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.
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.
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.