Why We Run #32: Because My Heart Is No Longer Broken

I still don’t love running. I never will. However, my heart has finally healed enough to run freely for as long as I want.

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By James Woodruff

I was never a runner.

It started with basketball, shifted into football, dabbled in running around the baseball diamond and ultimately returned to basketball. Any guy who’s played organized sports learned early that not only is running an important part of conditioning, it’s also instrumental in establishing discipline. Some of us grew to hate running because it was form of punishment.

My relationship with running was mostly ambivalent until I couldn’t do it anymore. When you’re told you can’t do something, the desire to do it grows.

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I had a heart attack in 2011 that nearly took my life. Over the next few years, I experienced multiple start and stops; minimally invasive procedures that involved clogged arteries and lead replacements for an implanted device. In layman terms, doctors said that I would no longer be able to do what I loved the most. I had to face the reality that I was no longer an athlete.

So I started off small. Instead of setting an outlandish goal like running a 5K or something, I decided to run on the nearby high school track.

That meant giving up running up and down the court during the summers in basketball tournaments. I had to give up the part-time opportunities I enjoyed of refereeing charity games and rec leagues. My heart, in so many words, was broken. Having been in great shape before the heart attack didn’t matter. The damage that was done left my heart unable to handle the pressure that running requires.

Being told no is a hell of a motivator for men like me. Sitting on the sideline was not going to happen. I wasn’t ready to abandon my weekend warrior days just yet. Even though exercise is a part of my career, the limitations were stifling. I needed more. I needed the energy that running brings back in my life.

◊♦◊

So I started off small. Instead of setting an outlandish goal like running a 5K or something, I decided to run on the nearby high school track. I focused on time instead of distance. I started off at 20 minutes and increased intervals over time.

Sweat poured from every crevice. And yet, the pain felt amazing. I was proving the doctors wrong.

My heart struggled to keep up at first. But I pushed through those early days at the track. Like anything else, once you get out of your own head, the fear dissipates and the voice of encouragement takes over. Before I realized it, I was able to run at a steady space for a full hour. With increased confidence, my sights were set on running an eight-minute mile. I haven’t done that since high school. I recently came very close to it on the treadmill! My lungs hurt. My heart was pounding. Sweat poured from every crevice. And yet, the pain felt amazing. I was proving the doctors wrong.

I still don’t love running. I never will. However, my heart has finally healed enough to run freely for as long as I want.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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