Last Christmas, I cursed running for giving me a stress fracture in the midst of an unseasonably warm Ohio winter perfect for running. Well, it’s been a year. I survived, and I didn’t simply survive, my friends. My stress fracture managed to make my running life better. I know it sounds sacrilegious. Who wants a stress fracture anyway?
Mine was in my heel, powerfully painful, and almost a full break. It drove me to tears in the office bathroom the day before I was scheduled for the MRI that would confirm the dreaded injury. I had a long, rocky recovery that I am actually thankful for, looking back on 2016. My stress fracture didn’t directly make my running life better, but it gave me the break– no pun intended– that I needed to step back and focus on what I was doing wrong, or rather, what wasn’t working for my body. What lessons did I learn from my time off, you ask? Settle down for my holiday tale…
Ghosts of Races Past
I’ve been chasing the same half marathon goal since 2012: sub-1:50. Before my stress fracture, I was not training properly, especially considering that my long-standing half PR is less than five minutes shy of that goal. After bombing two out of four goal races in 2015, I felt like I had plateaued in running. The races of my past haunted me throughout my training season. The seemingly effortless sub-2’s I executed when I was a newbie seemed so far away:
Where did those paces go?
Why isn’t my training working?
What happened to meeeeee?
In my time off, I figured out that I was an intermediate runner training like I was far more experienced. Both my speed work and easy runs were way too fast. I was always disappointed after races because my intervals indicated that I should be light speed, but in reality I was not giving myself recovery time or training to sustain such a fast pace in an actual race. It has taken me three effing years to realize this. I am sure that somewhere along the line, working with the other Salty Runners, I would have realized this eventually, but I think I have the forced break from running to thank for my big epiphany.
My former races weren’t the only thing haunting me. The pity party I hosted for myself last year has been on my mind too. When I got the news that I would need to stop running for three months minimum, I let everyone know. I whined about it here on Salty Running. My running comrades felt for me. But I also made it clear to everyone, and I mean everyone, I came in contact with that I had an injury from hell. In short, I was obnoxious. I was the 2015 Drama Queen of the Year. I behaved like my stress fracture was the end of the world. (After living to see the 2016 election, I truly do know what the end of the world is like. And a stress fracture is not it.)
My time off didn’t affect any goal race. It actually happened at the perfect time, if that’s even possible. It was wintertime. I was about to move abroad. Other than giving me some extended, unplanned rest time, and perhaps taking away some “self therapy,” it didn’t negatively impact my running life. I was mostly upset because as I mentioned last year, running allows me to enact some control over my otherwise chaotic life, and when that little piece of control was taken away, I was forced to face reality again and find another way to cope. I had every right to be upset about my injury, but I milked it a
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to put down the crutches, let the Christmas tree go, and pack your bags because your life is about to change and your fracture isn’t going to matter a damn bit! PS: Shut up about it on social media already too.
Ghosts of Races Present
When I started running again after three months of rest, it felt like I was starting all over. That’s exactly what I needed, to press the reset button and focus on the present only! I took my easy runs easy as I should have in the first place. I started with conservative speed work rather than the 7:15 pace I was forcing so hard before. From January to November last year, I was on the go-go-go, racing my little heart out at least once a month. Finally, I got the rest I needed to realize that you need to slow down if you want to speed up.
I’m already stronger and whittling down my tempo paces that I never could have sustained before. I recently completed my first triathlon, and rather than force unreasonable expectations upon myself, I treated it as an experiment and a fitness test. It turned out to be the most fun fitness test of my life.
I also have my eyes on the prize: a goal race next spring. I’m especially excited now that I know how to build strength and speed while listening to my body.
Ghosts of Races Yet to Come.
Thanks to the Great Break of 2015, I know how to properly rest without feeling guilty about it. Now I’m a firm believer in breaks! In fact, I’m taking one now between the completion of my tri and the start of my half training. It’s awesome! I have time to style my hair, wear clothes other than the running kind, and read a little extra running material, if only for just a week!
Although I would like to qualify for Boston some day, I have no marathons on the imminent horizon. I can chill a little bit, which is exactly what I plan to do. I will listen to my body, not run it into the ground, observe rest days, and schedule races wisely. And every few months, hell, I may take a whole week off because I can!
The events leading up to my forced rest taught me that if you don’t chill every once in awhile, you’ll probably be in a very unfashionable and uncomfortable boot for two months. My 12 weeks of resting helped my future self be smarter about running, mentally and physically.
Do you have enough chill in your life? How often do you break from running?