Running injuries suck.
There really is not any other way to put it. They are also pretty much just part of the deal when it comes to the sport. Whether you are a recreational runner, a 3 day a week, 3-mile a run type of runner, a marathoner or one of those crazy ultra-runners we all get hurt. It is simply inevitable. We are doing something that while very “natural” it does tax our bodies in ways that a sedentary lifestyle does not. Our muscles grow stronger because we are forcing them to adapt to changes in their static state. We run further, our muscles get broken down, adapt and grow larger. We run faster, our muscles break down further, adapt and grow stronger.
Sometimes however they simply “break” and it requires time away from our sport to heal, rebound and return.
For a runner who uses the sport for all kinds of coping mechanisms, whether that is kick-starting your day with a rush of endorphins, enjoying the solitude away from distractions to sort out our thoughts, or simply conquering a daily goal such as “just getting out the door” which makes us feel good – having that taken away from us is very tough. It is as if part of our own master plan for how the universe should operate is stolen away while we were asleep. Our freedom has been stripped away from us and it just doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it isn’t fair.
Injuries can strike even the most diligent runners who manage their shoes, their mileage, the terrain they run on and their pace carefully.
A turned ankle, a car that backs out of a driveway at the wrong time, a hill that grabs a hamstring or just a small pull in an even smaller muscle that through overuse and training just gives out with very little warning. It happens to all of us. There are runners who have been injured and runners who have not been injured yet. Those are the only two kinds in the world.
So every time I suffer an injury I work as hard as I can to get back to the sport that has given me so many gifts over the last decade as safely and quickly as possible. I go to see a Doctor immediately if I need to. I listen to their recommendations. I do physical therapy, I ice, I use compression, I rest, I cross-train. But all I really want to do is run.
I want to run as far as I feel like.
I want to run as fast as my legs will carry me.
I want to run for the sake of it.
I want to run to get better.
I want to train to race.
And then run even faster.
There is one positive about being injured however. It is of very little comfort while you are suffering from an injury, but it is there nonetheless. It makes you appreciate just what you had when it has been taken away from you. It makes you humble. It makes you say things like, “If I can just get over this injury, I will never take running for granted again.”
And then you do.
The last time I suffered an injury was in the early spring of 2011. I had some left knee inflammation after rather foolishly running in a 12-person ultra marathon in Arizona just 6 days after what at my time was a personal best performance at the Austin Marathon. My body needed rest and recovery not only from the marathon itself, but from my most aggressive training cycle leading up to race day. I instead decided that I knew better and ran 3 times in less than 24 hours through the Arizona desert from Wickenburg to Tempe. By Saturday morning I was injured.
On April 2, 2011 after taking more than 5-weeks away from running I put on my race flats and ran in the 2011 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K. It was a race that I had worked hard to qualify for an elite-spot in the previous Fall and I wanted to make it to the starting line of the race. Nervously I navigated the 10K course at 85% of my usual race intensity and I made it through in one piece, 41:19 was my time, which was a far cry from my 10K PR at the time of 38:06, but I enjoyed every step of the Cooper River Bridge Run as it was the first time I had run pain-free in well over a month.
I was back.
As I came through the finishing chute I said to myself quietly, “Never forget how this feels. Remember how much you love this.”
In the many months to follow I have not forgotten what a gift being healthy is. I vowed to never take running injury free for granted again. I have been smarter about the accumulated bumps and bruises that come from training and I have actually changed my training plans in mid-stream to add an extra rest day when I felt like I was pushing the envelope just a bit too far. Treading too close to the edge.
I am now 505 days away from April 2, 2011.
I have trained and raced for 16 months straight crossing finish lines in 12 5K’s, 4 10K’s, 4 Half Marathons, 2 Marathons, 1 6-man ultramarathon relay, and 4 triathlons. I have run 3,294 miles since coming through the finishing chute in downtown Charleston, SC that morning in April and have managed to stay fit and healthy. I have managed somehow at this ever-increasing age of mine to set new PR’s in the 10K, 1/2 marathon and marathon.
Today I am grateful.
I have a good friend here in Austin, perhaps my best “runner-friend” who has been battling injury for close to 4 months now. He has done all the right things, seen all the right doctors, tried the right treatments and he is still not able to get back to running pain-free. This friend of mine races in my age-group. I have never beaten him in a footrace at any distance. You might think that having him on the shelf as it were would somehow benefit me as I chase after age-group awards here at local races. The fact of the matter is, all that does is cheapen any victory should I be lucky enough to earn one.
We both have our eyes on a couple of races after I get on the other side of the Half Ironman next month. The Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5-mile race and our next “A” race, the Houston Marathon.
I hope for two things these next few months:
1. That I am fortunate to remain healthy and fit up to and including our full training cycle for the Houston Marathon.
2. That my friend Brendon is able to return to full health in time for that race.
I suppose I have a third wish and that is that when Brendon does get his race legs back underneath him, that I for the first time let him know what it feels like to finish behind me in a race. It won’t mean anything to me if he’s not back 100% and then some.
In the meantime I remain grateful that I am able to switch that alarm clock off at 4:30 a.m. every morning and drag my tired bones to the bathroom to get ready for another workout. I am grateful for the high 70 degree temperatures and 80+% humidity that greets me at the door with a heat index above 85 before the sun has risen in the Texas sky. I am grateful for the hills that rise in front of me to conquer. I am grateful for the 12 mile per hour wind that blew downhill into my face Thursday morning for every one of my 9 hill repeats.
I am grateful for the sound of sweat squishing out of my flats on every stride as I run mile after mile in the heat of our Austin summer.
I am grateful for all of it, and I promise to remain humble as we prepare for our most challenging race yet in Kerrville next month.
But Dom, if you’re listening and it’s not too much trouble, could you maybe drop the temperature a few degrees on race day? Boy has it been hot lately.