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.”
This email arrived in my inbox yesterday morning. Two days ago, it would have been opened with excitement, cheer, a bit of nervousness, but smiles. But yesterday, I glanced at the subject line and broke down in tears.
You see, I won’t be running Western States this year. I won’t be running my trails at Rancho tomorrow morning. I won’t be running the first NBC Spartan Race next weekend in Montana.
In an instant, with one look at a MRI film, my build-up to my picture perfect ultra and OCR racing season came screeching to a halt in the form of a femoral shaft stress fracture. Armed with a pair of crutches, and cursing the three flights of stairs I have to navigate to my apartment, I spent the next 24 hours in shock, letting everything sink in. Crutches for 4 weeks. No weight bearing for 6. Not one step of running for 12.
No using of the Golden Ticket. No Western States. No long runs getting lost in the mountains on weekends. Everything that had been making me so god damn happy these past few months was, in an instant, gone.
Since I imagine many will wonder how I went about doing this number on myself, I’ll be honest in that it caught my totally off guard. Caught my coach and my doctors off guard as well. I had been dealing with some adductor tightness on and off this past week or two, but Graston, ART, and some aggressive foam rolling seemed to keep it under control, and it’d warm up a few minutes into the run. Some days it wouldn’t be there at all. But on my long run last weekend, on some final few miles of sharp descents, searing pains suddenly started radiating up my quad out of nowhere to the point where I thought my femur was going to snap in half. I hobbled it in, and prayed it was just muscular. Because, seriously – to go from running a 50k pain-free to fracturing a bone within 2 weeks HAD to be just all in my head, right? But when I got out of bed the next morning and my leg buckled under me, sending me crashing to the floor, I feared the worst.
Obviously, I did what any other person in mourning should do: grieve.
So I spent an evening of drowning my sorrows in a bottle of wine, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and watching episodes of “Billions” until 2am (because, hell – no need to get up for those 4am runs when I can even walk down my stairs). And I cried. A lot. And ate a lot more ice cream.
I get it – I get it – a wee bit melodramatic, Amelia. After all, “it’s just a race.” “Bones heal.” “You’ll be running again in a few months.” Unfortunately, Western States is NOT “just another race” for me. You can’t just sub a different 100 miler and call it good. There’s no guarantee of ever getting in again. But most importantly, to me, it was what it symbolized. It was a new venture for me – a fresh challenge. I had finally found something that was making me so truly happy. I was so honored to get to go toe to toe with the best of the best, and to learn from the incredible folks in this world. I threw myself into training and into the ultra running community, heart and soul. And to realize it’s gone before you ever even got the shot to toe the line is, well, fucking heartbreaking. The miles, the early mornings, the being in the best shape of your life. Instead of opportunity, I now only see the long, slow decline of my endurance and V02 Max while confined to immobility. Dear God, the inevitable loss of all the mileage you’ve put on your legs just…SUCKS. unnngh. It’s rare that I have a hard time finding words to express my feelings of grief and loss, but this is one of those rare times.
But, perhaps worse than the feeling of loss was the overwhelming feeling of guilt. Overuse injuries are tricky buggers, because you feel like you have no one to blame but yourself. For someone who sits there and constantly preaches “prehab! strengthening! balance!” to then someone manage to CRACK THE STRONGEST BONE IN HER BODY swept me up in feelings of shame and embarrassment. I SWORE I had done everything right – I got a coach, and we carefully monitored and slowly increased my mileage. I kept up with my rehab, with my strengthening, with my soft tissue work. A recent DEXAscan revealed normal bone density, and I’ve never had stress fracture issues before (to preempt the peanut gallery screaming at me to “take my calcium!!”). I took rest days. I ran easy most of the time. Honestly, I was feeling the most pain free I’d felt in a long time. Life was great, training was fantastic, and I was getting ready to rock and roll (using the oh-so-coveted and fantastic hashtag #seeyouinsquaw)
But after 48 hours of a wine, sobbing, and ice cream-induced haze, I cut myself off. Allowed grieving period was over, and now it’s time to pick myself up, and time to move on. I can’t undo the fracture in my femur, but I can decide how I’m going to view it. Because I realize that injury is, unfortunately, the risk we take as athletes – the collateral damage that comes from pushing the boundaries, from attempting to walk on the edge of greatness. We push ourselves hard – our minds and our bodies – and sometimes even all of the best laid training plans can’t stop the freak things from happening. It’s the cumulative results of years of wear and tear, and sometimes, a sign that it’s time to stop and rebuild.
So, rebuild I will. For those of you who know me, you know I throw myself into rehab and recovery just as hard as I attack training. So while I’m a bit limited in what I can do (given the nature of your femur being a pretty important bone to heal) for the first few weeks, this, too, shall pass (albeit however slowly). Injury is just another opportunity to make myself a better, more resilient athlete. Hell, probably an all-around better person (we’re just going to throw out all cliches here and hope that I start to believe one of them). Let’s be honest – when I get stuck in racing and training mode, I tend to forget there are other parts of me out there as well. Now is the time to reconnect with those. Maybe read some books that are sitting, staring at me on my bookshelf. Pick up some new hobbies (taking suggestions). Focus on attorney-ing like a boss. Get a bit squishy. And reframe what, really, is important in life (I’ll let you know when I figure that out).
You won this one, Master of Awful Life-Timing. But you better believe that I’m coming back to kick your ass. So, watch out…Terminator mode, engage.