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How an Injury Taught Me That There's Nothing Wrong with Running a Shorter Distance

I've always wanted to be a runner, but somehow, treadmill minutes have always felt like hours and my legs turn to dead weight the second I break into a jog. I'll choose yoga, lifting, or Pilates over running any day.

But when I had the chance to combine my goal of being a "runner" with a trip to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K, I thought, "This is it!" I signed up for the half marathon and started training. (Related: Run the World with These 9 Races)

Having never run more than 5 miles in my life, I downloaded a generic 12-week training plan that had me running five days a week. My first run was a mere 3 miles, and I hated it. I was so winded I had to stop four times. But out of pride, I stuck to my training plan for the next couple weeks and started to build up my endurance.

Every morning, I'd wake up dreading my run. Things didn't end up taking a turn for the better until a month into my training when I ran 6 miles for the first time. I started at a steady 8:30 per mile pace and within minutes, I started to feel good. Not high, exactly, but good. It was the best run I'd had so far, and when it came to an end, I couldn't stop grinning.

The Caveat

Six weeks in, I was set to accomplish my longest distance yet: 8 miles. At this point, I was used to finishing my runs without stopping, had learned the importance of breathing properly, and developed a strong steady pace. I'd also gotten used to running through the soreness I usually felt around my hips. For the most part, it was nothing a good stretch couldn't fix.

As I started to run the 8 miles, my soreness transformed into a sharp pain, particularly in my right hip. It was so excruciating that for the first time since I had started training, I stopped my run halfway and begrudgingly walked home. Even after icing, heating, and stretching the best I could, the pain didn't subside. Turns out, I had injured my labrum, a ring of cartilage around my hip. I was advised to stop any and all physical exertion.

In just a day, running my first half marathon became out of the question, as my doctor recommended I give my hip a break for at least four weeks. I felt frustrated that I had to give up on something that I had been working so hard toward. But when I explained these emotions to my doctor, he reminded me of the importance of putting my health first. There will be other half marathons. For now, he recommended I aim for the 10K, assuming I was no longer in pain before the race.

I was bummed. But I started to do a little research to see if I could still be considered a runner if I ran a shorter distance. To my surprise, I found that don't need to complete 13.1 miles to reap the physical benefits of running—running for just one minute can do wonders! (Related: 6 Things Every Runner Experiences When Coming Back from Injury)

I also learned that the emotional benefits are plentiful too, no matter how far you go, which is why I decided to reach out to an expert in the field for more clarity. "There's no telling the exact distance you'd have to go to experience a runner's high, but I am a huge advocate for less is more," Stephen T. Graef, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, told me. "So much of what makes running exciting is that you set out to do something and you do it and then you get to check that off the list. That's going to feel good whether it took you five minutes or five months. Either way, you're able to leverage that 'checking off' satisfaction even if it's not an overly far run."

Walking Away a Winner

Come race day, I found myself standing in a crowd with almost 3,000 runners from 35 different countries. Despite the 3:50 a.m. wake-up call at our hotel, I felt energized. Standing in the dark alongside some of the wonderful people I'd met on the trip, I shook my legs, hopped in place, and surprisingly didn't find myself biting back waves of panic. (The fact that I was completely out of pain might have helped with that.)

While I wasn't about to attempt my first half marathon, I was still going to run my first 10K ever. And that was something to be excited about.

Before I knew it, it was 5:15 a.m. and we all took off down the flat road located by Negril's famous Seven-Mile Beach. As I passed the 10K course's midway point, the sun started to rise and I began to tune in to my surroundings, taking it all in. There was reggae music blasting from speakers while hundreds of onlookers cheered us on. And I was running alongside members of several different running teams from across the globe, wearing matching shirts, keeping each other's spirits high.

When I finally made it to the finish line, I headed straight to the beach, kicking off my socks and shoes, dipping my toes into the salty ocean water. By this time, the sunrise had become even more beautiful with the light of sun coloring the clouds above with a pinkish hue. When I looked down at my watch and saw a time of 1:04:42, I realized it was my slowest run yet—but by far the most rewarding. Better yet, the fact that I was supposed to be running a half marathon had completely escaped my mind.

 

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