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.
It’s “Active Recovery Week” here at my Crossfit box, and I am irrationally angry about it.
All I want to do is throw heavy shit around. I wake up cranky. I go to bed cranky. I’m pissy-pants at every turn. Just give me a barbell and a hero WOD and no one gets hurt.
Perhaps it’s this mental/emotional breakdown relating to a bit of rest and recovery is showing me that, of anyone, I need it the most.
But beyond Crossfit, it’s a growing phenomenon that I’ve witnessed over the past year in the world of obstacle racing/adventure racing: the utter inability of anyone to take time off, even ONE day. To rest. To recover. To treat our body well and nourish it. And I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders.
We take pride in our pain, in our sore shoulders and tight hammies. In our inability to walk after races and our gashes and infected wounds. We race for 24, 48, and occasionally 60+ hours, and are back in the gym within the next day or two.
We post with pride on Facebook and other sites about racing while injured, about one’s body being crippled by pain and DOMS. We wear our wounds like a badge of honor, with a sense of self-righteousness that defies all logic.
We refuse to taper, and bitch like little schoolgirls when we are forced to before a race. We laugh at workouts that don’t span multiple hours or involve massive amounts of weight.
We don’t feel like we’ve worked hard enough unless we are laying in a pool of our own sweat, utterly exhausted and dizzy. We take pride in others calling our workouts “crazy,” and we try to one-up each other on the “ridiculousness” of our workouts. We don’t “right” if we aren’t sore, or our hands aren’t torn up, or if are legs aren’t like jello.
Listen up folks: it makes no sense. And while I hate to admit it, in the long run, it’s going to catch up.
When I started endurance racing, my parents obviously worried about me (beyond just getting lost in the woods or chopping my foot off with an axe). As my mom once asked me: “Do you want to be able to walk when you’re 60?” And I laugh it off, because I feel so strong right now. But day after day, and week after week of just brutalizing my body (and taking pride in it), has me wondering if it’s a legitimate question.
Last week, for once in my life, I made a smart decision: I DNS’ed the Chicago Marathon. It’d be the second year in a row: last year with a tibial stress fracture and in a boot, this year with the flare up of pain in the same spot and some anterior sheath tendonitis as a result of the Vermont Ultrabeast. And I was angry, so angry. I COULD have run. Other people that ran the Ultrabeast were able to run, so I was angry that I wasn’t as “tough” as them, or that I was more prone to injury. But, given my history, I knew that if I did run through the pain, the likelihood of lasting injury was very high, and not worth the risk.
And one week later, I ran this morning for the first time since Vermont, pain free. So, perhaps, rest was the right decision.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t hate it. It’s only been in the past few months where I’ve scheduled in a complete rest day once a week (like, “laying on the couch, watching football and not moving all day” rest day), and I still struggle with that. But right now it’s a mental battle, it’s the task of reframing how I think about exercise, racing, and the relationship with my body.
In the words of the well-used AA mantra: “Fake it ’til you make it.”
To the consenting [willing], no injury is done. In the law, the Latin maxim of “volenti non fit injuria” is typically used as a defense in a tort action–voluntary assumption of the risk. To most of us, it’s what we so lovingly know as the Death Waiver.
Lately, however, I’ve realized that this maxim applies with equal weight to the abuse I inflict upon my body: when I injure myself doing stupid things, I have no one to blame but myself. I have only become painfully aware of this in the last year, and especially in the few months leading up to, and post, World’s Toughest Mudder.
Let’s take inventory:
Issue: After WTM, I was left with gaping blister holes on my heels. It’s painful to put on any enclosed shoe, including any type of running shoes.
Smart Decision: Wear some supportive clog with an open heel, and take some time off.
Amelia’s Decision: Walk around and workout in Injinjis and flip-flops for a few days, and then suck it up and deal with the pain and put on running shoes anyway.
Result: Blisters, that could have healed within two weeks, are now just starting to heal. Running shoes are now virtually pain-free. I may have permanent holes there, however.
Issue: As a result of the 24-race and wearing unsupportive flip-flops post race, I have a loose bone chip in my first metatarsal. This chip is digging into my tendon, causing extensor tendonitis.
Smart Decision: Per podiatrist instructions, chalk up $$ for laser therapy on the tendon, and rest.
Amelia’s Decision: Chalk up $$ for the laser therapy, and train for S.E.R.E. by climbing stairs for an hour a day with a ruck on my back containing 20% of my body weight in sand. Lie to my podiatrist about this.
Result: Laser therapy was a waste of money, and I still have tendonitis. Anything in a plank position, including push-ups, is painful. Running is manageable, but not great. Again, I can’t wear heels for work (hell, it’s been months since I can wear heels) and had to go to court the other day in some marginally-acceptable flats. Hide feet to pray judge doesn’t see.
Not only are Amelia’s Decisions a current problem, but it seems to be a pattern. For example:
Issue: Shin splint in the right tibia while running, jumping, and training all last year.
Smart Decision: Take some time off from training and do physical therapy.
Amelia’s Decision: Do physical therapy, but continue training. Eat Advil like it’s candy. Buy KT tape in bulk. Run several races and continue to train for the marathon.
Result: Tibial stress fracture. 6 weeks in a boot. Missed marathon. WTM almost put in jeopardy. Rage ensues.
So yes, it’s my own damn fault. The sad thing is, there is a simple solution, and it’s one that very few of us athletes are willing to do.
Like many of you, I am the world’s worst rester. I cringe at recovery days. I get antsy sitting around on the couch watching TV, and I crave the endorphins. Let’s face it: we are a group that gets our kicks by abusing our bodies. We wear our war wounds proudly: our missing toenails, our frostbitten fingers, our dislocated shoulders. But to ever admit that we are hurt is a sign of weakness. A sign of being, excuse my French, a pussy.
So it’s time for me to admit that I need to start taking rest days seriously. I took three days off after WTM (which is a record for me), but was not nearly enough to let my body heal. In an unfathomable turn of events, I’m taking the next few days off. Sometimes it’s the strongest thing that we can do.
"The timorous may stay at home." ~ Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 483 (N.Y. 1929)