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In August, I was training for a big event, and had a little trip while hiking, and felt pain immediately in my knee. Sure enough, it resulted in an MCL strain. The big event itself – The Endeavor Team Challenge – was a week later, and I went into it with this injury, and naturally made it worse, both reinjuring my MCL and giving myself a minor calf tear in the process. Eventually, this forced me to drop, resulting in my first DNF after 13h and ~25 miles of hiking up and down mountains, along with lots of other craziness thrown into the mix.
In the months that followed, I did a number of other races (Spartan World Championships in Lake Tahoe & OCR World Championships in Ohio as the highlights). Although I tried to baby my injury and walked most of both courses, they still caused painful flare-ups in my calf and prolonged the healing process.
Now, finally, my calf is no longer bothering me and I’m able to get back to running regularly again, and I’m beginning to increase my mileage for my first ultra in February.
Coming back after a chronic injury of this sort isn’t easy. There’s a tendency to try and do too much too soon, which can easily result in re-injury. Other factors also come into play; when you “baby” one aspect of your physicality, it’s quite likely that you’ll feel it elsewhere; that you overcompensate for the injured area and end up depositing more energy in other parts of your body.
Today was 16.5 miles, my first run over 10 since my injury. And boy, did it suck. Although my calf felt relatively good throughout, I was noticing pains in my opposite knee and hip (likely because of overcompensation) after ~12 miles, and had to back off my already slow pace to incorporate significantly more walking than I wanted.
As I begin to take on longer runs again, I’m also noticing how much my cardio has suffered from the relative inactivity of the last few months, and how much my pace has dropped. Only time and working smartly will regain these.
More subtle than the issues surrounding physical recovery are those related to your state of mind and mental fortitude. Today I had plenty of time to reflect on what was going on, and why I was choosing to walk so much more. Basically, I was gun-shy.
Having lived with this injury for so long, and having activated it on training runs and in events so often over the last few months, I was backing way way off what I’m capable of doing. A huge part of this was fear based. I’m afraid of re-injuring the area that has been causing me problems for so long, and am also afraid of taking on compensation injuries as mentioned above.
This caused me to pay particular attention to every minor discomfort I experienced; from some tightness in my hip flexor and glutes to a hot spot on my foot which was insufficient to cause even the most minor of blisters. You know, the normal aches and pains that are part and parcel of this sport called “running”, especially distance running. Things I would have happily ignored and pushed through prior to my injury I allowed to get into my head, and these greatly inhibited my run and made it a much less fun experience than it should have been.
I need to place both the physical and mental inhibitors behind me to fully recover from this, and to regain my self-confidence and joy of running. I’m hoping that recognizing this – and putting it out there publicly – will be the first step in this process. It appears that I have more work to do than I thought.