Did I Break My Foot With My Mind? An Update from Catnip

Having an injured foot meant I could share moments like this with my son rather than worrying about my running performance.

Long time, no write. And now I owe you all a heck of an update. I was last seen around here musing on whether breastfeeding is slowing me down and worrying about increasing plantar fascia pain. Well, my foot got worse and I ended up taking 6 weeks completely off running, not even a test run in that time.

What I didn’t mention in those posts was that I was also struggling with feeling overwhelmed by my work and other life responsibilities. I was lacking motivation for many runs, especially those confined to the treadmill. Even before the foot pain started, I was counting down the days until my post-marathon running break and even contemplating whether I really wanted to continue marathon training.

Certainly I had some muscle weaknesses that predisposed me to injure that foot, but I am convinced that the PF was a physical manifestation of my mental state. After all my day-to-day duties, my body had little energy left over to attend to recovery.

And running had turned into a duty itself rather than the pleasure it had been. This was more worrying to me than the broken foot: I had broken willpower.

I abandoned my spring marathon plans without a pang of emotion. I acquired a stack of library books and plowed through. I spent unhurried time with JB before bedtime and stayed in pajamas as long as possible on the weekends.

After six weeks, I hopped on the treadmill during one of JB’s naps. No pain increase. (Granted, he napped for a whole 15 minutes!) Then a couple days later I tried again with similar results. I felt awkward and breathless, but I felt good. I initiated PT to address muscle imbalances and built from 7 miles per week in mid-May to 20 mpw and now over 70 miles per week again.

Instead of watching the fast ladies in a spring marathon, my son admired these speedsters, which did us both a world of good!

My willpower has recovered, too. The trick now is to keep feeding that fire. I’m highly motivated by daylight and socializing and fortunately my summer work schedule has been great for that. I’ve registered for a slew of fun 5ks and my favorite 10k. I even registered for the Columbus Marathon again – not to chase a time but to run for completion; I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since my last marathon finish!

Finally, I’m planning on more significant downtime this winter and will not be forcing myself onto the treadmill or risking falls and frostbite on dark roads. Sure, I’ll probably emerge from winter without much running fitness, but this time I’ll be physically and mentally healthy!

Have you ever had an injury that was connected to your mental state? How have you coped with a lack of passion for running? 

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. I totally believe this is a thing. I’ve noticed that most women, especially, seem to get injured as they are simultaneously developing the symptoms of early overtraining syndrome – that the body breaks down before the mind. I listened to a running times podcast a few years ago where a top national high school xc coach saw girls injuries as a sign they needed to rest – that they were more warning signs to overtraining than an acute injury so he didn’t have the cross train hard, but rather had them relatively rest through the injury. On the other hand for boys the injuries seemed more the standard acute injuries that could be chalked up to localized weaknesses, bad form, etc., so he’d cross train the boys hard through injuries. I totally think there’s something to this. The ONLY major injuries I have had corresponded with other overtraining symptoms!

    And of course, the more life stress the lower the bar for overtraining which might explain why you experienced this now.

    On a happier note, sounds like you’re enjoying running and I for one am looking forward to see what you do in a no stress marathon! Woohoo!

    1. That is interesting! To add to that, I haven’t been injured in YEARS. I mean, it had been at least 10 years since I’d taken more than a day off for an injury and before that maybe just a handful of days at a time. So when I got injured running ~75% of previous mileage with fewer hard efforts, it’s clear that there’s additional factors involved.

  2. Glad to hear that things are going better first and foremost (obviously late to the party here…)

    Second, I definitely think the mind can play a huge role in these types of things. In 2013 I was training for my first Boston, but was also in a very high stress situation in my relationship/at home. As things got worse I noticed I wasn’t recovering as well (altered sleep was big part of that) and I started to develop some calf/shin twinges that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. My training cycle basically got lost in the mess, and was forced to run Boston for fun instead of race (which ended up being amazing, and a huge blessing). Shortly before the race I eliminated the huge life stress (I called off my wedding/the relationship and moved out). I found myself sleeping way better, generally happier and recovery all of a sudden was back to what it used to be. It never ceases to amaze me how much the mind has an effect on training. Fact of the matter is, Stress on the body is stress on the body. The body doesn’t know the difference between stress from a hard workout, and life stress- both strain your adrenal system and other important body functions.

    1. Oh wow, that definitely sounds like a hard time! I also broke an engagement many years ago so I know just how heavy a decision that is.