Running from nothing…

When I was in a coma right after the accident, I had many strange visions and dreams.  I have put them into writing and I hope to one day share them as part of my book.  In one of these “dreams”, I was running down a country road. It winded through the woods and there was a small brook to the left of the road.   It was an early fall morning.  The air was crisp, but not to cold.  The leaves had begun to change and the morning sun was shining through openings in the canopy.  I could feel my heart beating heavily, but my legs felt as light as a feather. When I looked down I could not see my feet.  I knew my feet were there because I felt the road beneath them.  As I ran, I kept wondering where this road would lead?  I had never seen this road before, but it felt like the perfect place to run.  Eventually, a deer ran across the road in front of me.  It was a doe.  I wanted to stop and look at it, but I couldn’t.  My legs just kept running.  My body didn’t seem to mind.  I felt no pain or shortness of breath.  I just felt cool air in my lungs and could smell the wet leaves.  I was very content and happy…

This past Monday, I did something that some doctors said I would never do again.  I ran.  This run did not stop at 200 yards because the pain and swelling was so bad, as it had with every other attempt I had made.  No, I ran a mile in 12 minutes.  Before the accident, I was able to run a mile in under 6 minutes, but still I ran.  Words can’t express how happy I felt.  I could have gone farther but I think I was so taken back about running a mile that all I wanted to do was bask in my glory!   In just a matter of 12 minutes I had overcome another adversity.  Not with months of slow progress, like my other goals, but with almost instant gratification, I ran.  I waited to wake up from the dream…

Running has been a very important part of me for most of my life.  Running was the one sport I truly excelled at in high school.  I chose the college I attended because of their track team.  My trauma doctors would tell you that running played a big part in me still being alive.  I was running 40 to 50 miles a week at the time of the car accident.  My heart and lungs were strong (both were very damaged in the accident) and my body fat percentage was low.  Not since college had I really cared about running to win.  I was happiest when I was running by myself.  Even before the accident I found joy in testing my limits of pain.  I have always believed that running prepared me to not only survive the accident, but also, had taught me to deal with the trials and pain of my recovery.

I have missed not being able to run.  To have it still taken away from me after hundreds of hours in the gym rebuilding my body, was a very bitter pill to swallow.  Knowing that the surgery at UNC on my left leg has given running back to me, is nothing short of another gift from God.  The emotions that I felt after running for the first time in almost 4 years are impossible to describe.  I have worked so hard, for so many months, to get aspects back from my old life.  Getting a gift like this, so instantaneously, is almost too much for me to understand.  It truly feels like another miracle.

Just like a kid with a new bike or an adult with a new car, I need to test this new leg, and figure out what it can do.  Tuesday I was back running on a treadmill and I ran 1.25 miles.  My pelvis and back hurt, but they always hurt.  Both my ankles and knees hurt. These were new pains, but I knew that they were from running on Monday.  All my lifting and elliptical training didn’t prepare my joints for the pounding of running.  I wanted to do more, to go farther, but I knew I shouldn’t over do it.  I needed to rest my legs, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold back.  Thursday at lunch I was back at it.  I decided I would try for a mile and a half.  The first half mile was pretty painful.  My nerve damage in my left leg was fighting back and I had noticed earlier that day that the muscle fibers in my thigh were not loosening.  At the half mile mark, I was just hoping to at least make it a mile.  But by the time I hit the one mile point, I was in “the zone”.  I use to hit the “zone” somewhere around mile six before the accident.  The “zone” is the point when you are no longer thinking about running,  your breathing is controlled and in rhythm and your heart beat seems to be in perfect cadence with your stride.  Before the accident, when I was in the zone, I could knock out ten or more miles without even realizing it.  When I looked down again, I was about a quarter-mile short of 2 miles.  The thought of running 2 miles was too much to process.  All my focus was gone.  I sped up the treadmill and I ran as fast as I could.  I didn’t want my body to give out before I finished.  In my mind, running faster meant it would be over sooner.  In three days I had doubled my distance.

Will I ever be a distance runner again?  I don’t know.  (I am sure I won’t be a sprinter again!)  Part of me keeps waiting for something to go wrong. For another setback to stop me.  By my standard, this has been too easy.  At the same time, if I find out next week that I can’t run anymore, at least I now have “real” memories of running after the accident.  I would, however, like to find that road from my “dream”.  I really would like to know where it ends…

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11 Responses to Running from nothing…

  1. Vicki Fleeman says:

    you continue to inspire me each and every day. i ,too suffer with daily pain though it surely is none like yours. my left knee will eventually need to be replaced as i am putting it off with dhots until it is absolutely necessary thus enduring the pain. what i do not look forward to this time is the support of my dear husband who was with me every second of the way with my first knee replacement due to an injury 7 years ago. he now has passed away from kidney and heart failure and i will so miss holding his hand but i know that it will all be in even bigger hands. God’s hands will take care of me.

    • John Ulsh says:

      Vicki- Having my wife Tonia there to simply hold my hand was the best medicine I could get for pain after my many surgeries, so I understand your fear of going through surgery with out him. I also know what it is like to not want to have another procedure done and therefore put it off. All I can say, is that the last surgery on my leg has so dramatically changed my quality of life, that I wished we would have tried to find a specialist sooner. If getting your knee fixed can stop the pain and improve your quality of life, then it seem worth it. As you said “God’s hands will take care of me.”
      Thanks for posting you reply. It does mean a lot to my family and I when we hear how our story is helping others.
      God Bless-

  2. Your determination to never quit is an inspiring motivator. Your story, your blog has brought me to fight back and take control over things I let get out of control. I to am finding my way back to my old self. Keep up the blog you are touching others in ways you may never know.
    Thank you John
    Dee : )

    • John Ulsh says:

      I know you and you have huge heart and some real determination! I know that if you put you mind to it, you will overcome any obstacle. Tonia and I are very happy to know our story has helped you. I wish you the best. I know that if you put your mind to it, you will make it happen! Thanks for sharing. It does mean a lot to know we our making a difference.

  3. Roy Shelly says:

    I have always enjoyed reading about your experience whenever Tiffany would supply it. I like many others are encouraged and inspired by your positive attitude in your long road to recovery. Nothing is so profound as the credit you give to God!

    • John Ulsh says:

      Thanks Roy! Only through the Grace of God is my family alive. We try to remember that everyday. We think the world of Tiffany! Her on-going support for me and my family will never be forgotten. I remember many late nights in the nursing home when she would come in at 11 PM and sit with me because she knew I couldn’t sleep at night and she didn’t want me to be alone. Thanks for sharing your thought. -John

  4. Peter Smith says:


    Thanks for this and for inspiring me to take a small step (today) towards reclaiming the joy that I to experienced from running for most of my life. Unlike you, I did it to stay in shape for soccer but it was one of the most important freedoms I had and it was the single best reliever of whatever stress I was dealing with on any given day. I remember days of running through the snow in the middle of Chicago winters (before I moved to Boston) and the looks I would get from people who drove by wondering why anyone would choose to subject themselves to such condidtions. After I ripped my calf muscle playing soccer, it seemingly ended my competitive soccer life and put a stop to my running. Years of so-called specialists and physical therapy got me no closer to conquering the beast and it got so bad that in recent years I stopped even trying. Today, tonight, when I get home from work, I’m going out. I will fight through the impulse to put it off for one more day or the embarrasment that I might feel at what anyone might think of this ‘fat guy’ running. Thanks for giving me that inspiration. I can’t wait for this day to end so that I can get my shoes on and re-introduce myself to the road. Peter

    • John Ulsh says:

      Peter- I felt the same way I first started going to the gym. What would other people think when they saw this out of shape, handicapped guy working out. Turns out they thought, “If that guy is in here working out I guess I have no excuses!” I know I will never run like I use to run, but it is the greatest feeling in the world to be out there with your thoughts. As you said, it is great stress relief. I found that if you make a whole bunch of first steps, the next thing you know you are running! Have fun and let me know how it’s going.

  5. Peter Smith says:

    My back is killing me…my left achilles tendon is laughing at me and my right calf is downright mocking me. And I never felt better!

    • John Ulsh says:

      That is awesome! Beats laying in a bed any day! At 6:30 this morning, my entire family met me in the drive way and pushed me through a 2 mile run. It hurt like crazy. I smile every time I think about it 🙂 Keep it up. Slow and steady is my motto. Looking forward to an early morning jog together in Vegas.

  6. Pingback: Things are about to change… | My Recovery – My Motivation

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