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According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2023 is the year of the shithouse rat. The year started out lousy. As the 2022 calendar was swapped with a new one, I writhed in pain, unable to run. After running approximately 2,000 miles in each of the previous couple years, the fiery pain I’d tried to ignore throughout the 2020s engulfed my hips and flared to more than I could tolerate. Unable to live this way any longer, I waved the white flag of surrender.

I quit running, hoping that after a few weeks of rest, I’d be able to reactivate the Nikes. WHAMMY! The pain worsened. Even riding the Peloton for a couple miles was insufferable. I underwent an MRI and wouldn’t you know it—tears in my hip and double inguinal hernias.

You read that right. Two big-ass inguinal hernias. There was no external evidence of hernias. It’s not like I had a couple elephant trunks protruding from my groin. Instead, it felt like hot rebar was implanted in my body, extending from my pubis to about halfway down my thighs. Imagine wearing a pair of boxer briefs of pain. That’s sorta what it felt like for a couple years. Hernia repair surgery was required. The surgeon assured me that after a week of bedrest, I’d gradually be able to resume normal activities.

Fast forward a few weeks. Surgery dunzo. That week of recovery the doctor mentioned quintupled like a wet Mogwai. While recuperating, I tried to remember the last time I ran but couldn’t. Stuck in bed, I kept thinking that I’d trade anything to be able to run a couple miles again. Anything. Everything. For 2 miles at any pace.

Over the past few years, running had lapsed from a meditative activity of renewal to a task on my daily to-do list. I was hyper-focused on my times, my cadence, and nothing else. I stared at my watch while running. Afterward, I self-flagellated. “Why did I average 7:04 miles when I was aiming for sub-7?” There was no space for new ideas or room for the runner’s high of yore.

After another calendar page flipped, I could finally walk the pugs about a mile with only sporadic discomfort. Progress, I supposed, as I grimly accepted that this would be my new reality.

8 weeks after surgery, we drove up to Monument Valley to spend a weekend in a Navajo hogan. My wife directed me to bring my running shoes. I told her it was a stupid idea, but stupid is as stupid does.

On the 2nd day, we made the short drive over to Forrest Gump Point. For the unfamiliar, this is the spot where the fictional character played by Tom Hanks ended his runs zigzagging the United States with the famous line, “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now.”

The magic of Monument Valley, my wife’s encouragement, and the Nikes converged, empowering me to slowly but steadily place one foot in front of the other. Again. And again. Foreign tourists taking selfies with the famous backdrop turned their cameras and their attention toward me. “Run, Forrest, Run”, they exclaimed in more dialects than you’d find outside a Lower East Side bodega.

It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t pretty. But it was exhilarating. I laughed so hard that I started crying. I was running again. I couldn’t have cared less about pace. Weeks earlier I laid in bed willing to trade the rest of my life for what I was doing at that very moment.

In a sense, I did trade my life for that moment. It was a rebirth. The phoenix. Old Jason had to die again to clear away growth of the new Jason. I don’t know, nor do I care, if I’ll ever be able to run as fast or as far as I used to. I just know I can run. My mileage and pace have increased. Pain levels have decreased.

I’ve developed a new mantra. While it arose on my runs, I try to apply the sentiment to all facets of life. “Thank you for this opportunity to feel the warm sun kissing my bare skin, to feel the slight breeze created by my own locomotion. The sounds, the scents, the sights. Nature. The passing cars. Thank you for this moment. This is perfect.”

The sense of gratitude I now feel is as monumental as the valley I trekked through that day. When it’s 112 degrees and I’m thinking of cutting a run short, I ask myself, “If this was the last run of my life, would I stop or would I choose to keep going?” Every time, the answer is the same, and I keep on keepin’ on. The only pain I feel is when I’m smiling so big my face hurts.

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