I recently decided to stop running. And I shared it publicly on Facebook, and I’ve had a lot of really concerned people worrying about my health and well-being (and that of my business). This blog will hopefully put any concerns to rest, and to let you all know, I’m ok, in fact, I’m great!
Let me back the train up and explain the impetus for the announcement, and how I got here.
For the past 2-3 years I’ve had chronic low back pain. It’s something I live with every day. I work with it and around it to live my life and for the most part it doesn’t really slow me down. Over the last year this pain has intensified such that it interferes with my activities of daily living and is something I’m aware of all the time.
In March (right before the shut down) I saw a Pelvic Floor Physio and gained some pivotal insight into what might be the source of my back pain.
I have a grade two bladder prolapse, and some inhibition in my pelvic floor. What does that mean? My pelvic region/ low back aren’t functioning optimally to support my low back/ hips. I was advised to stop running, especially long distances, I didn’t. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. It was too shocking. Who am I if I don’t run? I’m a runner! I teach running clinics for goodness sakes!
Throughout the lockdown and the summer I processed, and I percolated. As I explored what this meant for me, I began to back-off running. I did all my pelvic floor exercises, and I noticed when my back was aggravated and started to make connections.
Fast forward to this fall.
On Halloween I joined a few runners from my Super You RunCrew for a fun costume run. It was my first run in 2 weeks, not really on purpose, but more of a helpful by-product of doing all sorts of other cool activities: MOMAR Virtual Challenge, hiking, rocking workouts on my new Spin bike and teaching livestream classes. I’d been active, but I just hadn’t run.
Prior to that 2 week hiatus I was literally back to running for no more than 3 minute intervals at a very slow pace. And that change helped, but it wasn’t enough (and I knew it).
The Halloween run sealed the deal. At one point one of the ladies turned around and said, “you ok, you’re kind of grimacing!”
Ugh. She was right. This didn’t feel good!
Here’s the truth:
Running just doesn’t feel good in my body anymore. It is painful. Running through the pain and discomfort isn’t me being respectful of my body. It also isn’t joyful for me (pain is a real buzz kill!).
My fitness philosophy is to listen, honour and challenge your awesome body in ways that bring you joy.
Living true to my philosophy means I’m not going to run anymore. Which is a big decision. Which is why it took me so long to make. Because I haven’t just run for more than 20 years, I am a runner. I identify as a runner. As a Run Coach my livelihood depends on me running. I also love the sport and always saw myself as someone who would spend her retirement crossing finish lines (possibly some with her grandkids).
Why quit entirely, isn’t there another way?
Short answer: sure, there likely is another way, but having taken a big step back over this past 9 months, and I see the bigger picture now. Ultimately if I want to be able to move my awesome body long term, in lots of cool ways, joyfully, I need to stop running.
I can hear the but‘s as you’re reading this…
But have you really tried all the things?
What about physio? What about chiro? Have you tried….I’ve tried it all friends. I’ve taken all the steps. Done all the things, and am still actively doing them! This isn’t a decision I made lightly. And it’s been a long time coming (like 9 months coming).
But do you have to quit forever?
Maybe it’s just a short term hiatus? That may be the case, likely not from a physiologic perspective (more on that in a bit), but hey, anything is possible.
And, I don’t want to be a runner who is “injured.” I think relating to my body in that way, viewing it as broken or damaged, and clinging to hope that someday my body will run again, isn’t helpful to my mental or physical health.
Think of it this way. Have you ever been in a relationship that was kind of toxic. It wasn’t healthy for you or for the other person. But you both kind of hang on? And don’t really break up. You keep trying to make it work, but it genuinely doesn’t. Sometimes the better call is the clean break.
By no means am I suggesting running is toxic, but for me, right now, the staying in the “trying” is not helpful energy. So, clean break it is.
In order to fully understand my decision, let me back way up and explain it all. Hopefully my story (and some of the nerdy physiology) will offer you some insight into your own journey and path with sport or activity as I do.
The “back” story.
My low back pain started with a flare up when I was training for a 1/2 marathon. It was Mothers Day 2017 and I’d just finished a training run. I felt phenomenal. Then I decided to spend my afternoon sanding and staining my deck furniture (I know, weird choice for Mother’s Day, but my kids helped and it was a fun transformation!).
I was fine the next day (albeit stiff from doing an activity that isn’t my norm). Then on Tuesday I woke up and couldn’t move. Which is tricky, because Tuesday’s are historically the day I teach Run Strong Clinic.
All day I worried about teaching run clinic. Within a few strides that night I knew something was off. I slowly ran the warm up and then coached from the sidelines for the hill workout. The cool down felt really rough, and I knew I was in trouble. I just didn’t realize how much.
For weeks I struggled to move. Like, ‘hunched over shuffling’ struggled to move. It was rough. With time (and physio/ massage/ rehab) it got better. Sort of. But it never was 100%.
Honestly, I think it was the final straw. Looking back now, I can see more of the “warning signs” that I ignored (hindsight is 20/20 isn’t it?!).
All that time, it felt “ok” to run and do all the things (teach classes, hike, mountain bike…etc.), and “managed” my back with stretching, strengthening and regular massage and physio.
Then, back in March after nearly two years with consistent and unexplained chronic back pain I found my way to the office of a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Upon assessment she told me, that I had a grade 2 bladder prolapse, and a minor rectal prolapse.
What does that mean?
I joke that it means my insides are trying to “exit the building,” and essentially that’s true, sort of. More specifically my bladder has dropped from its normal position in the pelvis and is pushing on the wall of my vagina, and my rectum is doing something similar.
What does this mean, functionally?
Well, it explains my back pain. It also explains why I constantly feel like I have to go pee, and on occasion have incontinence (both urinary and fecal). Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes when I run, I pee and poop my pants. Not a lot. But enough that it’s both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Why am I sharing this embarrassing truth?
I’m sharing it with you because this is a problem that faces a lot of women, especially women who have had children. According to my physio, as many as 50% of women who’ve had a vaginal birth have some degree of bladder prolapse and associated symptoms. So we need to shine a light on it, stop feeling embarrassed and get the help we need to heal and support our bodies.
Side bar: I used to blame my incontinence on my Celiac Disease and having a tricky gut (which is also true). But it turns out having incontinence, while not uncommon is not normal, nor something you need to live with!
But in popular culture incontinence (mostly urinary, because who wants to talk about pooping their pants?!), is normalized. It’s a running joke amongst mom’s. “Don’t make me laugh, I’ll pee my pants!” Or “I can’t jump on trampolines…you know….” or “I can’t run in anything but black pants…at night, because…you know…”
Oh I know. And NO!
You don’t have to suffer in silence in dark pants, wearing a pantyliner or heavy duty pad to prevent embarrassing leaks! There is treatment (more on that in a sec).
What causes prolapse?
There are a number of risk factors for having a bladder or rectal prolapse. They include: pregnancy and childbirth, aging (hormonal changes reduce tone in the pelvic floor muscles/ tissues), hysterectomy and genetics. I have a number of the risk factors, including pregnancy (2), genetics (thanks mom!) and oh yeah, aging/ peri-menoause. Also, I think honestly, bummer luck (literally).
What does this mean for me…and running?
I want to start by saying there is treatment! And I’m doing it. I am working with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist to retrain my pelvic floor and do what I can to support my bladder/ rectum.
For some women, pelvic floor rehab and training might be the whole solution. So if you’re dealing with these issues, please find yourself a qualified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. If you’re local to Nanaimo, check out my physio.
Unfortunately for me, training won’t resolve it. Think of it this way, you know how once you’ve sprained an ankle it’s never the same? It’s always a bit more “unstable” than the other side? Same thing. Ligaments/ connective tissue that are holding my bladder/ rectum in place won’t “snap back.” I can train my pelvic floor (the sling of muscles holding everything in place), but the connective tissue and ligaments that have been stretched out, they are what they are.
Why does this mean no running?
Listen, my Pelvic Floor Physio never said I can’t run. Frankly, let’s be honest, I don’t respond well to an authoritarian approach, so even if she had said “you must stop running,” I wouldn’t have likely listened!
She simply explained the reality to me. My bladder prolapse isn’t going to improve. I can prevent further deterioration with pelvic floor re-training and improved muscular control, but any impact is not working in my favour for the longevity of my pelvic health. Read: if you don’t want to have increasing bladder issues, including incontinence you might want to consider stopping the activities known to make it worse.
Running, especially long distances, running down hill and speed work are pretty much the worst activities for it (that and trampolines as any post-natal mom will attest to). Why? All that impact is a lot of “control” to ask of your pelvic floor musculature when you have laxity of the ligaments and connective tissues. The muscles and the ligaments/ connective tissues are a team, and some of my “team” aren’t in great shape. But there’s only so much “slack” the muscles can pick up for.
But wait, Gillian, isn’t there surgery?
Yes! There is. And I know women who’ve had it and it’s been game changing. That’s awesome for them. Surgery doesn’t feel like the right choice for me. One of the surgical options has recently been recalled after complications, and the other one is much more invasive (read: long recovery and rehab required). And frankly after 2 surgeries to remove ovarian cysts in 2013/2014 I remember the work it took to recover and rehabilitate, and I’m just not into it. For some, surgery may absolutely an answer, but for me it isn’t, right now.
So, no running…and it’s ok!
I experienced all the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). When I finally arrived at acceptance, I thought to myself…what is important here? What really matters?
What do I really want for my life? Sure I’ve always had the vision of being a grandmother crossing finish lines. But do they have to be running races? What inspires me about crossing lines?
As I explored these questions with an open mind this is what I realized:
It’s not about the finish lines. It’s about getting to the finish line (or the start line for that matter). I love the journey. The experiences and the challenges along the way. I actually love the work, the adventure and the exhilaration. Spending time outside, moving my body and sharing those experiences with others makes my heart so happy.
But none of this really hinges on running being the means to the end.
So I asked myself, do I really need to run to experience all of this?
The short answer is no. There are so many other ways I can move my body in nature that don’t involve potentially irreparable damage to my pelvic region. There are so many activities that truly bring me joy, that don’t involve me risking the long term consequences of chronic back pain and incontinence.
What if I did those activities instead? And what if that wasn’t just ok, but actually totally rad?
This summer I got back on my road bike, my mountain bike and I tried surfing for the first time. I’ve now actually been surfing twice now, so I’m officially a surfer (lol). I’ve been hiking more and truly enjoying moving my body in other ways that bring me joy (and don’t hurt).
My over arching goal when it comes to activity is to say yes to any adventure. To be able to move my awesome body in space with comfort and ease and joy. Not running, means I can actually do that!
But Gillian, what about Run Clinics?!
When I first started thinking about my decision to stop running, my concerns about RunCrew overwhelmed me with anxiety. Would people still want me to be their coach? Would I still want to coach? Could I coach others without running myself? Would that be weird? Could I really be effective as a coach? Could I handle this not just professionally, but also personally? Would it make me too sad with FOMO?
Oh the rumination!
Here’s what I know.
I am a great coach. I’m a great coach not because I run but because I understand running – the biomechanics, the physiology and the psychology. I’ve studied it and continue to study it. I love reading the research and learning about it. I understand how to take a runner from where they are to where they want to be – whether they’re a beginner or training for an ultra-marathon! And when it comes to the mindset and nuances of how you do that and still live your real life, I’ve got my runners backs, the whole way.
But here’s what else. One of the things that makes me a great coach is that I’m a role model. And part of being a good role model means I need to practice what I preach, with integrity.
I tell my runners to listen, honour and challenge their bodies. To meet their bodies where they’re at each and every run. To run with joy and respect their bodies – always.
This choice, not to run, is me living that philosophy.
I may not be running right now, but I still have the heart of a runner.
A few years back I did a shirt with my definition of “runner.”
“A person who challenges their limits. Who is comfortable with uncomfortable. Loves hills and embraces rain, wind & heat. Who makes their excuses their reasons. And is completely unstoppable.”
It still 100% applies. With this addition: moves respectfully with joy.
And I can’t wait to explore all the new ways I can move respectfully with joy.
And you know what? I’m actually pretty excited.
Some exciting things are brewing. As my horizons expand and I get excited to explore new or return to other fun ways to move my awesome body, I see new possibilities for Super You as well. Some really cool evolutions are coming to the Super You Community and I can’t wait to share them with you (when they’re ready). Will Run Clinics be back? YES, someday (it’s all COVID dependent)! But I think they’ll look a little different, because COVID, and because, EVOLUTION! And you know what? I think that’s pretty awesome too.
Did this reframing blog inspire you? I hope so. If you’ve had to give up a sport or activity and need help reframing and redefining how you view health and fitness, I’d love to connect! Click here to book a free 10-minute one-to-one connection call.