Sometimes you think you do everything right and you still end up injured. That’s the boat I’m in right now.
A few weeks before the NYC marathon I felt a little pain in my foot. Not even pain really, just something I noticed, an area feeling a little off. I took note of it in my training log and ran a couple more days before backing off because the feeling was still there. Once I backed off, the discomfort subsided, and it was back to business as usual. Just a little niggle, maybe a close call, but now I was in the clear. Until I wasn’t.
A few days later, the (sort of) pain returned, so I eased up again. I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back, I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back. Wash, rinse, repeat for the next couple of weeks. Again and again it vanished then came back, but it never exceeded just a slight discomfort, so I never suspected anything serious. In the end, I chalked it up to soreness resulting from a long training cycle and the concrete floor of my classroom that I spend most of my day walking around on. Before I knew it, it was the week of New York and the pain was so subtle I had to think about it to notice it. I deemed myself fine and set off for the marathon. I knew I was wrong around mile 8 in New York, when the pain intensified and I worried I wouldn’t finish the race.
Since mending my relationship with running, I’ve worked hard to train smart and listen to my body, and I am very proud of the progress I have made. I’ve taken more unplanned rest than ever before, I’ve slowed way down on easy runs, and I’ve prioritized sleep and nutrition. I try to do everything “right”, but I ended up with a stress fracture anyway.
When my doctor gave me the dreaded stress fracture diagnosis, I felt all the injury feels. Mad, annoyed, frustrated, sad, the list goes on. But most of all, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in myself because I felt like I failed at taking care of my body, something I’ve worked so hard on. For a little while I blamed myself and believed it was my fault that I was injured. For a few days, it left me feeling pretty low.
In the days following the diagnoses, I rehashed my training and my pain leading up to New York. I pictured every run and tried to think if there was more pain than I had wanted to admit. I wondered if I should have done something different so I wouldn’t have ended up in this walking boot. But the more and more I analyzed it, the more I realized that there’s probably not much I could have done.
The last time I had a stress fracture I wasn’t taking care of myself. My eating was disordered, my mental health was a mess, and I was without a doubt overtraining. This time, I didn’t fall victim to any of those things. I ate enough, I rested often, and I balanced my training with my busy work schedule so I wouldn’t overtrain. Sure, maybe I should have rested longer when I first felt the pain, but as any runner knows, oftentimes the line between soreness and injury is a blurry one.
I got injured, pretty seriously, but it isn’t my fault. Sometimes, we do the best we can and we get injured anyway, it’s a natural consequence of endurance sports. Even the most high-level athletes with ample access to recovery and injury prevention techniques get injured. Seriously, it happens. So the next time you’re injured, because there is going to be a next time, give yourself a little grace. Don’t beat yourself up and look at it as an opportunity instead. Right now, I’m biking and aqua jogging in an attempt to keep some fitness for spring racing, but I’m also taking a much more relaxed approach, as to give my mind the break it needs from intense, focused workouts. I’m also focusing on strength, something my schedule has led me to neglect this past year.
Maybe I should have taken my pain a little more seriously, and I’ll work hard to be more in tune with my body once I’m running again. I’m a work in progress. I don’t endorse running through injury, but sometimes all of us make the wrong call when we’re walking that line and there’s no use punishing yourself when you make that mistake. In the end, I’m not stressing myself out or beating myself up because injuries happen and that’s life.