Clawing your way back

The talented Amanda Sandlin (http://www.amandasandlin.com) made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

The talented Amanda Sandlin (http://www.amandasandlin.com) made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

Clawing your way back

After athletes suffer a significant injury there’s usually a period where we mourn – for races we won’t get to run and lost entry fees, for runs with friends that are often the highlight of our weekend.  We watch our hard earned fitness slowly slip away while clothes begin feeling tighter than we would like.  But at some point along our slide into the abyss, our feet hit solid ground.  And it is time to cautiously stand and take stock:  given my injury, what can I do NOW with my current limitations, to improve my fitness?  To begin again?  

As we climb and fight our way back up the mountain there will be footholds.  The first time our injury is healed enough to pool run.  The first time we get to take off our aircast or ankle brace.  That amazingly awesome first “run” back where we get to take fledgling running steps amidst lots of walking.  We may occasionally take a wrong step, push too hard and find ourselves sliding back down the side of the mountain – or holding on to a rock for dear life.  But even with the setbacks we focus our gaze on the peak and keep pressing forward. 

There’s strength to be found in the journey.  We know that we will emerge from the process as a stronger, wiser athlete than before.  And so we begin to fan the flames of that tiny spark of athletic fire still burning inside of us, and we embrace the long, arduous process of clawing our way back to the top. 

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I wrote the above about 4 months ago.  In April I was playing with my kids at a local park when I leapt off a platform to catch my youngest child who was about to fall.  I landed badly and immediately crumpled to the ground.  (Youngest child had not a scratch though!!) After driving myself to urgent care, I learned that I had fractured (completely) my 4th metatarsal.   I spent several weeks on crutches, and three months in a boot before finally graduating to a running shoe with titanium inserts to prevent my foot from flexing while walking around.   Surgery was discussed, fretted about, cried about, and ultimately dismissed in favor of a “wait and see” approach to determine if the slightly displaced fracture would heal enough on its own.  Another two months of no running and I was finally given the green light to begin the long, slow process of rebuilding my running base.  But oh - those first few steps of freedom were glorious. 

If nothing else, the long layoff showed me that running is truly embedded somewhere deep in my soul.  When you are injured it’s natural to question your place in the sport.  I’d find myself wondering: WHY do I keep doing this to myself?  Is it worth another injury and layoff?  Why not just exercise a few times a week like most people and call it good?  But when you see runners in the pouring rain and feel an intense, burning jealousy that you can’t be out there suffering with them, or when you drive past the lonely stretch of road where you do speed work and lung-searing tempos and feel a physical yearning to be out there pushing your limits – that’s the universe speaking loud and clear that YOU AREN’T DONE YET.  Don’t give up, you are meant to be back out there.
 

It was all I needed to hear.    
 

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I ran my first race post-fracture this past Sunday.  The cold, blustery day couldn’t dampen my spirits as I celebrated the fact that I was standing at a starting line of a RACE.  About to run a 5K on a foot that (several months ago) had been in pieces.  The body is a miraculous thing.  Watchless (thanks to a busted Garmin), I had the simple goal of just to go out and give it a good effort.  When I crossed the line in 20:05 I couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on my face.  I’m not there yet, but I’m heading in the right direction.  I’m climbing back up the mountain – and I’ve got my eyes fixed on the top.    

Injured Runner =
Easy Target

Must resist the siren call of new running gear.....

Must resist the siren call of new running gear.....

An hour on the elliptical this morning was a poor substitute for a run.  After yesterday's visit to the sports doc confirmed a small tear in the fascia where my gastroc meets my soleus, I was handed a sentence of two more weeks of cross training.  I'm trying to take my cross-training-and-rest medicine like a good little runner but I've noticed something interesting happening to me during the past few weeks when I've been unable to run:   I've been itching to buy stuff.  And not just any stuff:  running-related stuff.   A new Garmin, a new outfit, new shoes - you name it.  Little "buy this now" urges have been cropping up ever since my treadmill started collecting dust.   Not wanting to give in to these urges, I've been digging deeper into WHY I am feeling this way.  I have a theory:   My brain has been tricked into thinking that all that shiny new running STUFF will equal a happier runner and propel me to a new PR this fall.  But guess what?  That couldn't be further from the truth.

We are bombarded with countless advertisements each day.  Buy this!  Huge Sale!  Brand new version!  Countless messages that prey on our insecurities and know just how easy it is to get us to part with our hard-earned money.  As an injured runner I seemed to find myself even more susceptible to the advertisers' sneaky tricks.  Here's why:

Loss of control:   When we are injured, we are directly faced with a loss of control.  We have very, very limited control over how long it will take our bodies to heal, and we are forced to sit with that discomfort and that feeling of helplessness.  It's not pretty.   Our minds want to run from that discomfort and so they try desperately to find something to make us feel like we are in control - and that often ends up resulting in a purchase.  That little rush of satisfaction you get when you click "Buy Now"?  That's real, but it's fleeting at best and not an effective way to deal with your emotions.  We purchase new clothing or new shoes, or get the latest gadget - anything to help us feel less helpless and convince ourselves that we are actively taking steps back towards that runner we want to be: in control, back on the roads, running well and ready for a new PR.

Fear:  Let's face it: Deep down we all face running-related fears. We worry that we'll have to give up on our "A" race when we get sidelined with an injury.  Or worry that we'll never be the runner we aspire to be.   You may be worried that your comeback won't go well and you'll never get back to your previous level of fitness. Or you might be afraid of never being able to get your goal - no matter how hard you try.  These fears are so very real and personal to us.  And the marketing departments of companies know that - and prey on it.  They market to those fears - to convince you that once you have this new shirt/gadget/pair of shoes you'll be back on top and setting PRs.

Feelings of inadequacy:  "You aren't good enough".  The subliminal message marketers want to us to hear is "you aren't good enough without our product".  It's what drives us to purchase a cute technical t-shirt even though we have 25 free t-shirts from races already stuffed in our dresser.  It's what tempts us to upgrade our already more-than-adequate GPS watch to the latest version with all of the bells and whistles.  The unspoken rule being "you won't be a good runner until you have THIS".   We are all good enough.  WITHOUT those new, shiny things.  A new technical t-shirt won't make us suddenly run faster, and a new GPS watch won't magically propel us to a new PR.

All of these items that we feel we "need" to buy don't really give us control, or help us cope with our fears.  We hope they will, but ultimately they don't.  We will always have to deal with uncertainty and fears that we aren't good enough. It's been ugly these past few weeks as I've come face-to-face with the constant temptation to comfort myself and my restless brain by buying something running-related to make myself feel better.

So what’s the solution?  I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I can offer you a few ideas that have helped me:

  • Sit with the discomfort.  Recognize it, and acknowledge it, but don't give in to it.
  • Put the item you want on a 30-day buy list. If you still want it at the end of those 30 days, then buy it.  Chances are, the urge to purchase it and the fear that was driving you will have faded.
  • Do something else - go for walk, write, draw, read.  Meditate or pray for 10 minutes.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Find comfort in talking to a friend or loved one.  A good friend sensed my anxiety over my injury through a text message last night and called me.  It was just the support I needed and made me so grateful for her friendship.   Before you try to solve your anxiety or sadness through shopping, call a friend instead.

A lot of us type-A runners really struggle with the loss of control when we are injured, but we can recognize that buying more running-related STUFF isn't the answer.  In the end, most of the time our bodies will heal and we will be able to get back to running and doing what we love.   But in the interim, in that difficult time that is filled with uncertainty and fear, we need to give ourselves love and grace - NOT piles of shiny new stuff.  Your future self (and bank account!) will thank you. :)

Strength Is The Product
Of Struggle

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

Hello?  Hello? It's been quiet on this blog lately, but not on purpose.  Some training seasons seem to move along so fluidly - a building crescendo of workouts capped by an amazing race.  And other seasons are full of stops and starts, sputtering along as you try to cobble together the workouts needed to move you forward.  I'll let you guess as to which season I'm experiencing. :)

I hadn't planned on taking such a long absence from writing here but I found that every time I sat down at the keyboard to type, I had negative post after negative post swirling around in my head.  And I felt...very unlike myself.  I consider myself a fairly positive person, but I have struggled these past few months and I didn't want to commit all those negative thoughts to blogging history.  It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride over here.  I'd have a great week of workouts where I'd finally feel like I was seeing progress (tempo miles in the 6:30s!) - followed immediately by a disaster of a week where I'd bomb both quality workouts I attempted.   I tackled a tough, hilly beast of a race that I used as a great workout (Colonial Half Marathon - 4th female overall), followed by a minor calf strain that cropped up on the first workout after the race.  :-(

Stop. Start. Stop. Start.  Days of cross-training followed by a few runs back, followed by a few more days of cross training.  It's been tough to make plans for any spring races with the ups and downs that this particular season of life has dished out.  But in the spirit of Lent and Easter, I've been putting more effort into two things:  1) Being grateful and 2) letting go.

On Letting Go:

I have always been pretty type-A.  I like having control, I like checking off each workout on my schedule as I complete it, and I HATE when anything (weather, sickness, injury, etc.) derails my well-laid plans.  I STRUGGLE with "letting go" and giving up my illusion of control.  But what I'm learning is just that:  that it's an ILLUSION of control.    I'll never be as in control as I'd like to be - especially in running.  There are too many variables, and the body is such an amazing, complex miracle that we can never predict exactly how things will go.  All we can do is work to treat our bodies like the gifts they are, and honor them when they need extra care.  I must admit I've felt a bit betrayed by my body this season - I lowered my mileage significantly in order to add (just a little!!) extra quality, but I have still had to work through more than a few setbacks.   But I've also learned a few things about myself - both as a person, and as a runner.  And that's the strength that comes from the struggle.  I've spent some time with sports psychologist Mike Cerrato (ATalentedMind.com) working on my mental fitness, and he's made me be more proactive about catching negative thought spirals early and replacing them with positive thoughts (i.e. replacing "My calf hurts again - I'm NEVER going to get back to running marathon pace successfully" with "I'm going to use this cross-training time to work on things I CAN improve - my upper body strength and my nutrition - and I will come back a better athlete for it.") can go a long way towards helping me keep my spirits high.

On Being Grateful: 

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

I've mentioned it before, but it's a provenfact that grateful people are happier people.  As I've been working through all of the ups and downs this season, I've started to include at least one line in my training log about what I'm grateful for that day.  If I've gotten to run, or complete a workout, it's easy:  I'm so grateful for that!!!  But even if I'm on the elliptical again and missing my Saturday running group, I can always find something to be grateful for - my friends, my family, the ability to take (and teach) my BodyPump weightlifting class, the smiles on the faces of my daughters as they see that the Leprechaun left them Lucky Charms for breakfast on St. Patrick's Day.  You get the idea.   The practice has been helpful to remind me that while I may not be where I'd like to be in terms of running fitness, I've got so many other good things happening in my life.  I'm hoping to be one of those little old ladies still running around when I'm 85 (I'm going to clean up on age group awards!!! :-)), so this particular season of stops and starts will hopefully be just one of many, many more seasons of running to come.

In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to enjoy running when I can run, and being grateful for the other awesome stuff in my life when I'm wildly flinging my arms and legs about on the elliptical.

Once I've figured out if my calf strain is officially on the mend, I'll be back to write about some upcoming spring and summer races and my next adventures!