An ode to Injury

Heidi pictured here at the Center’s weekly Community Track Practice held May – October in Morrisville, Vermont.

Oh injury, sweet injury, what have I done?
To make you lay siege to my body
and toy with my mind…

Greetings from the Land of the Injured! After living here for a couple of months now, I have some thoughts to share about my experience of this place. I can’t claim to have anything groundbreaking to say, but it feels important to acknowledge my residence here. Injury needs to be talked about in the running world. So, for what it’s worth, here are just a few of my complicated, volatile, and ever-evolving thoughts about my time off the roads.

It happened one morning, half-way through a bread & butter long run, seemingly out of the blue. In the months leading up to my mid-run onset of pain, I felt unstoppable: fit, strong, and healthy. Today, I am at 12 weeks since my last run and 11 weeks post diagnosis of a pelvic stress reaction coupled with a ruptured obturator muscle. These weeks so far include 6 weeks of no exercise, 4 weeks of PT exercises and gentle activity, and, now, 2 weeks of strength exercises and more intense activity. Perhaps to some, 12 weeks sans-running sounds like a treat. “A doctor-ordered exercise pause and as much couch time as possible? Sign me up!” But to an athlete, it sounds more like a cruel joke.

…you dropped in without notice, unannounced and unplanned,
and with no tasty nibbles to offer and share!

As the initial shock of my injury faded, I jumped to distraction tactics: “I need a hobby to fill my newly found time and energy! I’m going to sharpen my long dormant piano skills, I’m going to read all the best books of 2018, I’m going to finish major work projects… etc etc.”

Guess what? Nothing changed on any grand scale. Yes, I spent a few hours tickling the ivory keys, I finished a couple of books, and I managed to check off some of my bigger ‘to-dos’ at work, but nothing fruited into a replacement passion project. What did change? I slept more. Rather than waking up pre-dawn to run every morning, I stayed in bed sleeping or reading. By and large, the days went on as regularly scheduled programming, though decidedly less endorphin-fueled.

With the hope of blissful distractions fading, feelings of shame rose to the surface. I felt ashamed for blindly ignoring warning signs, training myself into the ground and consequently sustaining a typical runner’s injury. I found myself embarrassed to be asked why I was on crutches, and having to say I had run my way into an overuse injury. No, it wasn’t a fall or accident, I’d done this to myself. As a running coach, I felt like a hypocrite. I was clearly not practicing what I preach to the groups of running camp athletes or the high school cross country team I work with. How was I supposed to be a role model for runners or effective in my job when I myself couldn’t run?

…and no, that’s not all,
to add to the gloom,
you made me feel careless & foolish & scared!

When I began dissecting my training cycle, it was easy for me to point out everything I had done wrong. In fact, there were glaring red flags. I could have balanced my increased mileage with fewer intensity workouts. I could have been better about getting the nutrition I needed for such intense training. I could have stuck to my initial plan and not run 3 hard half marathons in an ill-advised four week time frame. I could have slept more. I could have established a more focused strength routine. Yes, I could have done a lot of things differently.

But what about the things I did right? It was several weeks before I gave myself any positive credit. When I look back at my training now, I can see PRs achieved, new & challenging workouts conquered, consistent mileage hit, weekly rest days taken, and spontaneous adventures enjoyed. In that time I found a new confidence in myself, now believing I can run the times I want to run. I didn’t fully believe that when I started this marathon training cycle. Most importantly, this period of training gave me tremendous gratitude and appreciation for the place I live, the work I do, and the powerful gift of a healthy body.

… yet you’re not all that bad,
not nearly the worst,
bringing tidbits of goodness & learning & cheer!

The bigger picture shows the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, the focused attention and the oversights. Such perspective can be grounding. Everyone can agree there are far worse things than a temporary break from running. Amidst all that healthy perspective, however, I’ve found it important to allow myself those moments or days when I’m still straight-up bummed. No sugar-coating or faking it, just bummed. Of course I am disappointed. Running has been a life-long pal who I’m suddenly not allowed to hang out with for a couple months. Running has gotten me out of bed and going most mornings, making me feel more alive than a cup of coffee ever could. Running has helped me process in times of loss and frustration. Running has helped me dream up goals and creative ideas. Running has introduced me to many of my closest friends. In so many ways, running has led me to where I am today. So of course the sudden absence of running was – and is – disorienting. It’d be odd if it weren’t.

Recently, I’ve recognized the need to let go of a timeline. Timelines are helpful in many ways, providing some semblance of structure to hold on to or a date to count down to in the blurry vagueness of injured life. A prognosis of 6-12 weeks is more easily digested than “indefinitely”. It’s when we become attached to the timeline that we run into trouble. Optimistic and confident in my healing abilities, I was sure I’d be going for walks and doing strength in four short weeks. A month in and going for a walk was still out of the question. Two more weeks, I thought, and I’d be ready to rip around on skis. Two weeks later and I was decidedly not at that point. I told myself another two weeks and then I’d really be good to go. Womp womp – and so on and so on. The body has its own timeline. It’s encouraging to source hope and motivation when we can, but, ultimately, the body is boss.

… still you tease me, mislead me,
make me greedy, even needy,
as you dangle the prospect of movement & play!

It’s easy to get carried away when we can be active again; even easier when we are fit and healthy, with injury a distant memory. Still fresh back to being able to cross country ski, I feel myself itching to lace up and start running. Are we ever satisfied? Probably not. Do we really learn from injuries? I like to think so. As I move on and let go of this injury, I also hope to hold on to it – remembering both what it took from me and what it gave me.

Looking ahead, I can see myself enjoying the muddy runs of a New England spring, celebrating early morning runs at running camp, racing up Mount Washington, and adventuring on the rugged trails of the Northeast Kingdom. I know running and I will be reunited soon enough – we’re lifelong pals after all.

…oh injury, sweet injury, what can I do?
to wish you good riddance,
but also say thank you?

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2 Responses to An ode to Injury

  1. Pingback: The unrefined art of pool running | Craftsbury Outdoor Center Blog

  2. Olivia says:

    Fantastic article, Heidi! Couldn’t agree more.

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