It certainly wasn’t love at first sight, or even love at first try. Running and I were set up on a date by my old college roommate, Carrie Daniels. Like any first date, it was awkward. Both of us trying to figure each other out—asking questions (Who are you? What are you looking for?), proposing small challenges (You think you can do this? You think you can handle me?). After the initial awkwardness of our first few dates, we hit a groove.
Very much like when I first fell in love with my husband, running challenged me. Running stood up to me and called me out like nothing had before. A couple of months into our dating life, my now husband called me out on my non-committal ways. I was stunned—no one had ever done that before, and I was instantly smitten. I suddenly wanted to prove him wrong. Running kept drawing a line in the sand, daring me to cross it. Each time I did, I dared running to draw the line farther out.
As we found our groove, I started to notice the deeper things about running. No longer did I focus on how hard it was to breathe or pick up my feet. I started to notice how pretty the trees were on the other side of the road. I started to notice the sunrise. The sound my feet made on the asphalt. How much better breakfast tasted after a 4-mile run. The energy boost it gave me for the rest of the day.
I don’t know that I had a “runner’s high” at this point in our relationship, but I knew running had started to change everything about me. I no longer had a funny or fancy keychain. Instead I used one of those valet quick-release keychains, so I could carry only my car key fob with me on runs and no longer sounded like a junk trunk. I grew out my hair (specifically my bangs) so I could simply pull it back in a ponytail. And I did the impossible—I became a morning person. Because running in the early morning hours in July is a lot easier than running in the evenings in July. Anything I could do that made running or my access to running easier, I did.
As running kept drawing the line farther out, my confidence and self-esteem grew. With each mile that was beyond any distance I had done before, my attitude changed. I started to believe in myself. I wasn’t just a nobody. I was a somebody who got up and ran 6 miles. Something I never ever thought I would do. Something that seemed impossible several months earlier. The sense of accomplishment running has given me is the best and most wonderful gift I didn’t even know to ask for. I no longer walked around with my head down. My eyes were no longer downcast. I faced the world head-on, having learned that I was physically and mentally stronger than I ever imagined. My “ugly fat thighs” were nothing to be ashamed of. Despite their appearance, they were strong and powerful and had carried me for many miles. Running fixed so many of my problems. It untangled the knots in my thoughts, it gave me time to think, it gave me the resolve to keep going when the going got tough, and it gave me a community of friends who understood. Sometimes running was a therapy session, sometimes it was just for the joy of it, and sometimes it was because I needed to be challenged. Running gave me confidence—and I knew it could do the same for others, if they would just try. Not a once-and-done try, but a real shot. I had to share the power of running with everyone, and True Grit Running Company was born.
I learned so much from running 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, a marathon, and all the training runs that came with them. The gifts that running gave me have helped me in my business—I had no idea how much sheer will and fortitude are involved in operating a small business. I also had no idea that I would need to call upon the gifts of running when our relationship would become more like we were acquaintances, instead of lovers.
On March 1, 2020, I ran my last race. It was a half marathon in Atlanta, and it was just before the world would shut down because of COVID-19. After this race, I knew something was seriously wrong with my knee, and I had no clue how bad it actually was. An x-ray revealed that my knee was toast and would need to be replaced. But running had not caused this. This was not a gift from running, but from genetics. I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in my right knee, and it would need to be fixed someday. I received shots in the meantime, which allowed me to continue to run short distances. But after a while, the recovery time necessary after even a 3-mile run wasn’t worth it.
After more time, gyms and fitness centers began to reopen, so I joined Orangetheory Fitness, just two doors down from my store. I could run on those treadmills, as they reduced impact up to 40%. Races were canceled due to COVID-19, so I used the challenges at Orangetheory Fitness in place of setting new running personal records. And this worked, for a while.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2020, I felt a strange pain in my lower back. It wouldn’t get better… it kept getting weirder. I couldn’t sit or stand for any period. Walking short distances across the house became painful. One morning I could not get out of bed. After an ambulance ride and an MRI, I would need emergency surgery to remove sequestrated disc fragments from L5-S1 and a bilateral laminectomy.
The doctor explained everything to me, and my only question to him was, “Pretending that my knee is OK, will I be able to run again after this?”
He said, “You will be able to do whatever you want in 3 months.”
I said, “OK, let’s do it.”
I used the resolve and ability to soldier on through suffering that running taught me to get through those 4 days in the hospital and the long road to recovery. During that recovery, however, my knee did something strange. It collapsed. I could no longer straighten my leg. It was permanently bent, and I walked with a constant limp. I did try running on the treadmills at Orangetheory, but the off-kilter gait messed with my hips and sometimes made me think I would fall off the treadmill. So, I moved to the strider and continued to work out. I wanted to run so bad, but I couldn’t do it. Races were coming back, group runs started up again… but I couldn’t join in. I missed the sound of my feet on the pavement. I missed the way the trail curves in the trees at Ben Geren. I missed meeting my friends early in the morning to take on the streets of Fort Smith. One morning, the pain was enough to get me to make the phone call to the orthopedic surgeon. I looked at my calendar and knew I’d have to put off surgery until at least October 1, 2022.
On October 17, 2022, I received a total knee replacement. I’m now 15 weeks post-operation on my knee. I know my long-distance running days are behind me. A part of me is sad about that, but another part of me is excited to never have to do another 18-mile training run in 20 degree weather. Will I miss the misery? Not so much the misery, but the absolute feeling of, “Yeah, I did that,” afterwards. Just because my knee is now metal and plastic doesn’t mean that I cannot run—it just means that I have to be smart about it. I do not yet have the flexion necessary or the quad strength to try running comfortably. But I can do other things in the meantime, including strengthening my quads. I’m back to full, consistent workouts at Orangetheory Fitness. And I’m back on the treadmill! Walking, but at least I’m on the treadmill. You must walk before you can run, and that’s what I’m doing.
Running and I will literally be starting over together. But this time I know what I’m getting into. And I’m excited to see what gifts it will give me this go-around. I cannot wait to reunite with the sport I love, in a smart way. Obviously, I want to be able to walk and function normally when I’m in my mid-80s, so I need my new equipment to last. But I certainly do not plan to win the award for “Most Pristine Knee Replacement.” I got it to use it. And I’m still not ashamed of my ugly fat thigh or the big scar on my knee. They are who I am and the scar is part of my story. I love you, running… and all the ways you have loved me back.