Seems like every second thing I read from a friend these days has to do with a running-related injury. We’ve all been pushing the limits, testing them, finding them. The trouble comes when we have to accept that we have over-stepped the line. How are we to know where the line is, if we never over-step it? I’ve done my share of over-stepping in the last year or so, and I know well the emotions that stalk the injured runner.
For me, it starts this way:
Oh, that was an odd little niggle. Ouch. Not so sure about that pain. I think it will go away if I keep running on it a little longer. And it does.
The next run. OUCH. It hurts again. Maybe I’ll try shortening my stride. Increasing the cadence. Ah, the pain isn’t so bad. I’ll keep running.
Two weeks later. I’ve become accustomed to this pain. It happens every time I run. If I wait it out, maybe in 5k it will lesson. Ow, ow, ow. Now it’s gone numb. That’s better.
Three weeks later. OW! How come it hurts to cook my kids’ dinner? I’m not even running! Maybe if I balance on one foot whilst cooking, it will challenge my stabilisers and fix things.
Three months later. It hurts all the time. Okay, maybe I’ll change shoes. Still hurts. Where are the anti-inflammatories? Oh good, a large box. That’ll last me a bit.
Six months later. La la la. If I sing loud enough while I run, maybe I won’t notice that every step is agony because my goal race is coming up and I can’t miss my goal race. I wonder if I have a stress fracture?
Eight months later. My physio says I should take some time off running and do some cross-training. He/she’s obviously not a runner. And an idiot. Both, non-runner and idiot. I hate him/her now and will have to find a new physio.
Eight and a bit months later. How come all the physio’s don’t get it? They seem to think I can just STOP running and be okay with this? Time to Google this injury and really get on top of it. Must be some YouTube videos on how to fix it instantly.
Finally, I meet a running-oriented physio who doesn’t tell me to stop. She gets it. In fact, she’s training for a big race herself. And she gets injured. And stops running. It’s after she’s helped me hobble my way through my goal race, to achieve what I’ve set out to, that she stays stop. And I do. Because if someone like her – a runner, who has run herself into injury – if she says stop, I know I must.
So I do. And I don’t even miss it! That’s the irony. It’s a relief to not have to run in pain anymore. I miss my mountain trails and the woods, but it’s okay. I realise this is needed, necessary, vital, this rest.
Fast forward: eight weeks later. I’ve taken seven solid weeks off running. I’ve begun swimming twice a week, and can feel my strength and speed sky-rocketing. There’s power in me I forgot about. I’m back to lifting heavy weights at the gym. I’d forgotten how meditative weight-lifting can be. I’ve downloaded a mindfulness App to my phone and am meditating in five minute intervals, three times a day. I’m playing piano better than ever, and my foot doesn’t hurt to press the pedals anymore. I’m happy. Content. Healthy. With a vitality (and muscles) that had gone while I was running too far for my body.
Here’s who I don’t want to be anymore: a runner who can’t stop running even when injured. Who uses running to meet all these super-important mental-health and physical-health needs, all whilst not noticing that running has actually become a problem in itself. An out-of-balance runner who loses perspective on health in pursuit of a race goal.
With time off, I have found a new perspective.
Last week, the physio told me I could run again, for up to 3k, 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking. And I was scared. Scared I’d go right back to who I was, running too far, running over injuries, forgetting that my health is my most sacred value. So I kept the brake on for a few extra days, to remind myself that it is me who is in charge of when and how I run. That running is an add-on to an exceptional life, and not the key to it. I want to run mindfully, and notice what hurts, and respond to it, instead of trying to mask it or wish it away.
I ran my 3k. My foot hurt afterwards. Then felt better. So I tried again on the treadmill last night. It began to hurt at 1.5k. I stopped the treadmill. I got off. I listened.
There is wisdom here. I can feel it. When I stop long enough to hear what my body – indeed, what my mind – is saying. Stop, it is saying. Rest. Please. Listening and responding to this wonderful machine that I live in feels so much better than pounding it into the ground.
The future? Balance. Running with mindfulness. Running without pain. And doing other cool stuff too.
I joke with my running friends that I have started a new club, called the Injured Runners’ Swimming Club. It is growing rapidly. But somewhere along the way, I discovered something. I like swimming. And cycling. And weight lifting. The world is a much bigger place than it was eight weeks ago. And I’m going to keep it this way.