I was never a runner as a kid. I was that one girl who dreaded the annual mile during PE and chose any other activity that kept me either seated or moving in the water. My dad, on the other hand, has been running races since before I was a thought in either of my parents’ heads. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college, after several years of inactivity and him planting lots of seeds in my head, that I decided to give it a shot. Needless to say, I caught the bug, as my dad would say. What I tell other people who hate running is, “it sucks until it doesn’t.” And yeah, running SUCKS– until you go on that one run that literally takes your breath away and makes you wonder why you never gave it a chance in the first place. So, I entered the running addict club: the group of people who spend their saved-up money on the newest pair of high-performance running shoes, on various races all over the country, and on that fifteenth pair of running tights that you just
needed to buy (because they’re moisture-wicking, and God-forbid you sweat a little. Plus, they come in PINK!). I was hooked, and starting running exclusively long distances, about 100 miles a month. Only problem is, when you’re short, female, young, and with a low BMI like mine, intense running can do some serious damage – something I learned the hard way this past December.
I went to college in downtown Washington, DC, and I was lucky enough to have the National Mall as a frequent running route. So everything was normal when I stepped out on a December morning for a long run to the US Capitol, until about 3 miles out when a sharp pain shot up my right leg that caused me to scream, leaving me unable to walk home. Runners operate on a no-pain-no-gain mentality, so I assumed this pain would pass like any other running strain, and I could just push through it. Unfortunately, this was not the case. To save you the long, grueling process of doctor visits and examinations, I’ll cut to the chase. After an several X-rays and an MRI, my orthopedic told me I had a stress fracture in my inferior pubic ramus (that’s hip bone, for those of you without a science degree). I was forbidden from running (which I already hadn’t been doing for three months), as well as all weight bearing exercise. I had no clue what to do. Exercise, and running, was my life. I considered it something that defined who I am. It felt like someone told me I couldn’t be myself, like I had lost a part of my identity.
Recovering was the hardest 6 months of my life. I was unable to jog across the street to catch the cross walk. I was restricted to the elliptical, which still gave me occasional aches and pains. I even got to the point where I shamefully hated the runners passing me on the street, when I could only watch them pass me by. Since not exercising the way I wanted was driving me crazy, I decided to reach out to the DC community and join group exercise classes – something to keep me occupied that wouldn’t wear my hip down. That was how I found Barre3.
Barre3 is a combination of yoga, Pilates, and ballet that focuses on small isometric movements. It’s designed to strengthen, tone, and lengthen your body. I had heard that it was low intensity on the joints, but still very challenging, so I decided to give it a shot. Well, everyone was right about the challenging part. Barre kicks your butt, literally. I remember walking out of my first class thinking, “Okay that was hard, but I don’t know if I’ll be sore tomorrow.”
If I remember correctly, I walked and sat funny for five days. But, like me and the running, I became hooked, and fast. I eagerly signed up for an unlimited month of Barre. If you pay per class, it can get expensive, but I was determined to get my money’s worth and go as many times as I could. At about this time, my hip was healing and I was starting physical therapy too, which meant I could only exercise in ways that my PT allowed. Luckily, Barre fell under this category, because it strengthens and stabilizes my joints, is low resistance on my injury site, and is exhausting enough that my hunger for exercise was sated. So I started going 6 days a week. Most of the instructors knew me by name and worked with my injury, offering me movement modifications and checking in with me periodically throughout class. Surprisingly, my physical therapy worked in tandem with Barre, since the exercises of both overlapped often. It was a match made in heaven.
Even though I sought out Barre to drain my pent-up running energy and to find something to kill the time, I ended up finding more strength than I could have ever imagined. While running, and only running, was physically exhausting and extremely satisfying (hello, endorphins!), I was beating my body down. It was only a matter of time before something broke. In recovering from my stress fracture, I learned the importance of giving your body a break, and training it in as many ways as possible. It may be an amazing machine, but it’s not a machine meant to work exclusively in one direction. As a long-distance runner, I was fixated on exhausting my body – on piling on the miles so I didn’t have to worry about weight gain, or lack of body tone, or physical weakness; but I was missing the point. In joining Barre, I found a community, and found myself again. I’ve never felt stronger; physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I never thought that getting a debilitating injury would cause me to see that.
Strengthening my body allowed me to gain the courage to try running again, for the first time in several months. I remember the first time I was able to run a half of a mile (a distance that would have made me chuckle a year ago), and crying in the middle of the street with overwhelming relief. It had been so long since I had that exhilarating feeling of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the trail. I’m going to keep working my way back up to the long distances, but with a radically altered perspective. That no-pain-no-gain mentality I had a year ago caused me to lose a lot, but I did gain exponentially more in the end. I gained the ability to see my body as a strong and beautiful machine, one that’s not meant to move in only one direction.