Coming back stronger
I’ve already written a lot about my injury and how it kept me from running (back story here and here). I’m coming back now and it’s been an interesting journey. One of the ways I dealt with it was constantly Googling and I did take some solace in running blogs and Facebook groups (like this one) where people had gone through similar things. So here’s my take, may it help the next runner, or even my future self!
When you’re forced to stop doing something that you have done for your entire life, a lot of things shift. There was a very real period of time where I wondered if I would ever run again and I definitely recognized myself going through the stages of grief. At first, I definitely resisted the idea that I would have to stop running AT ALL and hoped for a quick fix or some way around it. Rest days, extra stretching, rolling, new shoes, I threw everything at it, but eventually the pain was too much. Nothing my primary care doctor was suggesting was working (I even let him give me a cortisone shot in my foot, with NO positive effect), so I begged an order for physical therapy.
By the time I started physical therapy, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would not be running for a while. I started swim lessons, I got on the elliptical and listened to podcasts, and after my first PT session, I was cleared to start walking. I was thrilled to actually be able to get outside again. (Dry needling is magical pain, y’all.) I did a lot of walking.
Here are some unexpected side effects that I experienced:
I did not get fat. I did take the opportunity to reevaluate some aspects of my diet. I knew I was in the throws of weight gain paranoia, so I figured I would put it to good use. I was able to stop binge snacking on dried berries and I was able to cut back on my peanut butter intake. Snacking in general I was able to cut back on. I started drinking more mindfully once I became aware of how much I wanted to snack past a certain wine threshold. Basically, I paid more attention to what I was consuming and why. And that was a good thing.
My legs changed. I’ve always had a difficult time finding shorts because my quads end up pretty big by the time summer heats up. I have to find a certain cut that flatters. It was very strange to have these thinner legs. I was still doing cardio, still biking, elliptical, walking, swimming, but couldn’t do any ballistic impact exercise. Not even jumping jacks. They were actually probably more conventionally attractive legs, but I found that I missed my extra strong legs. I’m running again now and, having come back slow, they’re still slimmer than normal, but the tone is coming back and I find I’m happy with them again.
I really enjoyed walking. I put in the earpiece and talked to my mom a lot more often and my best friend back in New Orleans. I got into a few podcasts. Occasionally I just walked without listening to anything in my headphones or talking to anyone on my earpiece. I walked in the rain. I walked a lot of errands. I find I prefer walking as a cross training method now that I am back training again.
I connected with people. When I was running, I was often either in my head or really pushing toward a pace goal. Very focused on what I was doing. Unless someone I knew waved at me, I didn’t often notice people that I ran by in more than a peripheral way. Once I started walking and smiling and nodding at people, I began to recognize people who exercised at the same time as I did. And now that I’m back running, I still smile and wave at these people. It makes me feel a little sense of community that I didn’t have before. And as we get into these darker fall days, I feel a little safer.
I have an appreciation for how fast I was. “I suck at sprints.” “Hills scare me!” “I’m never going to run that race the way I want to!” These are all things that I had said to myself before this injury. Now that I’m coming back, trying to even come close to my old times, I can say, I did NOT suck at sprints. I actually kind of kicked ass. I am beating myself up much less about my running. I hope it’s not a trap that I fall back into as I progress, but in a way, I’m glad I had this experience of seeing that I was actually really, really good before this injury.
Yes, I can actually override my competitive streak. My first race back after months of therapy was a 10k. My therapist said that I could work up to that distance by the time of the race, carefully, but to ‘just run it, not race it.’ I was actually worried about that prior to the race. Worried that I would be obsessed with ‘doing right’ by the A Corral that I had earned on last year’s races and be unable to just chill out. But in the end, I was able to chill out and just run the race and enjoy the fact that I was out there. I finished with no pain and a smile on my face.
This weekend I’ll be running in Chicago’s Hot Chocolate 15k as a five year legacy. This is normally my ‘season’s end’ race that I just kind of run after whatever half marathon I’ve completed. This year it was the goal race. I was able to jump into a training plan at about four weeks out with my therapist’s blessing. So I have been able to do a few training runs. Yes, my times have been slower and I am pretty sure that I won’t be going for a PR this year, but I am excited to be back running!
Those things above are good things to know. I hope they help you if you ever have need of them.