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The Stigma of Injury

Pink cast, don’t care

When I was a toddler, my Dad nicknamed me “Bruiser.” I broke my first bone at the age of 6, and by the time I was 25, I’d broken my wrists, collectively, seven times. I suppose you could call me injury-prone, but I just thought I was more “accident-prone.” I never really thought much of this – I played hard, and I crashed hard – it was just part of being an active kid.

But I wasn’t in the world of endurance sports, and I certainly wasn’t a runner. Stress injuries were foreign to me, as was the silent stigma that surrounded them.

From an early age, I’ve never been one to hold things in – sadness, disappointment, anger, fear – they’ve always just exploded out of me. So when I cracked my femur back in 2016, I didn’t think twice about sharing that with the world. For better or worse, I’ve always been an open book, and I work through my emotions by writing and sharing. People were incredibly supportive, and I’m grateful for that. What I did not expect, however, was the flood of questions from the peanut gallery:

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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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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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Race Happy

I feared my return to racing, and I faced that fear. I feared not being the athlete that I once was, and I’ve wrestled with my struggle to live up to those expectations in the rebuilding process.

What I haven’t talked about, however, is that there is another reason I feared returning to racing, and this one is more difficult to grapple with than worrying about sub-par race results.

I feared my own return to racing because I feared the person racing makes me.

And I didn’t want to go back to her.

For as much as I love the sport of obstacle racing, I wasn’t quite sure I actually loved the circuit of racing anymore.

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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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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.”

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Sean O’Brien 100k and the Golden Ticket

In November, I made a really bonehead move. After securing a Western States lottery ball with my Georgia Death Race (and first ultra) finish last spring, I completely failed to submit my qualifying time in the window provided. I could give excuses – it was the week before World’s Toughest Mudder, I had just moved to California and started a new job, etc. But in reality, I just blew it. I was angry at myself for a hot minute (though, the chances of making it in the lottery to the prestigious Western States was like……zero). But I quickly got over it, and moved on. Besides, I wasn’t READY for Western States, I told myself. Plenty of time for that, Amelia.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.13.07 PM
Best comment of the day: “You have the largest arms of any runner I know.” Gee…thanks.

But when OCR season wound down in November, I was looking for a late-winter, early spring ultra – something to fill my “offseason.” Lo and behold, Sean O’Brien 100k appeared on ultra sign-up. And lo and behold, it was a Golden Ticket race (top two male and female finishers get an automatic entry into Western States). So in a state of irrationality, I thought “hell, if I’m such an idiot that I can’t even properly get into the lottery for Western States, maybe, just MAYBE, I’ll just run my way in.”

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Reflections: 2015 in Review


Is this the real life?

I found myself asking that question several times throughout 2015. Ok, maybe on an (almost) daily basis. (And then it’d be followed by hours of trying to get “Bohemian Rhapsody” out of my head)

cropped-IMG_0616.jpgBut, no, seriously – 2015 was a trip. Tumultuous at times, but so incredibly, freaking awesome at others. I constantly have to remind myself to take a look back at the last few years and really take in and embrace the sideways turn my life took back in 2011, and where it’s brought me to today – the highs, the lows, and sometimes, the utter ridiculousness.

But as the sport continues to grow and evolve (and actually be defined as “a sport”), I’d like to think I continue to grow and evolve with it. And I do so, in part, by taking stock of what has happened, and letting that help shape my future.

So what did 2015 teach me?

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World’s Toughest Mudder 2015: Revolution

For the fifth year, we came. We ran. We crawled. We swam. We jumped. We climbed.

We laughed. We cried.

We triumphed.

Over these past five WTM’s, the course has changed, the location and venue have changed, and the heart and soul of this race has changed. All in the best of ways.

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Coat #upgrade

Because we have grown. We have grown as a community. And we have grown in spirit and in love.

Oh, and we’ve totally grown in inappropriate butt touches as well.

[shit, I was supposed to save the sappy stuff for the end. Strike that. Reverse it. Let’s start over. ]

So…..we go to Vegas…

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The Book of Ultra: The Georgia Death Race

Obstacle racing has been fantastic. image3(1)

But last fall (fresh off of knee surgery), I was looking for something different. A new challenge, a new venture. Having made a brief foray into competitive CrossFit at Regionals last year, I realized that lifting heavy things for just a few minutes at a time probably wasn’t my wheelhouse. So when I sat down to think about what I love the MOST about OCR, I realized it’s running up and down mountains (or the Death Race, where all I wanted to do was hike up and down Bloodroot endlessly).

So why not try something where I’m doing just that? Let’s write a new chapter, a new book. And call it The Book of Ultra.

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