Don’t Fight the Water

When I first started swimming, I couldn’t understand why it was so hard. I knew there were probably a million reasons for it (my last swimming lessons being at 8 years old, super long limbs and short torso, a runner’s mobility), but every swim felt like I was thrashing against the water – it was so exhausting. 

When you have a best friend who is an Olympic medalist swimmer, you clearly go and ask her what is wrong. Of the many things she told me, number one was “don’t fight the water. Let the water guide you – work with it.” It took me a bit, but at some point, that notion clicked, and swimming became much easier (though I still liken myself to a drowning porpoise and regularly get passed by 70 year olds).

I’ve taken that simple phrase, however, and taped it above my desk at work: “Don’t Fight the Water.” Because, unknowingly, over these past few months, I’ve been fighting the water in so many ways in my life, and I’m realizing it’s a battle I can’t win.

A few days ago, at the end of a run, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my heel. With a big race “out there” looming, I shut it down, rested, and prayed it’d get better. Frankly, I thought I had majorly effed up my Achilles, and feared the worst – months and months of tendon rehab. An MRI told a different story though: my Achilles is pristine (yaaaay!). Unfortunately, however, I had an early stage bone stress injury in my calcaneus.

Frankly, I’ve never been so relieved to have a bone injury – compared to an destroyed tendon, bones are WAAAAAY easier to deal with, and we caught it early enough. But the gutting loss of a season that was just about to get started cut deep – deeper than any loss of a race before. 

I shed my tears, spent a few days on the merry-go-round of self-flagellation, and then, like I’ve done so many times before with every injury/setback/failure – took stock of the situation.

This one was clearly on me. After coming off injury in the fall, time was short in order to be semi-race ready. I felt the mounting pressure every day, the growing despair of being nowhere close to where I was a year ago at this time. I pushed, perhaps a bit too aggressively, knowing that I was riding a line, and taking a risk. But the passion was so strong to get back “out there,” it was one I was willing to take.

Sometimes risks pay off. And sometimes they blow up in your face.  

Unfortunately, this calculated risk resulted in the latter. But if I had to do it again, would I do it any differently? If I’m honest with myself, probably not. 

I think the hardest part is that I learned this lesson once before: after breaking my femur, I pushed aggressively trying to get back for the Spartan Race World Championships in 2016. That also blew up in my face, resulting in the sacral stress fracture. I’ve been beating myself up these past few days, telling myself that I should know better. That, for better or worse, I have a history of bone injuries, and that trying to “outsmart” my body a second time was a recipe for disaster. 

Currently, I’m working on giving myself grace. I don’t really think this was a “mistake,” but more arrogance that I thought I could escape unscathed. But sometimes we make the same mistakes twice. Sometimes we have to learn a lesson over and over again. Sometimes we throw caution to the wind in spite of the risks, and that’s ok. 

As much as being sidelined again for a short bit sucks, I’d rather be here than not having attempted to race at all. As I said last year: “failure is not giving myself the opportunity to try.” I tried – unfortunately, it resulted in me not even getting to the start line. There are some passions in life that are worth it, and this was one of them. (let’s be honest – I imagine I’ll have to learn this lesson again at some point. I think most athletes do.)

All that being said, what’s become crystal clear to me is that, just like fighting the water in swimming, I can’t fight my body and win. The body will always have the last laugh. 

Frankly, it’s exhausting. Worrying about race deadlines and readiness and every ache and pain is all consuming, and I know there’s a better way, because I’ve done it before: when I started training and racing after my sacral stress fracture, I cleared my calendar. I went really slowly in build-up. I was ok letting things flow. I didn’t set artificial timelines.  And I made it back and started racing happier and with more passion than I ever have before. 

I’ve taken my risk, and I failed. So it’s time to take the foot off the gas pedal. To slow down in order to speed up. To heal my body, and get rid of this injury cycle once and for all. And with a history of bone injuries, a key part of that is going to be getting my hormones figured out. Letting my body rest. And honestly, gaining weight and body fat. I’m not dumb, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room: I’ve known for awhile that I’ve been hanging onto a muscular, lean physique that, while it might have worked for OCR, is not compatible with ultrarunning and multi-day endeavors like I want to do. I thought I could be the exception, but once again, the body has the last laugh. As uncomfortable as it may be for the vain part of myself, I’ll likely be more resilient and injury free with extra body fat and weight. Maybe not, but considering I’ve done all the other work (strength training, rehab, Vitamin D levels, etc) and I’m still suffering from bone injuries, it’s worth a try.

I’ve had multiple people tell me that I should hide this latest injury – that multiple bones injuries like this are shameful, and that I’m opening myself up to criticism. I understand many athletes hide injuries, but that’s not me. Maybe at one point in my life I thought I was invincible, and I thought admitting injury would make me be less of a “badass,” but that’s no longer me. This is my life, and my story, and I will own my mistakes and shortcomings, in all their full glory. It’s true to who I am, and the type of person I want to be. And if I can help others along the way in their journey, and let them know that “hey, we all struggle in our own ways,” even better. 

As scary as this all is, I’m actually excited to tackle it.  I’m excited to get back to racing healthy, and in due time (this summer most likely, but I’m not setting any firm plans). What’s funny is that, as tough as this injury cycle has been, I’ve never let go of the unwavering belief that my best running and racing days are still ahead. I’m so excited just thinking of it. 

Life is pretty grand when you let the water guide you. 

As always, a HUGE thank you to my sponsors who have stuck by me through the ups and downs: HumanN, Ultimate Direction, Altra, Sufferfest Beer, Big Spoon Roasters, Rocktape, Goodr, and Pete & Gerry’s. As a sponsored athlete, being injured is one of the worst feelings when you think about telling them (especially when you’ve JUST signed on…sorry Altra…). But these companies are rockstars, and I’m so thankful they support me in every aspect of my life. And to Dr. Brink at Premiere Spine & Sport, who has served as an invaluable resource in learning about movement and my body. And, of course, to Coach David Roche: he’s always tried to rein me in (sometimes I don’t listen…and look what happens), but more importantly, he’s been the biggest advocate of me as a human being, not as a runner. I can’t imagine a better coach to have in my corner.

Share

37 thoughts on “Don’t Fight the Water”

  1. Amelia, you have always been such pure inspiration to me since I started OCR in 2015. I remember seeing you at my first ever Super in Palmerston and being awestruck. Thank you for your continued honesty and grit. Btw you are a beautiful writer. Happy healing

  2. Great post, thx for putting it out there and taking the risky vulnerable route. David Roche on one shoulder and David Goggins on the other can be kinda tricky sometimes. Good luck, heal fast, enjoy the water.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story despite advice to the contrary. You are a master at articulating your thoughts, feelings, analysis, and process, which is hugely resonating with me (I’m at a totally different level, but similarly struggling with injury). Your story is so helpful and super inspiring to read, and I wanted to comment so you could know that it is impacting others (at least one other. Haha) in a hugely positive way despite the risk you are taking by opening up. I’m not a professional athlete nor sponser, but you demonstrate your true strength by being so open and honest in hopes that others can learn from you too, which I have done. Thank you!!

  4. Praying for your speedy but thorough recovery Amelia. My twin brother and I met you and snagged a post race pic with you (I think it was the Virginia Super-the insanely foggy rainy one-epic race! If not that one then maybe SoCal Temecula?). Anyway, stay strong and keep living-telling your story! Dan

  5. Thank you for sharing!!! I’ve gone through similar bone injuries and felt the same shame when I’ve reinjured myself, knowing I probably over did my training & didn’t focus as strictly on proper nutrition as I should have. It’s a very challenging balance between wanting to push your limits and staying injury free. Really appreciate hearing your similar struggle. Like you said as athletes we often make those mistakes again and again but sharing the failures of training is SO IMPORTANT just for that reason. So thank you!

  6. You are such an incredible model of resilience and strength and vulnerability. Heal your body…you speak to so many athletes who need to listen to your message but don’t want to appear “weak”. You are so freaking strong and I can’t wait to watch your comeback whether it’s to OCR, Ultra running, or Synchro swimming….💕

  7. Reading this, I relate to this so much right nke. By no means anywhere in the same boat, but that feeling of losing a season is truly terrible. When you want nothing more to be right there in the race. It’s a gut wrenching, emotional place. But rest up, and come back better than ever champ!

  8. Hi Amelia,

    Keep fighting!! You’re strong and courageous and I certainly believe that like most that have suffered significant injuries, we are stubborn and hopeful and excited about getting back to challenging ourselves.

    Over the course of my life, I’ve had my left knee (ACL, MCL, meniscus) operated on twice, same once in right knee, broke my tibia, was hit by a car and suffered L4/L5 disc problems, had shoulder surgery, broke my big toe, had sports hernia surgery, and those are just the significant injuries.

    None of that is to say that I can understand the frustration you must be facing, but that we are all with you, support you, and treasure your candor, your openness, and realism of facing challenges head-on. Does this injury stink? You bet, but we all remember the injuries and the apprehension when we return, but we definitely remember that first day it just feels “good.”

    I am happy to hear it is not an Achilles injury, disappointed you are sidelined, but excited for what you have in the future. The struggle is not that we cannot do what we thought we could or once were capable, the blessing is in the gift that we were ever able to test our boundaries!

    Press on and may you have a speedy recovery and fantastic rehabilitation while healing! I know all are rooting for you!!

    Ethan

  9. Your Spartan podcast episode got me, then 51 out running the trails near my home. I thank you for the motivation. Likely it added years to my life. At 53, soon 54, your resilience continues to impress. My sincere best wishes for your continued recovery. No pressure but I point to you as an example to my kids as someone who can find room for more than one passion. Attorney, spartan and ultra marathoner…life is limitless if you want it to be.

    Thank you again.

  10. Amelia,
    Best and well wishes through your recovery and return. Injuries do suck and getting well has to be your focus, which it is. I look forward to seeing your progress and success!

  11. Amelia, I’m really sorry you are having to deal with this injury. You have been and are an inspiration to me through the injury recovery I’ve been going through for over a year.
    Thank you for sharing such difficult personal experiences-you have helped me and many others!
    Hang in there and take the time your body requires to heal. As you know, the mental part of the process is the hardest. You know you will put in the work to get “back” when the time is right, so give yourself the permission not to “white knuckle” the downtime. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  12. Hi Amelia,

    Your passion and drive for life in general is super inspiring and it’s people like you who I look up to to keep going, to keep trying, and to keep being a better version of myself. I’m constantly judged or put down for my endeavors. Whether it’s OCR, or mountain biking, or any number of activities I find that if people can’t imagine themselves doing what they do, they sometimes want to dismiss it as crazy, or judge you as irresponsible or crazy for doing it. This is especially true when I get injured, which is a near-constant state.

    I used to get hurt and frustrated by people commenting or insulting me for continuing to push myself towards a new adventure. Now I realize that these people’s comments and feelings have nothing to do with me. That’s over there with them. I don’t do these things for anyone other than myself. Of course I’m proud when I do well and hit a milestone and reach for external validation, but at the end of the day the people who matter in my life are supportive and loving and simply want what’s best for me, even if sometimes I completely disagree with what that means.

    Please keep posting, keep having fun, and no matter what comes next, know that you have been a major source of inspiration for thousands of people and continue to be, whether you’re on a podium or not. Thank you for sharing your journey and drive with all of us. I almost never leave comments, but think it’s important that the positive voices rise above the negative ones, and you deserve a heartfelt acknowledgement for the role you play in our community.

    Thank you!

  13. Injuries suck. No bones about it! Take the time your body needs and embrace the suck (as they say). We are always our biggest research project in life! You are always so open, honest, raw and real. I love your writing and the courage it takes to be vulnerable with the world. Heal well.

  14. Amelia, that’s a tough one to read. Thank you for sharing. I wish for the quickest and most enduring recovery possible.

    That being said, your article, like many of your others strikes a chord with me. This one in particular reminds me to “zoom out”, as your coach also likes to say.

    Thank you for all the inspiration!

  15. Amelia,

    Thank you for sharing, for a number of reasons. 1) Opening up to vulnerability is courageous, and the connection we gain through doing that far outweighs any criticism. 2) I found out yesterday I have a calcaneous stress fracture in my right foot. I suffered the exact same injury in the left foot in October of 2018 and had JUST regained some normalcy with running and feeling like a runner again. It sucks. There is no way around that. But I appreciate so much you sharing your story that helps me through mine, and many others through theirs. Being able to identify with another’s feelings in challenging times is a huge comfort.

    Heal up strong and quickly!
    Xo

    1. Ugh, I’m sorry to hear! That’s a similar timeframe to mine. So frustrating, but there’s comfort in knowing we are in this together.

  16. Amelia,
    We’re all in a race or journey throught our life. The struggle is are we striving for exellance in all aspects of life. You’re a great example of someone who pushes their self on and off the track. Your life’s story is even now becomimg more inspiring because your openest and honesty about your strugles.
    Greatness is not measured in metals, its measured in character.
    Praying for full recovery.

    Marshall

  17. Bones injuries are nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes we ride the line and then realize we’ve been over the edge the whole time. Take the time to heal and figure it all out. You will be back, no doubt.

  18. Keep at it champ.

    Your post-mortem on “would I have done something differently”, having the consciousness to realize that no you wouldn’t was exactly something I relate to. And we all know the feeling of not trying, and then perhaps failing. I’d always rather try.

    Thanks for your openness and continued inspiration.

  19. You go Amelia! Don’t be afraid to give yourself time to heal properly and run when your body is ready. I thought it was all downhill after 20. It’s not by a long shot. You have years of excellent running in your future.

  20. Thanks for sharing Amelia Boone the come back is greater than the set back! I am going through the same thing. I’ve had to withdraw from the Zion 100. Hard decision, but I know in my heart it was the best one. Sending good vibes.

  21. Thanks for being so transparent about discussing this idea of being “lean” and “cut” and how this relates to hormonal and bone health for women endurance athletes! I think in distance running, there have been a lot of really productive discussions lately about how under-fuelling, disordered eating, and being too light impacts longevity, hormonal health, and the ability to adapt to training stimuli, which is awesome. But in the midst of this, there’s a lot of instagram fitness “strong not skinny” rhetoric where a body type is pushed that is possibly just as unsustainable as the whippet thin body for many women without a specific genetic propensity towards building bulkier muscles and maintaining hormonal health with unusually low body fat. Basically, the notion that six pack abs and visible musculature are seen as the paradigm of fitness. Many women don’t associate that physique with anything wrong or disordered because, after all, you need to ingest enough calories to actually build visible musculature. Also I can imagine as a professional athlete, you look amazing in photos with that physique which is good for the products you sponsor. The discussion that what we visualize in our head as a fit body might not actually be correlated with what is optimal for athletic performance and longevity is a bit of a mind fuck and I think pretty important to engage with!

      1. Thanks for sharing about this. I’m a new ultra runner (who definitely has some weight to lose that I gained in biglaw – hello fellow lawyer!) and I have been striving so hard for fatloss while training. I really would love to know more about this topic since while the physique goals for me are important I care SO much more about being healthy and able to complete these ultra challenges. Anyway, I am rooting for you in your recovery!

  22. Thank you for sharing your journey! Injury isn’t something to hide – it sucks but can teach us a lot. I have a friend who has a doctorate in some sort of sports physiology (I never get the exact name right), and she’s done research on the female athlete triad (she’s an endurance cyclist as well). We can’t fool our bodies for too long.

  23. Sorry to hear about your setback, appreciate your share and positive outlook.

    I imagine your aggressive risk-taking is part of the gritty competitiveness that has led you to so much success. Your healthy response to adversity is part of your resilience in those toughest moments.

    I have been battling my own (minor, so far) setbacks as I try to run more again after two years of not-so-much. My mind wants to pick up right where I left off, while my body is saying “not so fast”. 😀 It’s always a balancing act, so I teeter from month to month, finding my path.

    Happy Trails and here’s to many more for all of us!

  24. This a most impressive post for its honesty, self-awareness and thoughtfulness. Rarely we see anyone admit to mistakes, to taking chances that don’t turn out for the best. But handling undesirable turns of events with such grace, resilience and courage should be a model for the rest of us, not just in athletics, but in our lives more broadly. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. You proved to be a champion in more ways than you can imagine.

  25. Bummer to see such an exceptional athlete like yourself go through this. It hits close to home for me because I am an ultrarunner/rock climber/weight lifter who is married to a fellow ultrarunner/cyclist/weight lifter. I have seen her go through injury after injury and recovery after recovery for many years and the cycle just never ends. I have tried to help her by telling her to cut back, get rid of hard interval training for a while, get enough calories, get sleep and so on but in the end what I say really has no bearing on what she actually will do. She has to figure it out, and it seems like you’re on that path. Whatever you do, don’t lie to yourself and remember that all the stress is cumulative, that less is always better (and will make you a better athlete), but you have to get through that mental shit or it’s never ever going to change. Good luck to you Amelia.

  26. If you’re looking to put on a little body fat, just drink like 6 beers every night before you got to bed. Not Mic-Ultra but a nice full bodied Pilsner. you’ll put on some weight in no time. Take it from me, I’m an expert. I’m fit/fat and I drink 6 beers a night. But, nice read. And we’ll see you in October. 200 miles or bust.

  27. The grace we give to others is often a luxury that we do not afford ourselves. Good-luck on this new path of self discovery and growth. Hugs and Smiles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.