Why I Ignored My Chronic Pain to Run for Four Minutes at Midnight


Last night at midnight, I regained part of my former life before chronic pain. More than any other form of exercise in the past, jogging brought me the most joy, a feeling of “aliveness” as sweat rolled off my forehead and my heart pumped fast and hard. But that was years ago and my doctor said recently, “Walk. Just Walk. No running. Acceptance is the key.”

So, I bought a recumbent exercise bike, stuck it in the bedroom, and temporarily resigned myself to a life without jogging until last night. While lying in bed, I read an article in Reader’s Digest that suggested just a five to 10 minutes jog every day reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 50 percent and overall mortality risk by 29 percent.

I miss jogging too much to give it up. “Surely I can jog for five minutes a day,” I thought. At midnight, I pulled on my running shoes and sweats and headed out into the night. My husband’s voice yelled behind me, “Are you nuts? It’s midnight and you’re not supposed to jog. What are you thinking?”

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing,” I said.

The flashlight on my cell phone led the way as my feet hit the pavement – slow, steady and reminiscent of the rhythmic flow achieved in the past. Everything hurt. My knee screamed out, “Stop!” But I didn’t care. I could do just five minutes. Or, maybe four minutes. No way would I let limitations due to pain hold me back. Four minutes later, I arrived back home and collapsed in bed.

The next day my whole body hurt, but I felt as triumphant as if I’d finished first place in a 5K. Why not try it again tonight? So, I did. During the second jogging session, my doctor’s word “acceptance” played over and over in my mind. My knee needed ice and my hip ached after my second four minute jog. I wanted to spend the day in bed recuperating.

I’d always assumed I’d get better someday and resume all my prior physical activities in spite of chronic pain. It never occurred to me I could never jog again like I used to. How would I accept that? How could I accept that?

What if the doctor was right? I threw my running shoes across the room, sat on the edge of the bed and cried. At that point, you might say, “Well, she’s certainly an all or nothing type of person. Just because she can’t jog, so what? There are lots of other forms of exercise she can do. And there are lots of people in much worse shape than she is.”

But here’s the thing about chronic pain. The big and small things that change in our lives because of ongoing, unrelenting pain can strip away parts of us like peeling the bark off a mighty tree a little at a time and before we realize it, we feel exposed, vulnerable and raw. Since my doctor advised acceptance of my new limitations in order to manage chronic pain, I needed a new mindset, a new exercise regime, and gratitude for what I am able to do. Gratitude. Acceptance. Perhaps four or five minutes a day of meditation on these two words as they relate to chronic pain might offer as much health benefits as jogging. I’m going to give it a try.

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