The First Run Back

AJW celebrates his first run back after a long period of injury.

By on April 28, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomThose of us who have been running long distances for any period of time know that injury is inevitable.

And, while some people are more fortunate than others in avoiding the injury bug, just about all of us, at some point or another, have succumbed to injury and been forced to take time off from running. I was recently in that situation and was on the injury shelf for over a year. Earlier this week, after weeks of fits and starts, I finally got off that shelf and enjoyed my first run back.

Everyone who’s been there knows the feeling of uncertainty about injuries and when it is safe to return. Most of us rely on medical professionals and physical therapists to guide us through a return to running but the truth is, in the end, even with all the advice and guidance in the world, the decision of how and when to return is up to us. In my personal situation, it has been a struggle to get back and, as is the case for many, it has been a long, non-linear road.

AJW on crutches after hip resurfacing 2

AJW on crutches after one of his hip resurfacing surgeries. Photo courtesy of AJW.

My rehabilitation has brought me back to the gym and onto the bicycle and elliptical far more than I ever imagined. After what felt like a process that would never end, I was cleared to get out onto the trails to hike and then finally, about two weeks ago, to begin integrating short run/walk intervals into my daily hikes.

These little bursts of running, starting with 10 steps and building up to about two minutes, felt a little more like running. But as most of us know, it’s not really a run until it’s continuous. And for me, continuous means the run is long enough for that all too familiar feeling of a rhythm taking hold.

And so it was, earlier this week, that I parked at the trailhead parking lot at Papago Park here in Phoenix, Arizona, and embarked on a five-kilometer run on the smooth loop trail that encircles the park. Starting out I was mindful of all of the instructions I’d received — short strides, upright posture, and a midfoot plant. About five minutes into the run my mind began to wander, oh how I had missed that feeling! When I hit the mile mark my breathing had steadied out, my pace was consistent (and very slow), and my heart rate settled in. Best of all, I felt zero pain. I was running!

AJW running in the mountains on a sunny day.

AJW on a run in Colorado in 2020. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

I encountered a handful of other runners along the trail and couldn’t help myself in over-enthusiastically greeting them. I was instantly as happy as I had been in a long, long time. When I returned to the trailhead and stopped my watch, I was immediately overcome with that post-run euphoric feeling. I had not felt that in more than a year, but it was as familiar to me as it was when I first started running over 30 years ago. As I let the feeling wash over me, it reaffirmed what I’ve known for years — running is not something I do but it is a big part of who I am, and when it is taken away from me, I lose a little bit of myself.

I know my return-to-running journey is far from over and I will need to be patient and persistent in the days and weeks ahead. There will likely be occasional setbacks and challenges that will force me to be careful. But after months of false starts and fleeting dreams, I am now filled with hope as I have experienced the first run back.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery logoThis week’s beer of the week comes from Hangar 24 Craft Brewing in Redlands, California. Their Pacific Coast Hazy is a unique session IPA that successfully blends the New England style and the West Coast style in a beer that is crisp, clean, and only 4.8% ABV. A perfect beer to sip on after that first run back!

Call for Comments

  • Have you spent a significant amount of time out with injury, illness, or other obstacles that got in the way of your running?
  • How did that first run back feel?!
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.