On Injury

Pissed off PumpkinThis last Spring, I had the best training cycle of my life. After much hemming and hawing over whether I’d go with a higher mileage plan than I’ve done before, I decided to take the plunge with Hanson’s Marathon Method. I was originally worried to take on more miles, as the last two marathons I’d started training for left me injured before I could get to the starting line and I had begun to think that maybe my body just wasn’t built for marathons anymore. But after 18 consistent weeks, I was THRILLED to have made it through training injury-free. The final week before the race left me feeling some niggles in my right leg, but I passed it off as taper crazies.

As I recovered from the marathon though, I could no longer ignore the lingering pain in my lower right leg. As the other muscles returned to their happy state, the leg still felt pretty angry. After ice, ibuprofen, compression, prayer, ignoring, pleading, biofreeze and a few angry words I finally resigned myself to the reality of the situation and made an appointment with my sports chiropractor.

I had to admit it: that nagging, irritating pain wasn’t going away. I was injured.

I approached my chiropractor with my own diagnosis: “I’m having a teeny flare up of tendinitis. Just a little bit. NOTHING like the tendinitis I had two summers ago.” Ahh, yes, this made me feel much better to say it this way. Just a “little” tendinitis. Maybe a week of rest and a couple of Graston treatments and I’d be good to resume my regular running schedule. It was summer and I was really looking forward to building off my marathon base to focus on getting faster. I couldn’t wait to be free from a training plan for a bit and have some sweaty summer fun runs.

One chiro session turned into two, and two into four. The tendinitis was not letting up and in fact, it seemed to be getting worse. I did my best to follow my chiropractor’s advice, but every time we thought it would be okay to attempt a run, the tendons flared up again. It was like one step forward, two steps back. How did I find myself at the losing end of tendinitis once again? I thought this was just a tiny flare up? I did my best during that first month to remain positive. I love road cycling in the summer, so I cross trained a lot on my bike and took care of my leg as well as I could. I iced religiously, once too aggressively, and froze my leg with an ice pack.

Injury recovery
All this couldn’t help me

The first week of July, I felt 95% healed, and with my chiro’s blessing, I started running again. I had a plan to ease my way back into running, because I knew I would need some time to rebuild my strength and endurance. I tried not to feel discouraged at the loss of fitness and how hard running suddenly seemed, because a difficult run is better than no run at all.

But no run at all is where I found myself after just one week of running again. A run in a new pair of shoes that 100% did not work for me re-angered my nearly healed tendons, and to make matters worse, now both legs were injured.

From here the story gets boring; my right leg is perfectly fine now, but I’m having a hard time with the left. I have nothing new or novel to say about my running, because I’m not running. I have no training logs because there is no training about which to write. At this point, nobody is asking me how I’m doing, but rather, “How is your leg doing?” I’m grateful for all the support, but I also feel a lot of pressure to provide an appropriate response. There are only so many ways a person can say “It’s not better.” I don’t see the light at the end of the injury tunnel because every time I think I’m getting close to the other side, I have a setback. All the cross-training in the world can’t fill that part of my soul that needs running.

I am teetering on the edge of just giving up the fight, because I can’t allow myself to get my hopes up, only to find myself at another Graston treatment. It’s hard to ignore the voice in my head that keeps telling me it’s foolish to continue to train for races because I always end up hurt. It’s hard to see my friends reaching their running goals and building excitement for upcoming races while I watch silently from the sidelines. It’s hard to feel like I have nothing to contribute to a conversation about running because it feels like it’s been so long since I’ve done it, and it’s hard to not become resentful at the situation.

When I talk about it I elicit pity, but it feels awful to have others feel sorry for me. It’s vulnerable and I feel weak. It’s become difficult to separate my injury from who I am as a runner. I spend a lot of mental energy trying to hope and think my leg better, because otherwise I feel like I’m not trying hard enough to heal.

Any person who knows me can attest to the fact that I am generally an optimistic person; I try to approach difficulties with humor and positivity. I try to remember that I have my whole life to run and in the grand scheme of things, this injury is merely a blip in time. Being in the middle of an injury can make it seem like it’s our entire world. It can consume us. In moments like this it is helpful to lean on those who have been there and listen to their stories of success in making it to the other side. For me, it provides the ray of hope I need to keep my optimism.

For today, I will take care of myself. I’ll tell myself it’s okay to miss running and it’s natural to be disappointed. An injury isn’t the end of everything, even if it feels that way.

Have you ever felt defined by a running injury?

I'm a college mental health counselor, runner, cyclist, wife, and mom to two strong-willed children. I started running in 2011 after the birth of my last child after years of love-hate relationships with fitness. My favorite distance is the half marathon, but I love the challenge of tackling the marathon. My biggest challenge is the mental aspect of racing, but my greatest strength is I'm stubborn and never give up! I'm a free spirit, an open book, and try to be authentic both in real life as well as in my internet life. Running has given me a place to face my fears, chase goals, and stay humble. Side note: I love cats and coffee and tacos.

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12 comments

  1. I can relate. I’m managing an injury right now also in my achilles. I’m telling myself that “everything happens for a reason” and the rest/break from running may pay off in the end. It’s definitely hard though when you see yourself as a *runner*.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes. From a person who has had a different injury every training season since 2013 and have more DNSes than finish lines in that many years, I completely know where you are coming from. I feel disconnected and sad, but I keep it all inside. I really hope you get back to running soon.

    1. While it’s true that chiropractors aren’t MDs, many of them are sports medicine certified, and in many cases a good sports chiropractor is better equipped to help soft tissue injuries than a medical doctor; I’ve been referred to them by doctors and physical therapists alike.

      Nonetheless, I think you missed the point of the post, and I suspect that telling someone who’s already frustrated about not being able to heal an injury that she’s making the first in a series of mistakes is perhaps only contributing to her problems. Not to mention, when nobody asked “what am I doing wrong?” I’d think twice before I led off with “your first mistake was…”

  3. This is where I am right now. Achilles tendinitis. PT makes it temporarily feel better but it’s never fully healed. I hate to look at my training log and see how empty it is. Rest is hard.

  4. I have runners envy every day. Not because I can’t run but because I run with pain. I have some sort of ache or discomfort every day. I refuse to be a slug and do nothing so I still run. When it’s really bad I cross train but I just don’t feel as good. I love the way it makes my body feel and I love the social aspect. I can’t talk to others when I am biking or swimming.
    I’m running……so why do I have runners envy? I want to know what it feels like to run without pain.
    I imagine it is heavenly

  5. If you have the opportunity, look into neuro-kinetic therapy. I was off 5 1/2 weeks with a knee/calf problem that turned out to be my hamstring not firing. One therapy session, and I was on the mend. It’s worth looking into. I know exactly how you feel not being able to run. Hope you find your way back soon!

  6. I feel your pain. Literally. I’m just coming off what has become 2 years of various injuries. The most stubborn has been my right achillies. After a back injury caused sciatica, the resulting change in my stride (because of course I kept running) meant that I was no longer using my glutes or hamstrings. This over taxed my achilles because apparently using tendons instead of major muscles to propel yourself 30 mpw is a bad idea. What’s worked for me is PT to strengthen and engage my muscles, foam rolling and massage on the tendon, and patience. That last one is hardest. I’ve increased my mileage super slowly over the last 8 months and I’m back up to 25 mpw with only minor and temporary twinges after harder runs. Taking rest when I need it (more than ever before) and temporarily throwing all ambition to race out the window also has helped. Also, I’ve had to realize that at the age of 38 my body requires a bit more pampering than it did when I was 20. I’m not racing right now but at least I’m running! I’m sure you’ll be able to run again soon too. keep your head up, find other stuff to distract yourself and know that this too shall pass.