from opiates.

As with drugs, I did not quit running because I wanted to. I quit because I was badly injured and had no choice.

Hitting bottom

In classic denial, through the end of springtime, I ran on a fasciitis-riddled plantar as my pace progressively slowed and my well-practiced gait deteriorated into an awkward unbalanced trot.

In desperation I paid a podiatrist some $300 to inject my feet with cortisone; the result was nil.

My intervention came in the form of firm lectures from my training partners Paul Agruso and Chris Stratton, strongly worded Facebook comments (this isn’t going away, was the overriding theme, peppered with some heartfelt sympathy) and, finally my coach’s refusal to further enable me.

After my planned spring marathon (Vancouver) came and went (I did not go), and after I — in a period of grief following my grandfather’s death — decided to walk 50 miles in one night, Coach informed me that he would not coach me for the October St. George marathon. It wasn’t going to happen, he said. He called it tough love, told me to stop running for six to eight weeks, let my foot heal … he didn’t come out and say this, exactly, but I felt that his point was this: If I train you in this condition, you are going to run that marathon very poorly and you will embarrass yourself and thus so you will embarrass me,  your coach.

Acceptance 

I breathed and exhaled deeply as I read his email — the bittersweet sigh of relief that accompanies surrender.

He did give me motivation. If you take 6-8 weeks off he promised me, I will coach you for your next marathon for free.

The first week of not running was not so bad. I went to movies, read books — I recommend A Visit From the Goon Squad, The Dinner, The Interestings, Outliers, American Pastoral, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: the biography of David Foster Wallace, Back to Blood, Beautiful Ruins (and those are just the ones I liked). I haven’t read so much since my stint in county.

I worked excessively, insomniaticly, irritatingly coming up with all kinds of new ideas for The Advocate’s print and digital publications. I made grand plans that hadn’t a chance of seeing follow-through or fruition. Looking back at that brief period during which no one dropped by my office or asked me to lunch, I think I drove my coworkers away from my line of panic-driven, pseudo-creative fire. I shopped like a the rich teenager in the 1995 classic “Clueless” until Chase Bank alerted me that they had to draw from my savings account to cover a debit card purchase.

Yeah, it was about that time that the withdrawal really kicked in.

Misery

Insomnia, anxiety attacks, irritability. Then there was the sleepiness. I slept for 21 hours one day. Instead of rising at 5 a.m., I began struggling to wrest myself from bed by 7:30 or 8. My ability to write seemed to dwindle—that aforementioned mental fire snuffed out. Some Saturdays I spent in my dark bedroom until noon brooding over my running-group members’ social media updates.

Then there was the worst thing of all …

Let me preface by saying, I mean, it’s not the worst thing that could happen to a person. My friend Angela, while I was going through all this, learned she had cancer for Christ’s sake. Do yourself a favor, stop reading this drivel and go follow her blog. She is a giant inspiration.

Still here? You must be a runner. A glutton for punishment. Where was I? Ah yes, the worst day of all of this shit was the day I stepped on a scale at the doctor’s office. EIGHT POUNDS. I’ve gained eight pounds.

My jeans had felt a bit snug, now that I thought about it. Oh my God. No. I suddenly pined, heartsick, for the days of high mileage and inconsequential nonstop eating.

I am between 5’4-5’5 tall with strong potential for stockiness [stubby thickness], so even two pounds on my frame is noticeable. An eight-pound gain is just a stinging stunning bitch slap.

My thyroid medication probably needs to be adjusted, the doctor said. It could explain the mood swings, brain fog, weight gain, digestive issues and headaches. I knew that wasn’t it. I was experiencing classic withdrawal symptoms.

I was in familiar, miserable territory.

The sort of thing I can have anytime, provided I am running 80 miles a week.

The sort of thing I can have anytime, provided I am running 80 miles a week.

I tried to explain that, while my lack of thyroid historically has been a source of my health problems, this time it was my lack of sweat.  My lack of pounding the pavement, sprinting ‘til I puke, struggling up a steep hill, tumbling on the trails, yammering with my friends about ideal marathon weather, fartleks and V02 max.

Dismissively, she suggested something for inflammation, Valerian root and a gluten-free diet.  I resisted the powerful urge to pull out a clump of her perfectly coifed hair.

Recovery

After that, I began moderately exercising a bit. I tried pool running, which I liked, but I have the pool from hell, currently algae infested.

I bought a pair of densely padded Hoka One Ones and wore them to the gym where I found that walking and climbing on the Stairmaster was foot-pain free — no impact and I don’t land on my heel at all — and I could at least make my heart race and work up a good sweat.  [Still, I suffer from several pounds of flesh on my body that I DO NOT WANT.]

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Hoka One Ones, my special, cushy shoes

Coach finally contacted me three weeks ago, which marked six full weeks of no running. He was pleased that I had followed instructions and we started with a schedule of 20-minute runs every other day.

The runs would be at a tempo level, pushing max heart rate, in order to improve my fitness quickly without stressing my body too much, he said.

The first of these sessions was performed at Lake Highlands High School’s track. It was 100 degrees at 6 p.m. Underestimating the potential power of a 20 minute run, I started out at about a 6.5 minute mile pace. That didn’t work. Within five minutes, my heart felt like it was going to burst through my chest and explode midair like an overinflated balloon. The subsequent workouts have been run at between a 7:05-7:15 minute-mile pace with a little push at the end.

I am a far cry from where I was last fall, but, hey, I am running again. I will be OK as long as I can consistently keep in my bloodstream a steady flow of that magical stuff with which running injects my psyche.

About Christina Hughes Babb

I live in Dallas and work as the managing editor at Advocate magazines, where we cover city news, happenings and human interest stories across the Dallas area. I also love to run, and maybe even more than that, I love to talk about running. My family members and co-workers might call that an understatement. OK, so I am bit preoccupied with the topic. I love the term, kick. It represents finishing power in racing, and quitting power when it comes to destructive habits. That's why I named the blog Kick. Follow @chughesbabb onTwitter View all posts by Christina Hughes Babb

4 responses to “A running junkie’s withdrawals

  • Jen Rucker

    I feel your pain, dealing with PF in both feet, Have not ran since March, and everything you have said, is so true. If you are not a runner you don’t get this. My friends think that I am crazy for feeling this way. I cried for a month every time I saw someone running. Thanks for the good words and it is good to know I am not the only one who is feeling this

  • Brent Woodle

    I’m glad to hear you are running pain free these days Christina. I’ve got my own worries about running with some mild plantar and I’m worried about how I’ll handle it if I need to take an extended break. This piece was a good reality check and I’m glad you shared it.

  • Training is done, all that’s left is to run | Kick

    […] After a serious reckoning over a case of plantar fasciitis last spring, I ditched my Vancouver and St. George marathon plans and took some time off. It was awful. […]

  • Mind Margins

    I just found your post buried in email from when I was going through chemo and was too brain-dead to read anything. I wish I had known what you were going through at the same time I was going through chemo. You are such an inspiration to many of us, Christina, and I love reading anything you write. Ironically, the entire six months of surgery and chemo I had horrible PF. I had ignored it during running before the diagnosis, so at least having cancer forced me to give it some rest. Funny how the universe seemed to send that little wake-up call to me!

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