How Runner’s Knee Taught Me Self-Love

First it was in my right knee. Then in my left. Now it’s in both. This persistent and ever-present knee pain has proven to be quite a source of frustration as I’ve tried to get past it, only to have it come racing after me (no pun intended) in a ceaseless cycle.

After much research (i.e. googling ‘knee pain from running’), I have come to the conclusion that I have patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee. It’s common for runners, and is described as pain felt on the kneecap. It’s also more common in women than men (since women tend to have wider hips). My first experiences with knee pain began last spring in Prague, which I attributed to the cobblestones and the steep hills I would run down to get from my apartment to the river. The pain eventually subsided when I started running on the treadmill. Then, this fall the pain returned again as I started to run outside. This time it was in my right knee. The pain was manageable, however, and I only experienced it when I would run more than 8 miles. It wasn’t really something that hindered my runs and stayed in the back of my mind for most of my training.

The pain came back with a vengeance this winter during my training for my second half marathon. I’ve been doing the majority of my runs indoors because of the horrible weather (snow, ice, and sludge every other day), which has led to a sharp pain on my left kneecap. This time, the pain hasn’t been so manageable and I’ve had to stop my runs midway through a handful of times because of it. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging to be training with a goal in mind (mine is to beat my first half marathon’s time) and then have to deal with something so seemingly trivial like knee pain. I had a hard time figuring out how to overcome the pain so I could continue training and have a successful race. I felt like I couldn’t stop because I was scared once I did, I’d lose all the momentum I’d been building or I’d lose the fitness I’d gained. I felt like I had to stay with the training program I chose, and that if I didn’t meet the weekly mileage of the program I wouldn’t be a good/strong/successful runner.

However, after weeks of this cycle– running on the treadmill, experiencing pain, running through the pain, going back on the treadmill, having worse pain, stopping, then feeling defeated– I decided enough was enough and I had to try something new. So, I put faith in myself and my strength and decided to rest. My fitness won’t completely disappear just because I don’t run everyday or because I choose to run 30 miles as opposed to 35 this week. I needed to realize this. Sometimes I feel like it’d be easier if I had someone of authority, like a trainer, verbalizing these things to me to affirm that what I’m experiencing is ok and that I’m doing the right thing by resting. It’s hard when it’s just me and I have to go by my own instincts and judgments. Sometimes you just have to rely on yourself and trust that your body will reward you for letting it rest and heal.

Running has once again proved to be full of life lessons. It is about more than cardiovascular endurance, being fit, or reducing the risk of life-threatening diseases. Yes, it’s about discovering new boundaries, being consistent, and working hard. But going even further, it’s also about acceptance. Sometimes this means accepting what your body is trying to tell you, letting go, and being patient. And in doing so, learning to love yourself. My knee has not always been kind to me, but I haven’t always been very kind to it either. I just need to believe that my self-love will guide me to success. Nonetheless, if I’m healthy and happy, I’ll consider that a success in itself.

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