Category Archives: Injury, Rehab and Recovery

A Year of Return to Running Logs

Several months ago, I promised that I would share my return to running logs for those interested, not thinking that anyone would actually want to see them. Heh. Apparently, some folks were interested.

Extremely belated, but here they are (embedded below, or you can follow this link): Amelia’s Return to Running Log

Before you take a look, an important personal note:

I struggled mightily with whether to keep in the “injury notes” comments. I use this column with my coach to communicate any issues, etc., and I’ve made a point to OVERreport any niggle, in case we need to stop and readjust. Reading back through, I realize how absolutely scared I was to run. From a third person reading in isolation, you may think “holy shit this girl is a hypochondriac.”

And that’s fine if you do. Ultimately, I decided to keep the comments in there to keep it real – to show the mental anguish of coming back from injury. Coming off a year of not being able to run, EVERY ache and pain struck the fear of God into me. Reading back through the comments now is pretty hard – I can see HOW scared I was. I was paralyzed by the fear of reinjury, and had absolutely zero trust of my body. I spent most of this past year simultaneously being grateful to be able to run and being scared spitless that it was all going to be taken from me again in an instant. The mental block of being constantly broken was haunting. So I left the notes in there to show this dark side, to show that what we see through the highlight reel of other’s social media isn’t what is going on in our head.

I write this all to say that if you are coming back from injury and feeling all the feels, you aren’t alone. Freakouts are normal. But learning to rebuild that trust is critical. It’s only been recently (a year out), that I’m beginning to feel “normal” again.

You’ll notice in the logs that I had several various freak outs about different injury scares – (foot, tibia, femur, etc – you name a body part). Each one of these required 5-10 days off from running. But you’ll notice that early time off made it so these never progressed into anything worse. So my return to running was ANYTHING but smooth. It was also for this reason that I decided to include an entire year of the log – while the initial “return to running  ” ramp up only lasts a few months, that doesn’t mean the battle ends.

A few procedural notes:

  • For the first few weeks, all runs were done at no faster than a 10min/pace. As Coach David Roche said, “we are not running, we are getting the bones, tendons and muscles used to pounding.”
  • I started with 10-15 minutes of barefoot walking a day – some on grass, some on an incline treadmill
  • Pretty much all my running was done on dirt – I rarely hit asphalt.
  • For the first few weeks, I stuck on a dirt track where I made a lot of loops – makes it easier to abort and not be an idiot if need be.
  • A few weeks after return to running, I was knocked over by two dogs while running and ended up with a tibial plateau bone bruise and torn lateral meniscus, which required 3-4 weeks off from running. So I pretty much started over (again!) from ground zero in February. (hence the large chunk of XT (cross-training))
  • ONE FULL REST DAY A WEEK NO MATTER HOW MUCH I KICK AND SCREAM
  • Coach uses minutes, not miles (except for long runs), and we made that switch partway through the year. I didn’t request it, but it works well for me so I don’t fixate on mileage
  • Log doesn’t include my strength work, which is generally 2-3x week and includes squats, deadlifts, lunges and other single leg exercises in addition to upper body and grip work for obstacle racing.
  • I only included until end of November this past year because…I’m lazy and you get the gist. Since November 2017, I’ve been hitting 60-70 mpw, with one big week at 90 before taper.
  • First tab of the log is the day to day, and I added a second tab which shows you weekly mileage totals
  • Yes, it would be much easier if I just posted you all to Strava to see this. I understand the log is probably not the most user-friendly to read. But to ward off the “why are you not on Strava” questions – I know myself well enough to know, at this point, I too easily fall into the comparison trap (which led my down the past to a broken femur in the first place). I don’t care about people seeing my stuff (I’d actually love to share!), but I’d need to prevent myself from looking at other folks..like the only drunk goggles on gmail to prevent drunk emailing (oh…college)

Some  stats:

  • Highest mileage week (through November 2017) was 65 miles, but the bulk has sat around 35-50 (after the gradual ramp-up). Since the end of the log, I’ve been at 65-70mpw consistently with one week at 90.
  • I didn’t hit a 20 miler until December 23rd, 2017, over a year since I started running   again (which may surprise some folks). Up until December, longest run was the Spartan Race Word Championships in Tahoe. We’ve focused on getting consistent lower mileage 5-6x week versus long “epic” runs (which is ALL I used to do pre-case of femurs)
  • For those interested in my pace, “easy” in logs means MAF, which is around 148bpm for me. It’s difficult to correlate that to pace since I rarely run purely flat and most of my runs have a fair amount of vert. Hence, using HR as a guide.

Every runner’s journey back is going to be different, and I imagine there are a lot of you out there being like “wow she’s still so low mileage!” or “she took it WAY too conservatively.” Sure, perhaps. I know plenty of other runners who have ramped up much faster and been just fine. For me, getting over the mental block of rein jury and the fear of high mileage probably made me more conservative than we needed to be. But I also was off from running    for almost a year, and, therefore, we had to treat me like a brand new runner. If you have a shorter layoff (3-4 months), you may be able to return to mileage much quicker (general rule of thumb is that if you are off of running  for over 9months, maybe even 6 months, you are pretty much starting over from ground zero. Sucks, I know).

Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have – as always, I’m not a doctor nor do I pretend to play one, and I can only speak to my unique experience. Every runner, and every injury is going to be different.

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Rewriting the Script

Someone once asked me what I thought was the one marker of a successful person: I answered with “the ability to pivot.” To adapt on the fly, to cast aside things that aren’t working if need be, and to reinvent yourself.

The last thing I expected as a result of the Spartan Race World Championship was a shattered pinky and surgery two days later to insert plates and screws. I remember being oddly calm in the urgent care room in Truckee, because “it’s just a pinky – this is dumb,” I thought, and “at least I can still run”. I remember my mood starting to change when the urgent care doc looked at the x-rays and said I needed to see a surgeon ASAP, and further crumble when the surgeon gave me the verdict – full weight bearing on the hand (i.e., hanging from a bar, doing pull-ups, etc) would be 3 months. Um…come again?

Post surgery. For the record, not a painkiller smile

 

And I remember the exact moment where I went “oh shit. World’s Toughest Mudder” … the event that started it all for me, the one event unlike any other, was a month post-surgery. This entire season, I’d always had it in my sights: because I had to miss it last year, and because of my history with it, it had always (quietly) been my “A” race this year. And I was going into it with the lofty goal of being the first woman to break the 100-mile mark at the race.

Sitting there in the urgent care room in Truckee, I called my friend Caroline and sobbed “I can’t miss this race two years in a row…I CAN’T.”

Her very astute and simple response: “Why can’t you?”

“Because I’ve never missed it two years in a row. Because I sat on the sidelines last year vowing that I would avenge and hit 100 miles next year. Because the last time I missed the race I came back and won it the next two years and it was this triumphant comeback and that’s what I wanted to do again.” And then I cried some more.

“Amelia, I love you,” she said, “but you HAVE to stop living in the past.”

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The Injury Commandments

While it’s not something I’m exactly proud of, if there’s one thing I’ve become well-versed in this past year and a half, it’s been dealing with injury. And not because I’m the master of recovering and returning to sport in record time, but because I failed hardcore at it. I screwed up injury recovery in pretty much every way possible, and I paid for that. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year writing about the mental side of injury, yet haven’t touched much on the nitty-gritty of rehab and rebuilding, for two main reasons:

(1) I made a lot of really foolish mistakes
(2) I’ve been afraid of jinxing myself (seriously, I’m superstitious like that)

Yet, like with all the writing I do, I always hope that my blunders, screw-ups and errors can hopefully help someone else, so I figured it was time to nut up and admit all the things I did wrong, the (few) things I did right, and the things I wish I had done differently (#nojinxnojinxjnojinx).

DISCLAIMER BECAUSE I’M AN ATTORNEY AND REALIZE THAT THESE DISCLAIMERS DON’T WORK ANYWAY: Please realize that this list is personal to me and based on my experience. I’mnot a doctor, nor do I play one on a 30-minute sitcom (though I always liked to think that Elliot from “Scrubs” was my soulmate). These are simply things that worked for me: take what you want, and leave the rest.

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I Fear My Own Return

Fear. I’ve spent the better part of the past year advocating embracing fear – running towards fear, instead of running away from it. That (to butcher the words of Cheryl Strayed) an overwhelming sense of fear shows that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.

What do I fear more than anything right now?

Returning to racing.

I fear my own return to racing.

Start line jitters (photo courtesy of Kien Lam)

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2016: A Year of Healing

On April 26th of this year, a few days after the whole “broken femur” thing started, I picked up a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s book “Brave Enough.” I flipped to a page, and this stared at me:

       

I promptly ripped this page (and one more, which you’ll see if you make it all the way through this novel of a post) and taped it to my bathroom mirror, as a theme for my recovery journey. Granted, the journey has been much longer than I anticipated, but can be summed up with two themes: gratitude and acceptance.

When I first sat down to write this post, I titled it “2016: A Year of Injury.” But the more I wrote, I realized that, yes – I could look at this as a year of injury. Or I could look at this as a year of healing – body and mind. So that’s what I choose to do, and here are the things I picked up along the way:

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“When Will You Be Back?”

It has been almost two months since I received the ok to cast the crutches to the curb.Two months since I re-entered the world of bipedalism after three long months with the sticks. And two months since the first person asked me “so, you’ll be racing [x] next weekend?”

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This sums up my existence for 3+ months.

I had gone from three months of no weight-bearing of any type, and I was constantly asked if I would be running [x] race the following weekend. I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly certain that’s not how rehab works.

Believe me – I wish it did. Life would be so much easier if the body and mind were in sync. Unfortunately, as any athlete who has ever gone through a major injury knows, that’s not how the game works.

I’ve had minor injuries in the past, but nothing like this that has knocked me out for such a long period of time, and certainly nothing that caused me to be non-weight bearing for this long. And what has become perfectly clear to me in all of this is that being laid up with injury is easy. It’s the rehab and the comeback that’s the hard part.

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Finding Joy in the DNS

For anyone who has ever signed up for a race via Ultra Signup, you are probably familiar with the most dreaded of features – a listing that displays, in full glory for everyone to see, your DNFs and DNSs. The DNFs are in bold red, screaming at you – “hey you – you failed!” The DNS’s are a bit more subdued, just a nice yellow – a kind of warning. But I’ve heard of ultra runners going to great lengths to avoid those awful stigmas on their ultra record.

I’m no stranger to it myself – I’ve unregistered myself before several races I knew I couldn’t run, solely to avoid that scarlet (or yellow) letter of shame. And as Western States approached these past few weeks, I sat there, staring at my registration history, wondering if I should “unregister” to avoid a blemish on my still-quite-small ultra signup record.

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A pretty tiny little resume. Excited to work on that.

I reached out to my friend (and F3 at States!) Devon Yanko for her take. Unregister? Hell no, she said – you EARNED that DNS.

Be proud of that DNS.

I’ve struggled a bit the past few months when a stranger asked “what’s your sport” or “what kind of athlete are you?” The obvious answer is “obstacle racer,” but I hesitate to describe myself as an “ultra runner.” I feel too unproven,  too new, too brash to declare myself that given my limited racing history. Like running my way into States was a fluke, and something that I won’t be able to replicate, or ever fulfill.

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Recovery: On realizing you aren’t superhuman

It’s been 6 weeks since that fateful run where lightning bolts shot down my leg.

When the initial MRI was taken, and my sentence was given (12 weeks until running, etc.), a part of me held out hope in the back of my mind that the doctors were just being conservative. C’mon – I’m the girl who returned from knee surgery to win World’s Toughest Mudder exactly 8 weeks post-op. Surely, by 6 weeks out, I’d be close to running again. I’m superhuman, or so people tell me.

Instead, after 5 days of testing walking about, I’m back on crutches. 4 weeks of non-weight bearing, they initially told me. Never would I imagine it could possibly be…more. (c’mon…I’M SUPPOSED TO HEAL LIKE JOHN CENA, PEOPLE)

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Injury, Identity and the Athlete

Yesterday, I decided to clean out the trunk of my car. It’s long overdue. As I surveyed the contents, I took notes (and yes, I realize this is disgusting): 9 pairs of trail shoes. 3 pairs of road shoes. 3 headlamps. 4 pairs of Injinjis, and one random mateless sock. 4 long sleeve running tops. 2 tanks. 2 buffs. One running visor. 2 rolls of RockTape. A bag of emergency gels and bloks. Scattered packets of BeetElite. A crumbly pack of Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts. And 3 handheld water bottles.

I took a step (or, crutched a step) back. I stared at the contents.

And I started crying.

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When it all comes crashing down

There are times in life when you feel like everything is FINALLY coming together, like life is finally making sense.  And you are happy. Really, truly happy and excited for what’s to come.

Unfortunately, it always seems like life has other plans for you. Maybe a reminder that “heeeey there, Amelia – you’re flying a bit too high – don’t be going all Icarus on me now. Remember that time you accidentally stepped on a  newt while running? Well karma wants to come back and kick you in the nuts right now.”

Continue reading When it all comes crashing down

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