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Growing pains – Or why I can no longer be both a runner and a swimmer

I knew I had a problem when I find myself lying perfectly still in bed, crying. My knees, back and neck had all given up on me. And I knew why. At 28, it’s hard to say I’m old, but I certainly feel I’ve lost the invincibility of my youth, and that’s led me to making some hard choices about the two sports I love: open water swimming and running.
The signs have been there for a while. I’ve begrudgingly stopped writing ‘student’ as my occupation, I call my 18-year-old housemates ‘kids’, I developed a taste for wine, and my body hates me. That’s adulthood, right? I should have known it was coming when I was denied student entrance to the Sintra National Palace in October because the receptionist didn’t believe I was 25. Until then, people regularly asked me what high school I attended. Suddenly I was looking my age. Not fair!
Weeks later, my back started hurting when I sat at my desk for too long. Next, my knees turned on me.
After successfully leading a 5-kilometre running group last winter, I was offered the 30-kilometre group this year. The adult part of me knew it was a bad idea. My swim-heavy summer had reduced my running fitness and I had never been great with distances. But the young-at-heart, foolish part of me agreed.
I made it through the first week fine. But after not allowing enough recovery from a half marathon, a 15-kilometre training run left me exhausted with sore knees.
But I still didn’t stop. So my body screamed even louder. I was reaching for my toothbrush one Tuesday when a muscle in my neck spasmed. The entire left side of my body seized and all movement hurt.
Eventually my muscles relaxed enough to move and I saw a registered massage therapist. She was horrified. Apparently the tightness of an athlete combined with the computer use of a student and the stress of a human left my neck exceptionally tight.
I was devastated. I was a swimmer who couldn’t swim because of a sore neck and a runner who couldn’t run because of sore knees.
As my neck pain eased, my back pain increased. I saw a physiotherapist who determined that I have a tight quadratus lumborum, which results from overuse and poor posture. Working on my computer in bed had got to me. And running increasingly long distances with no build-up and insufficient rest exacerbated the problem.
I was in pain and frustrated. I cried for days. But as time past, I realised that without the invulnerability of a teenager, I needed the maturity of an adult. I had pushed too hard, too fast without giving my body enough consideration and I was paying the price. It was time to resolve the problem.
I don’t have the body of a runner. And I don’t have time to train for two sports. It’s time to end my distance running career. I’ve completed two marathons, eight half marathons, and two other distance events. I’ve had a good run (pun intended). It’s time to move on.
But I’m not done swimming! I love swimming! I have a lot of unfinished goals and I’m going to complete them. But things need to change. I need to increase my strength and flexibility. So I’m changing my training regime for the new year.
I would love Peter Pan to let me stay young forever. But eventually Wendy and the boys accepted they had to grow up. I need to also. I’m not getting any younger but if I try very hard, I will get wiser.