In the middle of August, I was at the pinnacle of my still fairly young running career. I was training for my first marathon – Chicago – and was about 2/3 of the way through my training program. I had gradually built up my mileage and was astounded at how far I had come. I was up to 18 miles on my long run and was running about 35 miles a week.
I felt great. Until one day, I didn’t. I set out for my normal Wednesday morning run – an eight miler – and about two miles into it, I started to feel pain in my right foot. The pain steadily increased until I hit about four miles and just had to stop. And those were the last running steps I took for 10 weeks. Bye bye marathon.
Diagnosis: stress fracture. I had to wear a super sexy Storm Trooper-esque walking boot for five weeks, cross train with swimming or the exercise bike, and then start a fitness walking program. Walking!
I can’t even begin to describe my frustration. In a way, I went through a grieving process. Training for the marathon – and really, running itself – had become such a central focus in my life. I was angry. And bored. And stressed out. Running is like a stress prevention drug for me. I’m typically a morning runner, and when I hit the road before work, it sets the tone for my entire day. Things that would ordinarily send me into a panicked frenzy at my job would suddenly roll off my back like nothing. Without my running, I started to fall back into old patterns – not eating breakfast, stressing out over every little thing, and not sleeping well at night.
Plus, I didn’t know what to do with my free time. Training for the marathon was time consuming, but I loved it. And, I had totally formed my identity around being a runner. Without it, I barely knew who I was. That may seem a little dramatic, but it’s how I felt at the time. There was a huge void.
But I learned a lot during my time off about acceptance. After moping for a week or two, I realized I had to “put my big girl pants on and deal with it.” I started riding the bike at the gym. And swimming again. I grew up a competitive swimmer and hadn’t swum laps in years. It was amazing how quickly it came back, and while it didn’t replace the ease of throwing on my running shoes and running out the door, it definitely helped with my stress and energy levels. So, my first lesson was that I can adapt – there are things I can do to gain a lot of the same benefits of running even if it’s off the table temporarily.
The second thing I learned is how common this is in distance running. When I first got injured, I felt embarrassed. I knew so many people who had run marathons, with seemingly no problems. What was wrong with me? Was I just weak? Not cut out for the rigorous training? But the more I talked to friends and people in my running club, I realized a hard truth – injuries are part of the sport, and they happen to almost everyone at one point or another. Mine just happened to be during training for my first full marathon. And while I didn’t do anything crazy during my training that I can point to as the cause of my injury, there are definitely some things I will do differently next time around.
The third thing I learned (or re-learned, I guess), is that pain and disappointment – in running and in life – is unavoidable (boo!) but also temporary (yay!). The whole process reminded me how resilient I am. Within a couple weeks, I was exercising regularly again. My disappointment and sadness faded. I had a recovery plan and I was sticking to it as my foot healed. My 10-week hiatus passed relatively quickly.
So, I’m back out there again, and while I’ve postponed my full marathon until the fall (possibly Marine Corps or Philadelphia?), I have a pretty full race schedule over the next few months – a 5 k, a 10k, a half marathon, and two 10-milers already on my calendar between now and the beginning of May. And I am working on learning one last acceptance lesson – that building back up to where I was will take work and time, and that I need to be patient with myself. Right now, a three mile run seems long and I am nowhere near as fast or as strong as I was pre-injury. But, that’s okay. I’ll get there.
Today: 3 miles; year total: 5 miles.