The 18th Minute, or: Running Stupid

I read an article in last month’s Runner’s World by a lifelong runner who’d been plagued by injuries but had successfully returned to running after changing his form. I didn’t save the piece, because I didn’t consider the possibility that it wouldn’t be posted online in the year 2012, but the basic point I remember was this: While the author was thrilled to be running again, he found that the constant string of mental cues he used to maintain his new form killed the joy that used to kick in around the 18th minute of every run. Before, when the 18th minute rolled around, he could shut off his brain and relax; now, that minute, and every other minute, came and went and he was just as keyed up as ever, thinking about running, not letting go.

I related. Related is a weak word; I wanted to pull out a highlighter and bracket key phrases and maybe hang the thing on my wall to remind me that I am not the only person who’s ever felt like a stranger in his or her own body while running. (And I’m not the only person: Lauren at Health on the Run recently wrote about running feeling mechanical, not peaceful, after an injury. Clearly, this is common.)

But honestly? I was never a runner whose mind switched off when her feet hit the ground. I started running when I was 25, after approximately 24 years of avoiding it, and it never felt easy or natural. I always felt awkward, lumbering down the sidewalk, feeling like I was taking up more space and making more noise than anyone around me. It was a lesser evil than the gym, so I kept doing it, but running didn’t click for me until I ran more than five miles and realized that my own joy came more from covering distance and being outside (and, frankly, getting caught up in entertaining podcasts) than from any particular freedom in the movement itself.

My “18th minute” is something a little different. I miss being an ignorant runner — in the ignorance-is-bliss sense of the word.

When I started running, I ran in some crap shoes from DSW. I … might have stretched — I was doing a lot of yoga at the time, so maybe I just got by with that — but I certainly didn’t know what a foam roller was. (A trainer at my gym tried to explain it once; I didn’t understand why sitting on the black hurty thing would be good for my workouts.) I didn’t think about how many miles per week I was running, or whether I was running too fast or too slowly, or whether I’d run too many days or not enough. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know that I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was awesome.

Sometime in that first spring of regular running, someone told me about Shoe Dog, a service at the local RoadRunner that would look at my gait and get me in proper running shoes. I got injured for the first time that summer, and saw a podiatrist, and got told my shoes were all wrong and my feet were a mess, and got orthotics, and got other shoes, and got injured, and got told my shoes were all wrong, and got injured, and I really don’t need to write the rest because if you just repeat that cycle about six times, you’ll get to today.

I also always got better, and I ran a bunch of 10Ks and half-marathons and learned to love longer and longer distances and had the confidence to sign up for a marathon. It shouldn’t sound like it was all dire, because it wasn’t all dire, or I would have ditched running for something else long ago.

But somewhere in the mess of shoes and insoles and resistance bands and PT exercises and spreadsheets calculating exactly what 10% weekly mileage increases look like, running became high-maintenance. Or rather, I became high-maintenance. I didn’t lose the sense of freedom and clarity and peace that came from running, because that was never my relationship with running. But I did lose the freedom and clarity and peace that came with knowing I could go for a damn run — when I wanted to, where I wanted to, for how long I wanted to, without worrying about whether I was going to have enough time to stretch and ice and MYRTL after and whether my glutes felt sufficiently activated.

Is that a breakable cycle?

Once you’ve been introduced to the things you are doing wrong (or “doing wrong,” or at the very least could be doing differently) in the world of running, is it possible to go back to running stupid?

I don’t know; I don’t even know if I would want to, because I look back and think about that 25-year-old who basically decided one day that she could run three miles in her DSW shoes because why not, and I think: Well, duh, you introduced your body to a whole new activity without any prep or care; of course you were going to get injured. But maybe that’s my high-maintenance brain stomping all over my young, silly, carefree brain, still stuck in its blissful but unsustainable 18th minute.

Now I’m picturing brains with feet and if I were Shelby I’d MS Paint the shit out of that, but I’m not, so I’ll shut up and end with a question: If you’ve gone through a similar ignorant-runner-(or -athlete-of-whatever-persuasion)-to-high-maintenance-runner/athlete transition, what do you miss about your old self? And what would you not want back?

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8 thoughts on “The 18th Minute, or: Running Stupid

  1. Kelly says:

    Oh man, sometimes I feel like “knowing too much” can really suck. It drives me a little crazy how many people want to change from heel striking to forefoot striking because they think it’s “better” and heel striking is “wrong.” But had they not been told that, the thought wouldn’t have crossed their mind, you know? I like being knowledgable (somewhat) about running and shudder at my early beginner mistakes, but it was kind of easier back when I knew nothing 🙂

    • kimretta says:

      I know! It seems like beginners don’t know that they don’t know stuff, and experts know enough to know what information to take and what to ignore, and then there’s everyone in the middle sorting through a bazillion pieces of contradictory information.

  2. Kristina says:

    I realize that most people discovered the world of Garmin years ago, but it’s a recently acquired tool for me and has become a bit of an obsession. I love it and I hate it – or I hate that I’ve let it become such a big f-ing deal to me. There was something nice about my old mindset of “Oh, I ran about 5 or 6 miles. Who cares – I felt great and then I stopped.”
    I do plan to embrace being “ignorant” this fall hen I’m not training for anything. And maybe that’s the trick? Keeping it more or less in balance.

    • kimretta says:

      Definitely! I started running with Nike+, so I never really had that phase of “just running,” but I’d love to try to fake it somehow. Run a new route and don’t measure it beforehand, maybe? Ha, it’s funny that I have so little idea how to unplug.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Hi Kimra, like you my first jump into running was pretty spontaneous and ‘uninformed’ – a pair of running shoes that looked pretty and a basic notion in my head that I wanted to work up to 30mins of running continuously. No stretching, no cross training, foam rollers etc.

    Unfortunately, that approach led to shin splints, knee pain and a back injury that put me off running for a few years.

    Last year (and about 30 lbs later), I thought I would get back into it by signing up for a Half marathon. Informed by all the new running blogs I was following, I drew up an elaborate schedule, bought a foam roller and started wearing compression leggings for anything over 3 miles. Really.

    Working my way up eventually to about 20- 25 miles a week, I developed piriformis and became obsessed with Doctor Google. I made huge studies of ‘correct’ running form. I went to running clinics.And then I started with an Osteopath clinic (where I had three docs tell me three different things that are ‘wrong’ with me). I bored my boyfriend senseless talking about all of it.

    In retrospect, I think that some of this is reflective of my perfectionist tendencies – I wanted to make sure I was the ‘perfect’ runner, doing everything the right way.

    I am now injury free but I credit that to a decision I made about three months ago to listen to the ‘noise’. Yep. I am keeping myself purposely ignorant. I’ve stopped endless Google-ing stretches or lower back anatomy. I developed a training plan based on what worked for me in this last year, not because of some fartlek, Yasso 800, hill interval formula devised from neurotic researching.

    Simplicity is so hard to find but sometimes I think we have TOO many experts, too readily available to offer an opinion. Let’s be honest, we all loving talking about ourselves and somewhere along the line, my injuries and training became a great way to talk all about ME and my BODY. It’s a great outlet for my perfectionism.

    So my advice – turn off the advice (oh the irony). Just do what has worked for you in the past. Break the obsessive research habit and give up buying Runners World, even for a few months. I started to only visit the Osteopath every other week to give myself a break from the fix-it environment. You might find that gives you the break you need mentally and physically to keep going with the marathon.

    Good luck,

    • kimretta says:

      Charlotte, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I definitely agree about the “too many experts” problem, and I’m sure my own willingness to search for information compounds it! I’m a former journalist, so the idea that I can solve any problem or find any answer with just a liiiiiiiiittle bit more research is one that’s deeply ingrained! I think as time goes on, I’ll build up more awareness of what works for me and what doesn’t — that trial-and-error period can be scary, but I’m sure I’ll come out better for it in the end.

  4. […] I wanted to have a couple of months of carefree running, the way I did before I ever ran a race. Kimra calls it “Running Stupid”, and that’s exactly what it is. Suffice to say that my summer hasn’t gone exactly as […]

  5. Rachel says:

    interesting topic! on the one hand, the knowledge i’ve gained in the past couple years has enabled me to do things i never would’ve thought possible, and has also allowed me to improve in many ways. BUT, i agree with you, that running can often feel very high-maintenance. maybe it’s just me and my type-A tendencies, but i only enjoy runs when they meet certain standards (pace, ache/pain free, certain distances) and a failure to meet any of these deems it a sub-par (or bad) run. honestly, i would often find myself jealous of people who tell me they just run for fun. no training, no races. it’s hard for me to even imagine! as with most things, i’d say it probably has to do with balance…which of course is easier said than done!

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