What do you do after being told you will never run again?

Running injurie

By Pablo Rodríguez

My doctor told me never to run again. So what did I do? I turned running into my job.

Running guide Pablo Rodriguez didn’t let a broken back stop him from creating a running vacation company in Costa Brava, Spain.

The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle

I was leading a sedentary life, working 10 hours a day in front of a computer with no physical activity led to a herniated disc in my back. In 2007, after fighting against sciatica pain which left me with limited mobility, I underwent surgery so I could at least walk without pain.

And the doctor said … "You'll never run again" 

My doctor warned me that after surgery I would never run again (I hadn’t been running for years but always loved it), and that running would re-injure my back. Despite the warning, I had the procedure. My recovery went well and, following my doctor’s instructions, I didn’t run for three years.

A Blessing in Disguise 

During that time I was laid off from my job. I had long thought about of creating a running-vacation business, but I couldn’t take the leap because my steady job assured a regular monthly salary, which was much appreciated with four children at home.

But after losing my job due to the 2008- 2010 crisis, I was finally free to pursue my dream job to lead running vacations in my home area of Costa Brava.

A Pending Disaster? Or Maybe Not…

But I needed to be able to run again. So I went to the biggest sports store in Girona and purchased the best pair of running shoes available. Amazingly, I ran just a few minutes a day with no back pain. I slowly increased my mileage to regain fitness in preparation of leading my hoped-for running clientele.

Day by day I explored every corner of Costa Brava along the sun-kissed Mediterranean, from Girona to the French border. My doctor was wrong! I was running pain-free for at least 20 kilometers a day.  Once the route was set and with a still-under-construction website, I opened the doors for business. And soon our first runners arrived. 

The pain is back!

A Pending Disaster? Or Maybe Not… However, my joy didn’t last long. One day I awoke with the all-too-familiar leg pain. I panicked.  I knew exactly what it was, but couldn’t admit it to myself: my doctor was right.

His words echoed in my head: “Pablo, you will never run again. There is nothing between your discs. It is basically bone scratching bone.” I was paying the price for foolishly following my dream.

The pain made it physically impossible to be a running guide. I tried medicines, creams, hot and cold therapies, anything that came to my mind. But nothing worked. The pain persisted. Yet, I had obligations to my running vacation clients. 

A unexpected gift

About a week later I received an email from a client, Ulrich Jansen, an American businessman from California who was traveling from France to Valencia. He was looking for an artist to design new coffee cups for Starbucks. We were to meet the next day in Palamós to begin his running tour.

I stood up from my chair only to feel severe pain in my lower back and an aching from the top of my right leg to the end of my toes. I feared that the business and my dream job was over before it even got going!

Still, I prepared to meet Ulrich for his running vacation of Costa Brava. As we drove in his expensive rental car to the tour’s starting point, we talked about our shared love of running, though I had no idea if I could run a step. As we exited the car, I noticed that Ulrich was wearing Luna sandals.

Concerned about his understanding of the trail ahead, I asked, “Excuse me, are you going to run in those?”

Ulrich then explained how running in sandals was the only relief for his back pain. And he proved it by gliding effortlessly over the rugged trail and loving every minute.

I had to know more! I was willing to do anything to get rid of my pain! Ulrich preached the benefits of running without expensive big-brand sneakers. It was a revelation to me. At the run’s end he gave me his Luna sandals, which I started using that same afternoon when I went for a walk with my sons and wife. It felt great! 

I'm free

Today, 14 years after surgery and my doctor’s dire warning, I am able to run 30 kilometers per day without pain. My dream of using running as a means to show visitors my beautiful home region is now a thriving business.

And whenever I meet my clients for the first time, I get the same skeptical question that I once asked of Ulrich: “Excuse me, are you going to run with sandals?”

Pablo welcomes runners runners who use any kind of foot gear, though you know what he will be wearing!

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