Running has been one of the most challenging journeys I’ve ever taken part in. For me, running isn’t just a recreational activity, but a lifestyle. I’ve run before the sun comes up and after the sun has gone down- always making sure to find time for my training every day. I endure extreme weather, and when the weather gets too extreme, I endure great periods of time scurrying along the belt of a treadmill like a mouse spinning in its wheel. I’ve run through allergies, head colds, sleep deprivation, and days where I just feel downright crappy. I watch what I eat, guzzle endless gallons of water and powerade, and abstain from alcohol. Running isn’t easy. Living a “runner lifestyle” isn’t easy. You just get faster and stronger, and the training becomes habitual and ritualistic. However, the hardest part of running isn’t waking up early, or tight muscles or even hill repeats. The hardest part of running is not being able to run at all.
Up until last September, I had never suffered a running injury. After a summer of dramatically increased mileage and intensity, I ended up with Achilles tendinitis. I was in the greatest physical condition of my life and at the very start of my sophomore cross country season, so I ran through it. A few weeks later, I began to experience stiffness and discomfort in the arch of my foot. And yes, I then ran through plantar fasciitis as well. By the end of the season, I was a wreck. Lower back pain, hips shifting out of alignment, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis nagged me every step, running or walking, every hour of the day. I had been seeing a chiropractor twice a week just to stay functional, and finally I asked him why my injuries would never improve past a certain extent, why my body wouldn’t just return to normal. He told me I would need a month, at the very least, of absolutely no running for everything to finally heal.
I listened to my chiropractor. I biked, I swam, and (although I longed for it miserably) I didn’t run. A month slowly passed by and finally I began to run again. I started with short runs, only a few days a week, with the bulk of my workouts consisting of cross training on a stationary bike. Slowly I added more days and increased the duration of my runs, and by summer break, I had transitioned entirely from the bike to running. Only a few weeks later, my body was tolerating my old distances again. The next thing I knew, it was all taken away again. After a large heavy cutting board slipped off a table and fell on my foot at work, I found myself strapped in a surgical shoe with the unfortunate verdict: no running for at least three weeks.
I’ve come back before. I know how to cross train. My gym offers spin classes. I can take this time to work out the muscle imbalance in my hips. I tell myself every positive thing I possibly can to keep my head in the right place. The difficult thing about being a runner is that it isn’t just what you do, it’s who you are. And while I try so hard to convince myself that I can make this situation into something constructive, I’m still overcome with “running withdraw”. I get moody, I feel fat, I feel lazy, and I feel as if I’ve lost everything that once made me extraordinary. I get scared I’ll never be as good again, and sometimes I worry I’ll never heal and I’ll never be able to run at all again. I tell myself I’m being ridiculous, I acknowledge how irrational all my fears are, but every now and again, “running withdraw” gets the best of me. Two days ago it got the very best of me…I cracked.
I don’t regret it. It was a glorious thirty minutes. I set the treadmill at 0.5 incline and 8.0 miles per hour and my body fell into the rhythm it knew so well. The spin classes I’ve been doing have kept me fit and strong; I felt fantastic while I was running and even as I toyed with the incline to simulate a few hills, my body transitioned effortlessly. I could feel myself smiling like a big idiot as I ran. I remembered how to run, and to run well. It was still there- the runner inside me.
I stopped after thirty minutes and then hopped on a stationary bike for another half hour of cardio. Could I have gone longer? Absolutely. Should I have gone longer? Absolutely not. While my foot was not necessarily “hurting”, I could feel it wasn’t entirely healed. Besides, I had gotten everything I needed from that run. Running is just as mental as it is physical. That’s what I was looking for today- the mental aspect that is. Rather than getting in a killer workout, I just needed a bit of reassurance. And you know what? The sky isn’t falling, the sun will rise tomorrow, and everything’s going to be okay.
If my injuries have taught me anything, it’s that no matter what sorts advice any coach or doctor gives me, it will always come back to my own judgement. It’s about patience and listening to my body, not rushing a recovery faster than what my body can accommodate. This injury, I will not make the same mistakes I did last time. I’m smarter now.
To all the runners, or any athletes suffering with injuries: take your doctor’s advice and trust your gut feeling. Trying to force a miraculous recovery is only good for forcing a miraculous regression in your healing. Eventually, you will be back and better than ever; and right now, focus on being smart and positive. Thanks for reading and never stop embracing your passions!