Running to me was always that thing that you had to do to make sure that you had enough juice to do that other thing that you really wanted to do. It was a means to an end rather than an activity in itself and I can honestly say that I never put much though into it. twice or three times I would lace up whatever shoes I had bought on sale and hit the road for however long I felt I could handle.
One day I woke up and my left knee would not bend properly. It didn’t really hurt and I kind of laughed it off when had to kind of hop down stairs on one leg. That was the start of 2 years of rehabilitation…..and the next day, it REALLY hurt.
Numerous doctor visits, x-rays, painkillers and a couple of those rehabilitation sessions that old people do it became cllear that I had completely destroyed the sciatic nerve on the left side of my body. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through the back of the leg and all the way down to your big toe.
More than the pain, and the fact that I could not sleep on my left side or sit down for more than 10 minutes at a time, was the stress of not being able to do anything….I could not ride my bike to work or exercise or do any of the things that I though were fun. As soon as I tried to do more than walk pain would shoot down the back of my leg.
So I started studying why this might have happened. I read books on physiology and scoured the internet for forums and posts from people who had the same sort of symptoms as me. I kept stretching and things would get better until I tried to jog at which point the back of my leg would again scream in pain.
So I started looking into the mechanics or running itself and I read the book that sparked the minimalist running trend “born to run” about an American setting up a race with a tribe of running people in the mountains of Mexico. I was not convinced that running barefoot itself was the answer to my problems but what did seem to make sense is that when you do run barefoot you force yourself to run with good form or you will be injured very quickly.
I had found something. My running stride was too long and I was landing on my heel in front of my knee which was putting tremendous pressure of my joints and back. This was it!
I changed my shoes but more than that I changed my running style completely. Instead of striking with my heel I started landing on my mid foot like I had seen the super runners like Ethiopian Gabriel Haile Selassie do but of course he has been running like that for more than 30 years. Since I have not I did not have calves of steel and instead difficulties walking to work some days.
But I got through it and still remember how happy I was when I first ran 5K again. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I did it and almost cried afterwards.
That was when I decided to start taking running a bit more seriously. I am not planning on becoming a professional athlete nor will I dedicate my life to it but I though that there must be more to this, one of the very basic human activities.
So I read more books and started mixing up my training with intervals, fartlek and a bit of core training. I though I was getting faster….
Until one morning in Yoyogi park when an African runner blew by me with inhuman speed.
I was just doing a slow jog so not too bothered but though to myself “next time I see him I am going to chase him”. Believe it or not but on my very next run in the park I saw him coming and prepared myself to try and keep up. It lasted for about 50 meters. I was so far behind him in speed that I lost all motivation blew off my run and walked home considering just giving it all up.
But after a week or so I came to my senses again. Of course he is a professional athlete and I am not. The fact is also that I am doing this for myself so why compete with anyone but me right?
Again I started running and I found that come spring I wanted to see how far I had come so I signed up for the Kasumidaira 42km trail race in June 2015. Now I have a goal to train for and I find I get up earlier and push myself harder to make sure I am prepared for the challenge to come. In fact I even join this running club from time to time to mix things up and get some new ideas.
I had completely forgot about the African runner when one day, at 6:30am in Yoyogi park I see him with a Japanese runner.
Not even thinking twice I chased them down and followed for about a kilometer. They were just doing a morning jog and nothing special but I caught up and introduced myself saying sorry for hanging on their tails and asked if they would mind if I tagged along for as long as I could keep up.
“No probles” said the African and asked me where I was from. Sweden I said and of course asked him back.
Kenya he replies and the Japanese runner with him pitches in
“He is an olympian runner for Kenya you know”
Wow I say and again thank them for the opportunity to tag along.
We keep chatting a bit and it turns out that he is Bedan Karoki, part of the Kenyan national team for 10,000 meters, olympian and diamond league competitor. He lives in Japan since his sponsor is here and he leads their tea.
So there I was, doing 4km of my morning 12km with a living legend and one of the fastest long distance runners on the planet.
Of course they were just jogging, not even sweating, and I had to work to keep up but still, I RAN WITH A KENYAN OLYMPIAN.
How cool is that for a guy who could hardly walk 2 years ago!?
Thank you Bedan and Yuta for the inspiration and the opportunity.
I feel truly blessed!