Stacey Margaret Jones: Running by Feel – Back on the Road


After some physical therapy, rest and careful exercise, I decided it was time to try one mile with our borzoi Gwenhyfar. I was cleared for training, and her breeder approved her to gradually train up to a maximum of 5 miles a couple of times a week. 

I was scared I would feel that painful twinge under my patella again. For Gwenhyfar, I was to watch her to see if she looked “sore or bored.” From the moment her leash came out of the closet, she was excited, and I caught some of her enthusiasm. It helped to minimize the trepidation:

Will I still be in pain?

Will I have to give up running all together?

How much fitness will I have lost?

Will I be able to enjoy it at all?

On Thursday morning, we set out to run a half-mile out and back in our neighborhood—without my Runkeeper app or a watch. I have decided to make this return to running “by feel,” to train up to the Disney Princess half-marathon in February, that I’ve committed to doing with a group of girlfriends, without setting too many goals, making a strict running plan, or pushing myself back into injury.

This is not usually how I do things. I love the structure of a training program and the achievement of personal records, but this is an important time for me to listen to my body. Usually, I feel good about my fitness as long as I am able to run 10 miles once a week or so: A 10-mile run is a great workout, it’s not too wearing and fatiguing, and it doesn’t completely kill a Sunday.

But the truth is that I love to run. I feel like me when I can get in several miles most days of the week, and I am not my best self when I don’t. During this recoveryRunning By Feel period, I’ve never felt the danger that I’m going to lose interest, only that I won’t be able to continue. Running, I have missed us!

So, I ran that first mile by feel, without timing it or pushing my pace. I felt stiff and clunky for the first quarter mile or so, which was not a surprise, as I had not been running for at least a month. But it felt so good to move again. Gwenny was excited and energetic as she bobbed along beside me.

By the time we turned the first corner toward the open fields, I was enjoying myself and still had no pain in that confounded knee. The day was lovely and chilly, and I was wearing a fleece and long running pants. I love those days when I can put on a load of laundry and go outside for a long run. This was far from that, but it was the road to recovering all of those wonderful times.

At the halfway point, I dutifully turned around. I had no pain and was tempted to go on, but fearing too much strain on my knee or overtaxing Gwenny’s abilities or interest, I stuck to my little plan and returned home triumphant. I stretched, and breathed in that long-missed after-run feeling.

Two days later, we struck out again, this time for two miles (Gwenhyfar walks 1.5 miles every day with my husband and our collie, Atticus). Again, there was no pain, and though I wanted to go on, I turned around at the half-way mark and returned home, pleased, hopeful and with an excited and pleasantly fatigued borzoi puppy (always a valuable thing).

Gwenhyfar particularly enjoyed that outing. Every third of a mile or so she suddenly, and without any provocation, started to prance along, hopping up very high, holding her head up, snapping along like a show pony, moving with such exaggerated glee. It was contagious. We were happy.

Sunday, I climbed on our treadmill for a 3-mile run while watching an episode of Lilyhammer on Netflix. I even increased the speed steadily over the last mile, and still felt no pain. I was pleased, too, that I had the ability to run for longer than 30 minutes without feeling winded or overtaxed. During my downward-dog, plank, pigeon and tree pose, afterward, I breathed deeply, gratefully.

I will find my new limit soon, I’m sure, and it will be less than 10 miles—for now. But I’m feeling hopeful about working up to that again in a humane, healthy way before I start loading on the structured workouts, speed drills and hill miles.

And when I start to think about going against my body, what feels right and reasonable for me, I’ll just remember my prancing borzoi, exalting in the day while on the road together, and how delightful it is to run by feel, by happiness and by love.

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