10 Things I Learned While Injured

An avid runner for two years now, I’ve been told since the beginning to “run smart.” It’s like a mantra of sorts. And, like any mantra, sometimes it’s easier to say it than live it.

I thought I was running smart. With two marathons and three half marathons under my belt, I had enjoyed injury-free running and joined a local training group to get faster.

I got wicked fast. In just a few months, I went from 12-minute miles to 9 and then to 7:55-8:15-minute miles. I felt like nothing could stop me.

Until about a week before my fourth half marathon, with a huge PR just within my grasp, posterior shin splits, nerve damage, and a traumatic shoulder/neck injury stopped me.

Or should have, because I still ran my scheduled half marathon, and I’m lucky I finished.

Lucky, not smart.

I’m lucky I didn’t induce a stress fracture and back surgery.

I’m lucky I’m not in bed right now with six more months of recovery.

I finally heeded the doctors’ orders to “take it easy” for over a month. It wasn’t going to be pretty; I don’t do easy too well. But I didn’t want to get worse, so I had no other option.

This is what I learned while waiting for my body, and psyche, to heal.

1. Get second opinions, and thirds, and fourths. I’m lucky to have good doctors and coaches on my side. I’m also in a running group with supportive and experienced runners. They called, texted, and checked in with me on a regular basis. They talked about what worked for them, or other runners they knew, and helped me distinguish between therapies that would benefit me and what might be a complete waste of time.

I visited other physicians without revealing what was wrong with me. I heard the same thing: my shoulders, neck, shin splints, and nerve damage were serious, but could be fixed. Most set a similar course for treatment and all I had to do was follow their advice and I’d be back–sooner rather than later.

2. I had to defend myself. Detractors wondered if this “running thing” was worth it.

Don’t you love that? Comments like, “I know you’re addicted to the runner’s high, but you’re damaging your body.”

I had to tell them, “Look, I don’t feel high when I run, I feel wholesome. Big difference. When I run, I’m honoring this gift of a body and a life by working it rather than sitting at home.”

Of course, I ignored the irony of saying this while sitting at home. The answer wasn’t to quit.

It never is.

3. Consider alternatives. After talking to doctors, I decided against surgery and went the chiropractor route instead. I’d never had an adjustment, and was a little queasy about all the popping and cracking. Then I started sleeping through the night without waking up sore and cranky and could exercise without pain or the need to hold ice on my back for hours afterward.

4. They call it a running community for a reason. My runner friends are worth their collective weight in gold. They suggested stretches, doctors, and routines to keep up my fitness while going easy on the areas of my body that required down-time. I will never forget how important it is not to go radio silent when a fellow runner is on the Injured Reserve list. They need support and encouragement more than ever.

5. Rolfing is better than it sounds. A friend, who has competed in several Ironmans all over the world, including Kona – twice, suggested I try something called Rolfing.

I know, it sounds like a German word for vomit.

I asked around and heard it could be painful, but pain didn’t stop me from having kids or getting a tattoo, so I gave Rolfing a try.

She adjusted the tissue in my feet, legs, neck, and back. I didn’t say a word, and was pleasantly surprised when she came to the same conclusions as my doctors and chiropractors. It wasn’t painful at all. Relaxing and rejuvenating, it was the perfect companion to chiropractic treatment. I walked without a limp within just a few days.

6. Breasts come back. I thought after two years of running that they were gone for good, but like love handles or fascism, running-induced flat chests are never really dead. They just lie dormant until you’re feeling lazy and vulnerable.

7. Find other outlets to keep busy. I get a little crabby when I’m not working out and pushing myself. Luckily my husband is funny and can diffuse any negativity with a perfectly-timed joke or a tease and I bounce back pretty quickly.

Still, I occupied myself in different ways to keep crazy at bay. I read books, caught up on television shows and movies, and meditated. I also started sleeping more than six hours. That was the best medicine of all.

8. Don’t overeat. Running keeps off the weight, so it didn’t take long for my baggy pants to feel a bit tighter. I immediately adjusted my diet to take in less food. I sure did miss those lattes.

9. Group runs can be walks. Half of what I love about running is the social scene–this collection of kind-hearted, spunky, energetic, and positive life forces. Men and women who make 20-mile runs feel good. It didn’t take long for me to miss them, terribly.

I still went to the track and group runs. We hugged, talked, caught up. And when it was time for them to take off, a few injured runners and I would walk and chat about how we were getting through it.

10. Try other exercises. Swimming, bicycling, yoga, and the elliptical machines were all on my doc’s and coach’s list of acceptable ways to keep up fitness without jeopardizing healing time.

After a month of rest, I couldn’t wait to get out there. But I kept my first run to a mile.

I was scared, waiting to see if the pain would return. I ran a 12-minute mile and concentrated on form, something that had started to suffer when running with an injured back and sore legs.

As I make my way through these first few recovery runs, I continue to take it easy. I will get faster, but I’m no longer in a hurry to speed up right away. I’m running for the long haul, eager to enjoy many different races throughout the year.

Eager to run smart.

I get it now.