injury

A year of not running: being happy when the shit hits the fan

For runners and triathletes, not being able to run or train for any length of time feels like torture. Not being able to do it for A YEAR is generally unthinkable and horrifying. Whatever kind of athlete you are, when suddenly you can no longer do much of anything, it’s a fucking nightmare difficult transition.

Sometimes, the unthinkable happens. 

Just over a year ago, I did a half-iron triathlon. It was the fittest and strongest I have ever been in my life; yet, when I crossed the finish line after just over 7 hours, I allowed myself only a split second (no joke. maybe one full second.) worth of joy before the “could-have-done-better” began. Shortly thereafter, the shit hit the fan big time, with my body going into a year of perplexing dysfunction and often-debilitating pain. During this time, I’ve probably spent more time getting health care – with doctors (6), physical therapists (4), chiropractors (3), acupuncturists (3), the ART (active release techniques) guy (1), and, thank GOD, one truly remarkable therapist – than I have spent training. There were times, over the Winter, when the pain was at its worst, that I honestly did not think I could live with it, that I *wanted* to live with it. It is, so thankfully, much better now, but my activities are still very limited.

I’m not going to say I’ve got it all figured out, by any stretch; but I must admit, I have handled it all about a zillion times better than I would have anticipated. Early on, I thought I’d “go crazy” or “lose my mind.” I’ve done my best to stay active on the days and in the ways in which I’ve been able. And, though I’ve lost a lot of strength physically…I’ve most definitely picked up strength mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here are a few of the things I’d like every athlete coping with an injury…or every athlete who may one day deal with an injury, so, basically every athlete…to know. And, actually, these things are just as applicable to non-athletes, too.

Let yourself truly celebrate your achievements, while staying humble and grateful. 

I can see from my new vantage point here mostly on the sidelines that a more fitting finish line response a year ago would have been sobbing tears of joy while doing cartwheels and screaming “OMFG! OMFG! OMFG! I AM ON TOP OF OF THE WORLD!!!” On the other hand, there’s something to be said for humility, which is part of what you learn from this type of experience. The universe, it seems, does not want you to have a big old arrogant head; conversely, it does not want you to relentlessly beat the crap out of yourself. And oddly enough it is very possible – commonplace, even – to do both simultaneously. If Facebook triathlon groups are any indication, I am not alone in this regard.

So, let yourself *really* feel those intensely joyful, peak experiences while also not having the arrogance to take them the least bit for granted. Because really – none of us ever knows when a race or a ride or a run or a walk for that matter may be our last for a very long time or even forever. 

Humility goes hand in hand with gratitude. For me, now, every swim, every ride when they can happen, and every one-mile jog-walk which I just now am finally able to try – is a win. It’s tempting to belittle it, but NO. It’s an absolute gift.

Learn to stay with your feelings, not run from them. 

Whether we’re aware of it or not, many of us routinely run from our feelings of insecurity, groundlessness, fear and sadness. This has been a HUGE strategy for me my whole life, and I don’t do it halfway: when my Mom and Dad were getting divorced, I picked up and moved to the other side of the country. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone by any means, but for me, triathlon training – as much as I often genuinely enjoyed it – became just another means of running from my feelings of deep dissatisfaction and of not being good enough.

In this way, being “forced” by my injury to sit still long enough to feel my feelings was a true blessing. I’d go so far as to say, as hard as it’s been, I’m grateful for it. When you sit still long enough to actually experience your not-so-happy feelings, you move through them and…guess what…then you feel the HAPPY feelings more, too. The universe is amazing that way.

To do this, instead of distracting yourself from your feelings via whatever means you traditionally do (Facebook? Cookies? Another work out when you really don’t need one?)…just hang with them. Let them be. Give them some room to breathe.

Read or listen to some Pema Chodron. She has become my favorite writer during all of this, after my therapist recommended her. And she can say all of this much better than I. When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, The Wisdom of No Escape … all incredible books that will help you through any injury and probably change your life.

The big one: Learn to listen to your true self. 

With every swim, every bike, every run, every weight lifted, I was, without awareness, on a mission to prove to myself that I was good. So much so that, even after one particular PT whom I saw only once accidentally went too far and made my injury worse, I put myself through an awful 13-mile run, which was intended to be my first training run for the Chicago Marathon. Clearly this was not in the cards; my body was telling me almost every step of that run to stop. I ignored it, and listened to the louder voice of “I can push through this.” Because I felt if I didn’t, I would have failed. I would have been less. At times, on that run, it felt like I was punishing myself for some unknown offense. I truly crossed a line.

But it is not our training or our race times or our accomplishments that makes us good. We all have innate goodness (or Buddha nature, if you’re into that, as I am). Sometimes we need to learn to listen to THAT voice…not the voice of our egos but the voice of our deeper selves. If there is a nagging “doubt” in your mind, you might need to listen.

As endurance athletes, we all walk a fine line. Sometimes it is completely appropriate to listen to that voice in our head that drives us, that pushes us farther than we’ve gone before, the voice of motivation and determination. And, sometimes, as I have now learned the hard way (actually, there IS no easy way), the voice that whispers “stop” is more true. Learning to distinguish between the two has been an absolutely invaluable lesson.

Thank you, Universe. 

For the first time in my life, even though I can’t run even a mile, even though I have regained some of the weight I lost three years ago, even though I am not racing these summer weekends like so many of my friends, I can honestly say that I believe I am good. It’s a very peaceful feeling.

If you are dealing with an injury or the shit has hit the fan and you want to chat, drop me a line. I understand.

Seven lessons from training for a marathon and getting injured

Imma just put this right here for later.

NOT FUNNY, UNIVERSE. NOT FUNNY.

Evidently the universe, which is usually quite good to me, thought it would be comical to have me run through all sorts of winter darkness and ice and grossness, and then, on the VERY FIRST gorgeous warm sunny day of Spring, tell me that I have a stress fracture in my calcaneous (heel bone). Pending MRI confirmation on Monday/Tuesday, but we’re 99% sure. Frustrating…check. Sad…oh yeah, big time. Not at all amusing…at least not yet.

I feel asinine even posting this, less than two weeks after Boston. Believe me, I am *fully* cognizant of the fact that there are people much, much more gravely injured than I. I particularly think about the dancer who lost her foot in the bombings, who has vowed to run next year’s marathon. Unbelievable resilience.

I just feel that the best way to process/deal with this at this point is to think about what I’ve learned in the *process* of training and getting injured, partially to comfort myself, in lieu of ice cream, and partially in hopes that it might help someone else at some point. There’s a lot I would do differently, knowing what I know now.

1. SCREW “SKINNY.” GET STRONG.

The fitness and beauty industries overall conspire in many ways to focus on our aspirations to be skinny, and much less so on our desire to KICK ASS AND TAKE NAMES. We owe it to ourselves to know better than that.

Through the first 10 weeks of my training this year, I was very focused on limiting my daily calories to drop some lbs. before the marathon. Yes, valid goal. Yes, I dropped 13 lbs and am at a healthier, happier weight. Yes, I feel less gross (except for this whole sitting-on-my-ass-all-Spring-now thing). BUT. Little did I know that somewhere along the way, while obsessing over tracking every calorie, I was developing a slight Vitamin D deficiency, even though I was taking a 1,000 IU Vitamin D supplement every day along with a multivitamin.

2. FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY. HALLEFREAKINGLUJAH.

With the help of this experience and nutritionist-to-the-stars and rockstar runner and triathlete Amy Friese, from Fearless Nutrition, I’ve learned that food is FUEL, not something to be feared.

Wait. What?! I’ve spent my whole life trying to learn to eat LESS. The experience of NEEDING to eat MORE to fuel training and a LOT of it…*mind completely blown*.

3. DRINK YOUR MILK.

The thing about Vitamin D? It needs FAT to get absorbed. So if you’re using skim milk to stay skinny and think you are getting enough Vitamin D in your body, to ensure you can absorb calcium and keep your bones strong, you *might* be wrong. I’ll never know if my outcome would have been any different if I was enjoying a couple of glasses of 1%-2% (chocolate!) milk every day, but it’s entirely possible. In hindsight, I wish I had gotten my vitamin levels checked BEFORE I started training; I’d also suggest that to anyone training for something like a marathon…especially when you are rapidly heading over the hill like me. ;) There are of course other ways to get calcium and Vitamin D for those who can’t do dairy…the milk thing works for me, not for everyone. I recommend it if you can.

4. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. THEN LISTEN HARDER.

For newbie runners like me (or for anyone I suppose), it’s hard sometimes to know when you are running through a little “ordinary” pain and when it’s time to STOP and get it checked out. We train ourselves to just keep running, and that can mean not listening well to the signs of an injury. Denial, as they say, is not just a river…

A stress fracture is weird in that the pain comes and goes, so it can trick you into thinking that you’re OK. My foot started hurting about 6 weeks ago. At first, I could get about 6 miles into a run before it would hurt. Then 3 or 4. Then 1. Then…crap…it hurts all the time. I’d better go to a doctor. I wish with all my heart that I had gotten checked when it first started hurting, instead of doing two 20-mile runs with a stress fracture. I’d be in a very different place right now that it’s FINALLY SPRING.

The moral of the story: be smarter than me. If something hurts, GO TO THE FREAKING DOCTOR. If it turns out to be nothing, that’s a bonus.

5. RELATED, ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE/THERAPIES SOMETIMES AREN’T ENOUGH.

Even once I admitted to myself that I am injured, I didn’t go to a “traditional” doctor / orthopedist right away as I should have, in hindsight. I went to a (terrific) physical therapist. I went to an orthotics-guy-acupuncturist. I finally went to the orthopedist seeking clearance to race and peace of mind. I really didn’t think he was going to find anything. HA. HAHAHA. BWAHAHAHAHA *cries*.

Seriously, stress fractures are sneaky little bastards. Don’t be fooled.

6. PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY AWESOME.

Everyone knows the community of runners is amaziballs and my experience during marathon training was no exception. There were people like Anne who offered to be there for support and early morning winter complaints. Like Deb, who offered to chat about nutrition and share her experience. Like Tracey from PowerUp Fitness, who whooped my ass (in a good way) in bootcamps and training sessions and was generally *beyond* awesome. And like COUNTLESS others who offered support and encouragement. Thank. You. All of you.

There were also more than 20 people who donated to Racers Against Childhood Cancer in sponsorship of my run. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT.

7.”EVERY SETBACK IS A SET FOR AN EVEN BIGGER COMEBACK.” ~THE ROCK

OK. So here’s the deal. I’ve cried a LOT yesterday and today. And while I can’t guarantee I won’t continue feeling a little sad over the next several weeks while I am sidelined (the absence of endorphins is a BITCH, yo) and watching people run by my window, what I can promise is that I am going to do everything I possibly can to stay motivated and strong and do what I can physically do during this period (which I don’t really know yet.) Yoga. Recumbent bike *woooohoooo (sarcasm)* Upper body weights. CORE. And I’m drinking my milk, and not obsessing over every single calorie…just eating healthy and trying like hell to not let food be my source of comfort…which is a real challenge for me at the moment.

So that, hopefully, 6-8 weeks from now, I can start running again, and maybe, just maybe, if people smarter than me say it’s semi-reasonable, build back up in time for a fall marathon.

‘Cause that Kelly Clarkson, you know, she may not *seem* like the sharpest knife in the drawer…but that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” shit? That’s the real deal.

So, while I can’t that Racers Against Childhood Cancer race shirt right now, it’s hanging where I can see it every single day. And know that someday I’m going to cross a marathon finish line in it, and it’s going to be EVEN. BETTER.

If you’ve dealt with a running injury, what advice would you add? And how do I not go crazy?

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