Since I made the decision to not race a marathon this fall, a lot has happened. It’s hard to believe that my leg started to give me problems 7 weeks ago and that I made the final decision to scrap the marathon about 3 weeks ago. (It’s difficult to really know when that decision was made because I flip-flopped on it about a bajillion times.) As runners, we’re used to making substantial progress within a 7-8 week period and it’s difficult to stop myself from thinking about the number of miles I *should* have run in that period of time. It’s not about the miles, it’s about the work. I’ve been able to find a balance between physical therapy, easy running, yoga, and acupuncture that’s working for me. Slowly but surely, I think I’m starting to make progress. As frustrating as it’s been, I’m still glad I stopped to rest when I did.
I’ve never really been sidelined by an injury that lasted more than a few weeks. This has been totally new territory and I’m sure I’ll have to revisit it many times in the future. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to dealing with an injury but I think I have learned a few things over the past 50 days or so that might help someone else and I think they’re worth sharing.
What I’ve learned by “sitting out” so far:
1. You have to make a decision.
I let myself be in “limbo” and figure out if a marathon was going to happen for about two weeks. And that felt like a week too long at times. One day I’d feel really good and confident that the marathon would happen, while other days, I questioned the decision for several hours of the day. I felt like I was trying to force my body to recover on a deadline just so I could get to the start line. For a good 10 days, I just couldn’t get my mind off of the topic. I knew that I’d feel better by just making a decision. And, to some extent, it didn’t matter which one I made. Either way, I’d have a plan moving forward–either MOVE or REST. As badly as I wanted to race, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could put myself in a really bad position come winter–in order to train properly for Boston I had to rest. Getting to a start line at some point this fall would have been great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I would have been able to reach the finish line. I made the decision so that I could move on (physically, mentally, AND emotionally!) Which brings me to my next point…
2. You have to commit to that decision.
For me, sitting this fall out meant that there wasn’t pressure to perform. I know myself and I know that if I worked through the pain and arrived at the start line feeling less than stellar, I’d regret finishing with a poor time on the finish clock (or not finishing at all). It wouldn’t be rewarding and I’d wonder why I decided to run the 26.2 in the first place.
But just because I decided not to race didn’t mean that I could just go out and run whenever I felt like it and for however long I wanted. I forced myself to take an entire week off of running. (This normally only happens immediately following a marathon—it’s very rare that I run ZERO miles in a 7-day period.) No one told me to stop running. I knew in my gut that it would be good for me. Plus, the moment running becomes more of a hassle and less of a hobby I enjoy, it’s time to park my butt on the couch for a bit. I didn’t want to go out and run and have it feel just “okay”. I took 8 days off running and I’ve been able to slowly and safely build my mileage back up. Making the commitment to REST was necessary. Resting now means that I’ll have the drive and ability to develop a strong base this winter and the strength to commit to a strong cycle before Boston. (At least that’s the hope!)
3. As painful as it may be at times, surrounding yourself with other runners is one of the best things you can do.
This seems counterintuitive. Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d want to be in a running environment as an “injured” runner incapable of truly racing. But spectating the Chicago and Grand Rapids Marathons was therapy for me. To be on the other side of the race meant that I could still be involved and invested in others’ experiences. If I had stayed home to watch movies on my couch all day instead of spectating the races of people I love, I would have felt like a huge guilty slob. We may race on our own but it’s not because we don’t have a running family to support us. I’m glad I’ve been able to spectate several races this fall because I would have missed out on moments that I’ll never forget. Just because I wasn’t racing didn’t mean that the experience wasn’t valuable. You can learn a lot about racing by being a spectator. And yes, I wanted to race soooooooo badly and wished I could have been out there racing my heart out. It wasn’t easy but being around other runners and being part of the race environment helped soften the blow a bit.
4. You have to try a lot of different recovery methods and repeat what works for you.
I wouldn’t even consider this silly quad situation a “major injury”, but I still had to try several recovery methods. A chiropractor released my lower back and hips; a physical therapist relieved some of the pain with the Graston technique, massage, and targeted strength training; a massage therapist helped me align the left and right sides of my body; an x-ray and MRI ruled out the possibility of a stress fracture; and finally, an acupuncturist found the knots and released them within 2 sessions. While physical therapy is important and it’s always going to be one of the first methods I try, I was so surprised how quickly acupuncture released the tension in my left quad. After tweeting about how much it’s helped me, I learned that plenty of other runners have found relief through acupuncture.
The last thing I wanted to do was add another “treatment” or spend more money on trying to figure out what is going on with this quad/hip/adductor. But I’m glad I did. I found more relief in two sessions of acupuncture than any amount of foam rolling or massaging accomplished in 4-5 weeks. It’s nice to know that the next time I start to feel little twinges, I’ll be able to get it treated right away with a method that works for me. You have to find the method that works for you and repeat it as necessary.
5. You have to consult people you love and trust (& ignore those you don’t).
Making a decision can be difficult on your own, let alone with others’ opinions swirling around in your head. You have to be honest with yoursel fand with people that you think will be helpful and pragmatic. Most of the time, this means finding the people that are more likely to say “no, you shouldn’t race” than “yes, you should race!”. It’s hard to hear someone tell you what you don’t want to hear but you don’t need a “yes man/woman”. You need someone that will be realistic, helpful, and patient to make the decision that’s right for you. I really struggled with this. I felt like I had to make a ton of decisions in the first few weeks. I felt like I was on my own. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. I wanted someone to “fix me”. I wanted to avoid making decisions because I felt like I had to make so many. It was overwhelming. Eventually I reached the point where I trusted myself enough to be patient with recovery and know what was going on in my own body. I’m lucky to have a few people in my life that were willing to listen (to my complaints and frustrations, no less), ask questions, and give me some really helpful advice so that I didn’t feel like I had to listen to anyone and everyone’s advice. Because, let’s face it. That would be super frustrating.
I’m not going to lie. Looking at this weekly training chart is still frustrating and it makes me sad.
June marked the beginning of a new cycle and I had some big goals that were within reach until 6-7 weeks ago. The next cycle will only be fun if I take what I learned from this experience, make some changes, and keep looking forward.
Spectating all of these fall races has me itching to get out there again. 2013 was a strong year for me despite this setback. I PR’d every distance I raced: 5k, 10k, 13.1 and 26.2.
2014 is going to be a good year. I just know it.