Sunday, July 1, 2012

"You know you're living life to the fullest when the universe is simultaneously flipping you off and giving you the thumbs up."

Lauren Fleshman posted the quote above on May 29th on Facebook and man alive, it pretty much sums up the story of my running right now. The day after I got the amazing call from LUNA that I had been chosen for their new LUNA sponsored athletes program I went in for an MRI of my right of an injury I sustained last fall when I twisted my ankle. Although the injury had been pesky, in the last 8 months I was able to run my second-fastest 8k time of my life, pace my amazing friend Ellen to a marathon PR and dash up Laurel Hill as the second fastest woman in the Tar Heel 10 and 4 mile races. And I had just put in almost 3 months of extremely solid that really confirmed that I had stayed fit during the original injury layoff and that told me I was nearly ready to race again. I was feeling AWESOME. I went for a trail run the weekend before the call from Luna and, unfortunately, rolled that same ankle 4 times. "No biggie", I thought; but a few days later it was tender to the touch so (at the advice of my podiatrist) I scheduled an MRI. Never once did I think I was going to get a call from LUNA and never did I think that within 6 hours of getting the MRI I would be in a boot - for a month! My doctors could only tell me "Huh. I don't know what is wrong" and "You can either run through it...or be in the boot." Such a low for me right after one of the biggest highs of my running life. Yep, I can relate to Lauren Fleshman's quote.

This is how my legs normally look
and...this is the view right now.

But there is another quote that is important in this story: "Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle the setbacks." This one hails from the source of many inspirational quotes - the bag that my Lululemon shorts came in - and it quite thoroughly describes my attitude when it comes to dealing with injury. I am fortunate that (contrary to the belief of my running friends in Durham) I very rarely get injured. That said, I do seem to have ridiculously bad timing with the injuries I do get. A femoral neck stress fracture 12 weeks before my first marathon in 1997. A broken metatarsal 7 and 1/2 weeks before the New York City Marathon in 2008. Deal breakers, right? Well, not so much. I ran 3:24 at L.A. and 3:37 at New York. "How?!?!?!" you may ask? Well, to put it simply, I owned my setbacks instead of letting them own me. Easy, right? Okay, okay, it really isn't that easy. My husband, son, training partners, friends and parents will all tell you that I do plenty of complaining when I am injured. I get frustrated and demoralized at times. And I will tell you that "owning the setbacks" is time-consuming, logisitically a pain in the rear and generally boring. Really, really boring. It involves wearing the boot (or being on crutches or whatever ridiculous treatment is prescribed), spending quality time with the elliptical machine at the gym, driving to the pool, swimming or aquajogging for HOURS, driving home from the pool, doing strength work, using my bone stimulator, doing rehab, taking supplements and being patient. None of which is remotely close to being as much fun as running. is all the most direct route back to running injury free, back to being able to do what makes me so happy, back to achieving the goal I had set out long before injury derailed me. With that in mind I have approached my injuries with the same routine each time: 1. get mad, first at the injury and then at myself for getting injured. 2. have a pity party (this step may get repeated a number of times during the course of the injury). 3. come up with a plan to get me from the date of injury to the date of my goal and get the okay from my doctor to forge ahead with that plan. 4. put my head down and execute said plan.

That little 4 step plan has looked different with each injury, but every time, in its simple way it has served me well. When I fractured my femoral neck in 1997 my recovery included 8 weeks on crutches with daily 90 minute swims with a pull-buoy between my legs to keep me from kicking. Those swims were mind-numbing. All I thought about was the number between 1 and 10 that I was currently counting for a given lap. I would do up to 200 laps each day, so there was a lot of counting from 1 to 10! But those swims kept my aerobic capacity up and my core and back strong. Four weeks before the marathon I got off the crutches...and kept swimming. Two weeks before the race I went for a slow and tentative 1 mile run. The day before the marathon I rounded out my 20 miles total of training with a 5 mile run. And on race morning I toed the line with NO clue of what it felt like to run longer than 13 miles and no idea if I would finish. Three hours, twenty four minutes and three seconds later I finished feeling exhilerated. I was so proud of myself for having run a marathon! But I was, perhaps, even more proud that I had gotten myself there, fully healed. I had succeeded at completely defying logic and I LOVED that.

When I fractured my foot less than 2 months before New York I was MAD. I had been irresponsible with my orthotics and a change in gait had led to the break. But when my doctor told me I was facing 6 weeks in the boot I immediately started developing a plan that just might get me to the finish line. This time I was able to use both my legs...but still in the pool. So for 6 weeks I translated every single one of my runs into time and aquajogged them. Speed workout in the pool? Check. Tempo run in the pool? Yup. Two hours and 45 minutes of "long run" to replace my 22 miler in the pool?  I got it done (thanks entirely to my amazing training partner Stacy who came and sat on the pool deck and entertained me!). And once again I toed the line of the NYC marathon with a bunch of uncertainty and ended up finishing with an intact foot and an amazing sense of accomplishment for having just gotten there.

Now, don't think that I run ALL my marathons off of an injury. Not even close! But I will tell you that as far as marathons I have run on my own (not pacing friends) I am far and away most proud of those two marathons. I didn't let the situation get the best of me either time and both times I succeeded. The times weren't blazing...the New York City time was at least 20 minutes slower than I would have liked. But I was there. Whole. With a smile on my face. I put everything into the preparation and I came out 100% successful.

A little stim to help the tendons
And so here I am again. This injury has not taken nearly as neat and tidy a course as those previous ones. It has dragged on, gone away, come back. But, and I don't mean to be trite, life is complicated. I have had a lot of other stuff take priority over my orthopedic medical care in the past few months, and consequently I didn't get very good medical care for this injury. I never had a concrete plan for recovery and rehab and I paid the price with the reinjury. Consequently this injury has been, by far, the most frustrating one I have ever dealt with. I have not only been frustrated by its presence but stressed out at the thought of disappointing LUNA, who has put faith in me to represent their awesome brand. And while I do both sport the LUNA logo on my training shirts at the gym and on the way to and from the pool daily and continue to consume copious quantities of LUNA bars before my twice daily workouts, I am not quite sure this is what they had in mind when they signed up a road runner. But after I sat with all of my concerns and frustrations for a few days I went back to that second quote above and decided that what was really important wasn't that I had gotten injured (all athletes do at some point) but how I handled the situation. So I picked myself up, dusted myself off and got to work. I am now almost 4 weeks through wearing this silly boot and I have an appointment with an amazing ortho in 5 days. In the last month I have logged into my training journal hours and hours (and hours and hours) of diligent cross training. I have aquajogged (this time thankfully with the intrepid companionship of my dear friends Edie and Alice). I have rediscovered swimming. I have caught up on HGTV while toiling away on the elliptical. I have continued to remain dedicated to the goal I made back in November to use this injury as an opportunity to dramatically strengthen my core and hips. has been hard. I have, at times, felt demoralized and a little despondent. Aside from the time I spent pregnant with my son I have never spent this much time unable to train at 100%. Last Monday I found myself thinking about that layoff and I was pretty frustrated. But then...2 things happened later that day. First, I realized that in the 18 months after my son was born and I got back to training I ran a red-hot streak of HUGE PR's. Hmmmm, that isn't a bad consequence of some downtime. And second, I watched Lauren Fleshman dust off her game face after 8 months of injury-induced swimming and elliptical use and toe the line at the Olympic Trials. When she proceeded to run her way into the Finals of the 5,000 meters on guts, raw talent, cross-training fitness and a ton of heart I KNEW I was going to be okay. Lauren didn't win her race, she didn't end up making the Olympic Team...but by some very important standards she was the most successful woman in the race. She personified courage, resolve, blatant enthusiasm and love for her sport and pretty amazing fitness for a girl who has barely been running for months on end.

I realized that day that while it may not be pretty for a while and I may need to practice my patience more than I would like, I am going to be back. And maybe even better than I was before.

One last quote, from legendary basketball coach John Wooden: "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." I never thought this would be how things would be turning out for me this year but, at the end of the day, I have no complaints. 

photo courtesy of my 6 year old just after I
got the boot fitted. Still smiling!

1 comment:

  1. Swimming a 10K?! You really are amazing! Looking forward to seeing the back of your head while out there running again soon :)