Recovering from a running injury: Why sometimes you have to give it a rest
The rain had come down hard the day before the big race in Pennypack Park, Philadelphia. So the 6.5 mile loop I’d be running around and around all day was covered in mud—not little puddles, either. The course took all us adventure-hungry runners through knee-deep stretches of ice-cold mud, steep rocky hills and sharp slippery twists and turns through the woods. All the makings of a fun Saturday.
Fast forward 40 miles, 11 hours and a heck of lot of blood and tears later, the race was over, just as the sun began to set. I could say that running the appropriately-named “Sloppy Cuckoo 12 hour challenge” was just about the ugliest, most challenging, exhausting thing I’d done. And even though I was hunched over on a rock next to the Don’s Johns barely able to move, I felt on top of the world.
That was five months ago. I haven’t been able to run since. In the days following the race, I wobbled around like a newborn penguin, as might be expected. But when the pain didn’t subside for weeks, then a month, I began to worry. That’s an understatement. I freaked out. I began to do what any medical expert would advise someone not to do—ask Google to diagnose me. When that shockingly failed, I decided to see a doctor. But he kept spewing out offensive words like “relax,” “take it easy,” and—ugh—“rest.” I refused to accept the reality that I had simply pushed myself too hard and refused to believe that my body was, in fact, not invincible.
See, when I went to Philly last fall, I had my own expectations for a journey and a battle. But in an interesting twist of fate, I ended up learning more from the struggle that came after than I would have if I had simply run the course and returned home the exact same person.
By nature, I am not a patient person. But I’ve learned that your ability to persevere is directly related to the amount of patience you have. In the case of distance running, this means consistently waking up at 4 am to hit the pavement before work while the neighborhood is asleep; going to sleep early on Friday night instead of going out with friends; saying no to Sunday brunch because that’s your long run day. But whatever your goal might be, when things don’t go your way—which they often times don’t—you must have the courage to step back, regroup and take whatever steps necessary to slowly make your way back toward your goal. It’s like what one friend texted me before the race: “If you can’t run, then walk, If you can’t walk, then crawl. It doesn’t matter how you move forward—as long as you do.” I’ve gotten pretty good at crawling.
Sometimes our bodies force us to rest, in which case we have to learn to listen. I learned that it’s ok to rest. We often get so consumed with one aspect of our lives that we forget about the others. Yes, running is a huge part of me. But losing the ability to run for the time being has forced me to take a hard look at what else defines me. I admit that I struggled to find the answer. But I finally realized that if I allowed myself to be miserable and negative because of one setback, what would that say about my character—defined by Merriam-Webster as “a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things”? What makes you different? Personally, I’d rather be remembered as someone who is positive, uplifting and faithful—despite, or even because of, the obstacles that are thrown my way.
But most importantly, being the hard-headed stubborn mule that I am at times, I learned to rely on the people around me. Running long distances can be lonely, and a mental battle often ensues with oneself, during which great mental strength can be developed. But greatness cannot be achieved by oneself. I turned to family and friends whom I’ve often traded for miles, and in a touching gesture of selflessness, they have been amazingly loving and supportive enough to deal with my many mood swings—frustrations, borderline depression and all. They’ve reassured me that I will return to running when the time is right. And I learned to believe them.
So in a leap of faith that my body will heal, I’ve signed up for the Yellowstone Teton 50-mile race this September. It’s been a dream of mine to run through Teton Valley—to pass through as no more than a whisper that is hushed by the awesome beauty of towering mountains and a soothing sky. Granted, I also painted a portrait of ideal conditions at Pennypack Park, and we saw how that turned out. But this time around, I will apply the lessons I’ve learned—patience, courage, acceptance and the importance of support—and just maybe I’ll be able to look back from Teton Mountain Range to that rock by the Don’s Johns with fondness and appreciation for the hurdles and hindrances I’m slowly learning to embrace.