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.
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:
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
Before I begin, let me preface that I am not a medical professional and hold no qualifications or certifications (even meaningless ones where you pay one thousand bucks for a t-shirt), and the last anatomy class I took was a 3 week unit in 9th grade biology. I am, however, a lawyer, so I know I need to cover my ass because inevitably someone may rely on this shit. So what I’m saying here is solely based on my own personal experiences, observations, and the ever trust-worthy interwebs. Follow at your own risk.
Injury is an inevitable part of being an athlete. It feels kind of weird to say that, for two reasons: (1) I’ve never really considered myself “an athlete”, and (2) up until about a year ago, aside from a few broken bones growing up, I’ve never really been injured. Hurt, yes – but never a diagnosable injury that has taken me out of training for more than a week or two at a time.
It’s been a hibernation kind of winter here in Chicago.
And for most of it, I’ve buried my head in the sand. Thrown myself into work (lawyering like a BOSS), rehab (so many Jane Fondas…), and recovery (which means rest. Which blows). And football, of course (Thanks Seahawks for salvaging an otherwise miserable winter. #LOB baby).
It’s a humbling experience to watch your friends compete and race, knowing that you’d give anything to be out there. It was with much fear and trepidation that I still traveled out to World’s Toughest Mudder in November, worried about how awful it would be to have to watch from the sidelines.
The odd part? It really wasn’t that bad. If anything, it was extremely rewarding and eye-opening. I cherished the opportunity to sit back and watch the race from the other side. And to put aside my own sadness at not being able to compete and share in the joy, pain, and raw emotion of the competitors. To see old friends and to meet others. And to really take a step back and marvel at the outright ridiculousness of it all.
Surprisingly, as time ticked by while I sat on the sidelines, it got easier, not harder. I learned to build a life outside of racing (oddly, and perhaps pitifully, hard), I learned to listen to my body (even harder, and it’s still a struggle), and I learned how to readjust my goals and priorities surrounding OCR.
There were points where I was sure I’d never recover (and to be fair, I’m still not quite sure “pain-free” will ever be a familiar concept again). Where I had to be driven to work because even walking to the ‘L’ stop brought me to tears from pain. All while seeing specialist after specialist, all with different diagnoses but no real clear recovery/rehab plan or explanation of what was going on with the ever shifting leg pain, back pain, numbness and weakness.
And here we are 4+ months later and with no clear label (and dear God, do people, including myself, always feel the need to have a label). But slowly, I began to recover. And feel better. I managed a few 400’s. And then a half-mile. And then one mile. And then 3. Nothing feels FANTASTIC, but I’ve been getting there. Some days I feel great, others I’m hobbling around. And it’s difficult to tell sometimes what sets it off.
But I finally got to the point where I can’t wait any longer. The need to get back out there is strong. And so I am. Smartest decision ever? Probably not, but no one has ever accused me of being wise.
Am I nervous? Extremely. Do I feel ready? Not exactly. Am I back in “race shape”? Definitely not. So we’ll give this a go and see how it feels. No expectations, no regrets (if I tell myself that, maybe I’ll believe it).
I hate it when cliches are true: one moment, you feel like you are on top of the world, and the next – things coming crashing down. And you sit and struggle with “why me” and kick and scream and fight, thinking timing is never fair.
Such is my life right now. I’ve been mum on this subject as of late, laying low on social media, hoping/thinking things would resolve, ashamed to admit what I hate to admit to myself: I’m hurt.
As someone who has been fortunately injury-free for a long time, it’s been devastating. Compound that with my calf injury pre-Spartan World Championships, I’ve been hesitant to let people know about the injury for fear of what other people think (I’ll call it “FOWOPT.” Deal with it). But you can only go so hard for so long until something has to give. And it gave, at a horrible time (admittedly, there is never a “good” time).
About a month ago, I pulled out of the Omaha Spartan Sprint 10 minutes before the Elite heats started after being seized by hip pain and debilitating sciatica. Since then, it’s been a month-long endeavor in pinpointing the cause and battling ever-present nerve pain. All signs point to some combination of pelvic misalignment, SI joint, and piriformis issues (back is cool, ohthankyouJesus). Some days I wake up fine, other days every step sends shooting pains down my legs into my feet (and the leg choice seems to rotate). X-rays, MRIs, ART, countless physical therapy sessions later, I’m making steady progress thanks to a combination of incredibly boring, seemingly wussy strengthening exercises and enduring torturous weekly sessions of my hips and legs being abused by dry needles. In fact, I was pretty confident about my WTM prospects until I suffered a flare up this past weekend, and I’m back to nowhere close to 100%. I’ve managed a few 2 or 3 mile runs, only to be stopped short by seizing pain or a completely numb leg. On the bright side, I’m learning how better “not to drown.” (hot damn, swimming is HARD. And boring. I have utmost respect for all you swimmers out there).
Oh, the irony: the so-called “Queen of Pain” is now in immense pain. Amelia Boone is now crippled from the simple act of sitting at her desk for 10 hours a day or walking 2 miles to work.
So while I’m currently going stir crazy not being able to train, “that one big race” looms in a week. Where I am supposed to “defend my title” and “win it all.” And nothing drives me to tears right now more than the thought of not being able to compete.
I’ve blogged before about the special place World’s Toughest Mudder has in my heart: it’s the race that started it all (or, the race that ruined it all). In 2011, it was a community of less than 1,000 of us with no idea what we were getting into. And the thought of not being out there again, mostly with these people, just kills me. Despite how much I bemoan what a miserable race it is, how it’s a battle in fighting off hypothermia and boredom, I can’t deny that I love this race.
So what do I do? All signs point to “sit out.” Aside from the fact that I could risk setting myself back even further in my recovery, my training has been severely limited (hello Airdyne sprints!), I’m in pain, and I’m obviously not 100% – making “defending my title” a Herculean task right now.
I wish I could just go out to WTM, run a few laps for “fun,” and be fine with that. But as someone reminded me the other day, I don’t have that luxury, because “people expect me to win.” In other words, “if I’m not going out to win, it’s not worth going out at all.”
HOLD UP – it’s not? With that comment, it really hit me: this is not what I signed up for when I got into this a few years ago. What happened to to obstacle racing being a stress release for me? Of being a hobby, a pastime, a fun outlet? I suppose that all went out the window when I started winning. Somewhere along the way, amidst sponsorship offers, magazine articles, and documentaries, I lost myself. (or, to quote Macklemore – “lost the compass where self is”).
I started racing because I loved the sport. And I still race because I love the sport. As I’ve said before, I’m not a professional and I have no plans to make this my sole occupation. I’ve struggled to reconcile the pressure of winning and of people’s expectations with going out there and having fun, regardless of how I do. Suddenly, winning becomes an expectation, whether I want it to or not.
But as long as I love the sport, why should it matter?
I keep praying for a miracle in the next week. Of going out on race day, feeling fine, and breezing through without pain (well, aside from the crippling pain of running 90+ miles). But you can’t fake 24 hours. And you certainly can’t fake it when even a few miles wreaks havoc on your body right now. While I’m chomping at the bit to get out there and tear up a course, I also have to listen to my body telling me there is something seriously “off.” That the entire left side of your body going numb isn’t “normal.” And as frustrated as I am that the doctors can’t exactly pinpoint a cause, that rehab isn’t coming as fast as I want it, ignoring the reality isn’t a sound “recovery strategy.” And when I started PT after Omaha, doctors and physical therapists warned me that, try as I might, WTM didn’t look good. Granted, I’ve never been one to listen to doctors.
So I can’t tell you what I’m going to do come next Saturday in Englishtown, New Jersey (though the new race format looks AMAZING. So awesome). For now, it’s a day-to-day struggle. More than anything, I want to run. Whether that can be competitively, I don’t know. But I don’t feel like there should be any shame in that.
Regardless of whether I’m out there or not, I know I’ll be back to healthy very soon, smarter and stronger. We all know there is nothing more frustrated than watching from the sidelines. You can’t keep me down for long: a new race season awaits.
"The timorous may stay at home." ~ Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 483 (N.Y. 1929)