Navigating injury is always difficult, but doing so during a global pandemic certainly adds an extra layer of challenge.
I haven’t said I’m injured, but when you don’t run for a month because it hurts, at some point you’ve gotta call a spade a spade. Most of my past injuries have been obvious and undeniable, like stress fractures, but this one is less clear. I haven’t gone to a doctor to receive a diagnosis and I ran for a long time debating if it was an injury or if I was just sore and tight. I didn’t want to call it an injury because being home on lockdown, running was my only ounce of normalcy among the chaos and I didn’t want to give that up.
In the late fall of 2018, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture and spent most of November and December in a walking boot. That injury healed well and by the end of January I was back to my regular weekly mileage again. As I trained for the 2019 Boston Marathon however, I started having some soreness in my hip that I now credit to being on my feet most of the day in a walking boot throwing my body off balance. I got through Boston training and the race without it being more than an annoyance after long runs and hard efforts and with the week I took completely off after the race, I felt good again for a while. I’m not sure when it came back because it was subtle, but at some point it did and I remember spending a lot of time with my double lacrosse ball to try to relieve tightness and soreness as I prepared for the Richmond Half Marathon in November 2019. After that race, I took a couple days off and continued prepping for a 5k I was running a couple later. I PR’d both of those races and was having the most fun running I had had in a long time, but after the 5k, I finally realized my hip pain wasn’t going to resolve itself and I needed to back off a bit. I took 3 days off of running to cross train as well as taking my weekly rest day and that was enough for things to feel good again for the next couple of months. But I wouldn’t be writing this if it stuck and before long the nagging pain that was growing all too familiar was back.
Again, I can’t pinpoint when the hip pain returned, but I had some posterior tibial tendon pain that was almost certainly related. The post-tib pain began in mid-February as I began training for the yet to be cancelled Boston Marathon. At the time, I still didn’t recognize the hip pain as a real issue but I did take a few cross training days and significantly reduced the length and intensity of some long runs to deal with the post-tib issue. That was enough to allow me to maintain my Boston training and although it didn’t feel amazing all the time, I felt that I could get through the marathon and evaluate whether more significant time off was needed after the race. And then everything closed.
The cancellation of the Boston Marathon sucked, but for me it was definitely a blessing in disguise. By mid-March my hip was really beginning to bother me and the race being cancelled allowed me not to run a 22-miler that I probably had no business running. The pain wasn’t that bad but it was constant and that can’t be a good sign. Hindsight is 20/20 and if I had a do-over I would shut it down completely as soon as the race was cancelled, take some rest and cross train for a bit before it got any worse and I’d be happily running pain free by now. But if years of injuries have taught me anything it’s that even when you learn to rest and listen to your body, you’ll still make the wrong choice sometimes, and I kept running. As we shifted into this strange ‘new normal’ running helped to ground me. Running allowed me to spend time outside and gave me a reason to get up early(ish) and start my day. Lacking the structure of the workday, running provided some semblance of routine and I was reluctant to give that up.
Finally, I caved. The third week of April my mileage was half of what it was the previous week. I ran like usual on Tuesday and Wednesday but on Thursday I turned around less than half a mile into my run with the sudden return of post-tib pain. I cross-trained for two days and tried to run again on Sunday, but that run proved I needed to shut things down for longer than I’d expected. Since April 20th, I have only run two 20 minute runs to check in and see how things were feeling (which spoiler, was not great either time).
For the most part, I’ve been inside on the bike trainer cross training, but I recently put air in the tires of my very fancy bike purchased at Target so I could get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Getting outside to cross train has been a huge game changer for me. Although it definitely isn’t the same and I’m jealous of any runner I see, I’m glad I’m able to get some fresh air.
This week, I also did something I often preach but haven’t done in a very long time. After weeks of cross-training, I finally gave myself some total rest. I was getting sick of the monotony of cross training, especially since it was primarily being done in the same room I work, read, watch TV, and eat (yay tiny DC apartments), so I decided not to work out at all for a few days and see how it felt both physically and mentally. I had just spent a week on the elliptical and I recognized that I was doing it more out of the disordered idea that I have to exercise more than anything and I felt it was important to challenge myself and take some rest even if it felt uncomfortable. Usually I take 5-7 days of complete rest twice a year, but because I haven’t run a marathon since last spring, I hadn’t done that in such a long time. I didn’t even notice how badly I needed it. I took 4 days completely off and by day 4 my hip felt better than it has in a year and I was itching to get outside. I went for a nice easy bike ride on Friday and have started getting back into a bit of routine again in the last few days. My hip is feeling a bit irritated again, but I plan to rest tomorrow and continue to monitor how things feel before I begin a return to running. We’ve had some great weather lately and I have an intense urge to lace up and hit the pavement, but I am not going to let the last month off of running to go to waste. I’m not sure when I am going to be able to get back to running normally, but I know that when I do I want to feel confident that I’m healthy and truly ready to go.
Navigating injury is always difficult, but doing so during a global pandemic certainly adds an extra layer of challenge. I’ve kicked myself a few times for not being smarter and shutting it down sooner, but I’m trying to lend myself the compassion I would give to my athletes. We all make mistakes and beating ourselves up is never helpful. I’ve made a decision to give my body the time it needs to heal now, and that’s really all I can ask of myself. If you’re dealing with an injury right now, know you’re not alone. We’re missing so many important aspects of our life right now and not having the thing that grounds us and allows us to escape from real life for a bit is an exceptional challenge. Know that whatever you’re feeling is valid and you have people who love and support you no matter what.