Despite what the tee reads, Sarah was a walker in the 5K.

Recently, I realized my time off from running due to bulging discs is my longest running-sabbatical (4.5 months) since I was pregnant with our twins. Who turn 17 next month. Yet I’m conflicted about jumping back into the sport. It’s just taken me a while to admit my hesitancy to myself.

After getting two cortisone injections on June 20, I followed the doctor’s directives to wait a few days before resuming my normal activity. (To which I thought, “What IS ‘normal’ for me these days??”) I swam and lifted with my trainer. Then I headed to Montana for work. 

As part of AMR’s anniversary weekend, I walked the 5K included in the Missoula Marathon festivities. Even with runners streaming by in the first half mile, I didn’t feel any urge to pick up my pace. I enjoyed strolling with Heather, a mother runner from Pittsburgh, admiring the charming bungalows lining the leafy streets. Seeing the race clock read 55:something at the end didn’t elicit any pangs in me. 

Instead, my finish-line feeling was gratitude: I feel thankful on a daily, if not hourly, basis for forward motion. Numerous times during my disc-related ordeal, walking was difficult and dicey. The night before Mother’s Day, my family and I were on a rare weekend getaway. It took me 20 painful, ungainly minutes to hobble (to call it “walking” would be a misnomer) a half-mile to a Thai restaurant for tofu-and-noodle dishes. The kids quickly dusted my husband, Jack, and I as we made our way back to the AirBnB. After several torturous minutes, Jack called our son. “John, come pick up your mother: She can’t make it back.” 

My back issues (which were actually random nerve pain originating in my groin and shooting down my inner thighs, as well as profound impingement in my hips) gradually got better thanks to daily PT exercises, chiropractic treatments, and lots of swimming. And time. 

If my bulging-discs journey was a marathon, in June I figure I was at about Mile 25; I probably didn’t need to get the steroid shots. Yet I had jumped through all the requisite insurance hoops—and I was so dang mentally exhausted and drained from the uncertainty of the situation. The pain plagued me the most at night, and upon waking, I never knew where I’d land on the mobility scale. Yeah, no, I needed the shots: a sure-fire way to feel more like my old self (emphasis on old!).

Yet despite having daydreams about eventually running a 15th marathon and being co-founder of a business with the word “runner” in it, I didn’t attempt running until nearly two weeks after the pain-ending shots. In a 45-minute walk, I sprinkled in four or five running segments, each about two blocks. I had a bit of tightness in my groin, but no nerve-y pain. 


Hiking in Glacier (maybe the sunlight + water were trying to tell Sarah something there, too!)

I did only one walk-run workout the following week. Instead, I jumped into the sports singing their siren songs to me: pickleball and open-water swimming. I hit the courts three times over the ensuing holiday weekend, feeling thrills, triumphs, joy, and pride that I had sorely missed since mid-February. Each time, I played it safe and left the courts sooner than I would have pre-bulging-discs, and I headed to a lake to swim. 

In that jade green water, a revelation came to me, almost as if carried on a shaft of sunlight: There’s no rush to return to running. For now, I’m really loving swimming, playing pickleball, strength training, and even walking. I’d inflate the tires of my bike, which I haven’t ridden in two years, to satisfy my urge to see more sights. 

In that liquid moment, it seemed like my body was sending me a message: Give it time, Sarah, give it time.

Are you recovering from an injury right now? How do you plan to return to running?