Injury – Now What?
It’s a runner’s worst fear. It is the dream stealer, self-esteem buster, mental health shaker, and loneliness invader. Why don’t we talk more about the emotions around it? Fear of being weak? Too negative? Not looking on the “bright side” of things? Three years ago, I was sidelined by an IT band injury that forced me to step down from training for the Via Marathon. I faced three months of physical therapy, not running, managing some serious emotions, I felt awfully lonely throughout that process.
Recently, injury just made another uninvited visit into my life. I spent two weeks swimming through a sea of emotions consisting of panic, fear, loneliness, and loss before finding out my diagnosis.
Sometimes “being brave” is also admitting that it’s okay to not be okay, and I was not okay.
It took me almost three years and many attempts to qualify for the Boston marathon. I feel insanely blessed and proud to be a Boston marathon qualifier and to have succeeded in a goal that I worked so very hard to reach. As runners know, it is NOT easy. Qualifying for Boston is the recreational runner’s Olympics- and I had made the cut! Boston training just began a few weeks ago, and I had been feeling healthy, motivated, and excited until injury happened. Go figure – the injury wasn’t even running related. At least no one could lecture me that I was over training, ran too many marathons last year, or avoided cross-training. Speaking of cross-training…
It is hammered into runners that cross-training and strength-training are essential for remaining injury-free. Most runners grumble on cross-training days, but we do it because we must. I am one of those runners, especially after recovering from the last injury. I follow a training plan, religiously cross-train, and incorporate a healthy diet including the Cocoa Elite products. This past year, I have seen a tremendous difference in my body’s ability to recover by consuming the Complete Body Recovery Protein. It is why I was able to train and run so many successful marathons last year.
The irony in my injury is that it all happened with a squat.
For whatever reason, as my body worked through a very familiar strength-training program, my lower back felt a vicious tear as I was squatting. I have no idea why, but it happened, and then I couldn’t run. My heart and head wanted to, but my body refused. As I was grappling the reality of my injury (and watching long runs and quality workouts slip by), my cycle of emotions felt similar to that of grief and loss:
- Shock that this happened and totally denying that it was anything serious.
- Guilt that I must have done something wrong and could have avoided it. “Stupid cross-training… I knew squats were useless, pfft”.
- Anger that this happened! It’s not fair! Not NOW! Boston is in less than 3 months! My eyes still well up with tears every time I visualize not toeing the starting line on April 16th, 2018.
- Depression. I had shed so many tears and felt very sad that this happened. What if after all my hard work, I wouldn’t make it to Boston? Every day I was losing fitness…. losing training…
- Reconstruction. Which doctor do I need to see? What is my PT plan? How can I fix this and get better as quickly as possible?
- Acceptance: I didn’t reach this step until I had a formal diagnosis, which felt like it took an eternity to receive. Every step took days of waiting, and when you can’t run to burn off the anxiety, it’s really, really hard to wait.
The hardest part about injury for me is LOSS.
Not only loss of the race I’m training for, but loss of my social life.
Most runners surround ourselves with other runners because the running community is amazing. I have made some of my closest friends through my run club and have saved quite a bit of time and money on therapy sessions from what I’ve gained through those long-run chats. I cherish and value those friendships so much. It never gets old when we spend Mondays finalizing our Thursday meet-up, and when on Tuesday we arrange our long run for Sunday.
Running is a huge part of my social life, and I crave the routine as well. I LOVE IT! We spend countless hours and miles side by side talking, sharing, and running toward our next race or running goal. At the end of our runs, we high-five, fist-pump, take selfies of our accomplishments so we can humble-brag on social media, and if not too sweaty, we hug. It is such a supportive, kind, and wonderful community.
With injury, I feel as if I’m on the sidelines, feeling left out, worried I am missing out. Long runs slipping by, races being run, conversations and experiences happening that I cannot physically be a part of. Yes, I believe that the hardest part is feeling lost and isolated from the running community.
Where do I fit in when running is gone?
The satisfaction and endorphin high I receive after a solid run under the dark, starry skies before sunrise is unlike any description I can express. When I can’t run, I miss it so very much it hurts.
This is not meant to be a Julie pity-party, but a transparent look into my heart when injury happens, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. At the same time, do I have faith that I will be okay and run again? Of course. Will there be other Boston marathons and races to be run? I certainly believe so. But when I’m in the midst of injury, or at least at the beginning stages of grappling the reality of the injury, I’m processing a myriad of emotions.
Allow us injured runners to feel this way (as my husband has been tremendous in managing my hot-mess self), and when we’re ready, we will come around. I promise we will. There will be good days and days that are extremely difficult. The hardest will be the day of the races that we have signed up for that we cannot participate in or the weekly runs that we can’t enthusiastically RSVP to.
As I continue to process and grow through the injury experience, I know there will be many important lessons to be learned, new opportunities to be gained, and perks such as sleeping in past 4 A.M. consecutive days in a row for the first time in years to savor! I pledge I will be there as a support for my runner friends as they crush challenging workouts and cheer them on race day when they conquer new PRs and cross their finish lines when I still cannot run. I will be filled with mixed and conflicting emotions, and that is okay too.
Two days after that dreaded squat, I limped my way into the walk-in injury clinic.
After a brief assessment by the sports medical doctor, a lot of medical jargon, his hypothesis of what the injury could be, a lecture on the importance of rest, and a prescription to manage the pain, he set me up with an MRI the next week to check both my hip and lower back. As he stood up to leave, I just had to ask the most important question of all… “Soooo… does that mean I can’t run right now?” (*crickets*) I was met with an awkward laugh and a shake of the head. “No. No, Julie, no running, AT ALL, until after your MRI”.
For me, the unknown is worse than just knowing the bad news.
The unknown magnifies every fear, every “what if”, every possible scenario which is not only mentally exhausting but puts a strain on my close relationships. My poor husband. God love this man, when he agreed to the vow, “for better and for worse, for sickness and in health,” he had no idea that a running injury would fall into that category, too. Still, he is my best friend, my biggest supporter, and keeps my wine glass full when I need it the most. He recently told me that after I hurt myself, he sucked in a deep breath and said a prayer for himself too.
As the days went by and my anxiety continued to increase, MRI day finally arrived.
I walked into the office, up to the massive machine, said a prayer, and realized that I was going to be lying flat on my back for 90 minutes. You know what doesn’t feel good with a potentially fractured hip or herniated disc? Lying flat for that long. Instantly, the throbbing pain began in my lower back, gluts, and hip. Okay, only like 88 more minutes to go… Luckily, the technician agreed to play a (running) podcast for me over the speakers to mute out the loud, spaceship type noises surrounding me and to help distract from the throbbing pain. I closed my eyes as the pain became unbearable and focused on the interview with Molly Huddle. I was so jealous listening to Molly talk about how much she loves running and how fast she is. Maybe this podcast was a bad idea seeing my current situation.
The days following felt like an eternity before I finally met with the doctor and received the results. I could barely understand any of what he was saying… something about a congenital spinal issue that predisposed me to a bulging disc. The back surgery I had at the age of 17 for a herniated disc apparently re-herniated. I would need physical therapy and cortisone shots.
However, the words I prayed to hear came loud and true: You can run.
Of course he continued with other words like, “very slow, with caution, cross-train…”, all of which I barely processed.
I woke up the very next morning at 4:15am, super energized to go out for a run. With my dog at my side, we went out to RUN. I wish I could say it was epic and that we galloped under the starry sky together. Unfortunately, it was one of the hardest and most uncomfortable runs I’ve done. My left leg wasn’t cooperating with my right, my body felt tight and running felt unfamiliar. However, I felt grateful to be out there, and when I finished, I began to feel like myself again.
I have a lot of work to do in my recovery, and the Boston Marathon is quickly approaching.
The advanced training plan I had started to use in hopes of re-qualifying got filed away as my expectations have realistically changed. I am going to be at Boston, and I will try not to care about my time. I will toe that starting line and find my way to the finish whether I run, walk, or limp to get there. My determination will not stop until I get to you, Boston. It has defined me as the runner I wanted to be, the bar risen high enough that I had to keep jumping for it but finally caught on. It represents the determination, grit, resilience, and physical strength that I embodied.
I will see you, Boston, on April 16th, 2018.
Julie Benson is an accomplished runner. She has a goal of returning to the Boston Marathon after being stopped short in the 2013 event due to the devastating tragedy of the bombing.
Julie earned a dual Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling and School Guidance Counseling while attending the schools of Lesley University and Umass Amherst. She works as a full time Elementary School Guidance Counselor. Julie is very active in her running community and is currently a member of the Exeter Run Club, located in NH.
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