My 2018 running season has taught me some important lessons on how to deal with a serious running-related injury. Since last November, I was feeling mild to moderate pain in my left achilles that caused a limp, compensation issues, swelling, and also hindered my speedwork, uphill workouts and racing. It was not until August 2 that I discovered the root cause of my symptoms: a calcaneal stress fracture. If you’re unfamiliar with this injury check out my MRI image below.
I still raced The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge – San Francisco in November, the Long Distance Mountain Running Championships (Poland) and the Speedgoat 50K (Utah) in June with this injury. It wasn’t until the MRI that I finally stopped all running and now I’m resting and recovering. Why didn’t I listen to my body’s cues and let myself heal when the symptoms began? Why did I continue to race? This is the most serious injury of my running career and it’s changed my outlook on how to deal with injuries. Here are my biggest takeaways from this experience.
What are My Running Goals?
Resting and healing should be the top goals when you have an injury. But, if you would have asked me my goals at any point before I received my MRI, I would have said to run fast at my next race. I was completely focused on running well at The North Face Endurance Challenge and the Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, which made me ignore the symptoms of my injury and continue to train and race. But these goals weren’t doing what effective goals are supposed to do. These goals were not making me a better athlete and they were steering me away from my enjoyment of running. I was creating compensation issues when I ran because my right leg was doing the majority of the work. At one point I’d estimate my right calf was one and a half times the size of the left! I was fighting my own body in races with each step of my left foot.
I was far from my ideal racing mentality which, as my coach David Roche describes, is to run like a Puppy Unicorn. Not sure exactly what that means, but my interpretation is that my successful racing mentality should be one of very little stress and one where I smile on every step of every steep, scary climb. This disconnect from my enjoyment of running and lack of ability to improve are exactly why if you ask me what my running goals are now, I will tell you my #1 goal is to heal completely. This goal, unlike the other goals I’ve had this year, will help me enjoy running when I return to it and it will keep me improving in the long-term. I’ve learned that if the only way to heal is to completely rest, then completely resting should be my priority. As a very active person, it’s hard to admit that the best training for me right now is resting, but the best goals push us to do things we never thought we could do and they make us better athletes in striving to achieve them. I’d have never thought I could put myself in a boot and walk with crutches, but I will because this is how I will heal and that’s a goal I’m motivated to pursue and achieve.
Are You in Denial?
I’ve learned that when you feel an injury, you should first take time to become aware of exactly what you feel. When I felt pain in my left achilles last November, I didn’t allow myself to evaluate exactly what I was feeling. I wanted to train and race and I denied myself the possibility that I had a serious injury. Looking back, I could have paid attention to my body’s cues and recognized that I needed rest. I had a stress fracture before in my right foot, and thinking about it now, the two injuries felt very similar. If I was less distracted by my training and racing, I might have noticed this similarity and diagnosed the injury as a possible stress fracture much sooner. It’s important to detach yourself from all the distractions of racing and training when you evaluate your injuries. Denying the injury doesn’t heal you any faster!
I had never told anyone the extent to which my injury affected my training and racing, until I finally decided to tell my coach David Roche after my performance at the 2018 Speedgoat 50K. David and I made a plan to get my running back where I wanted it to be and to first get an MRI to better diagnose the problem. Having someone that I trust to support me and offer advice helped take some of the stress away from the situation, and for this I am grateful.
This past Thursday I visited my doctor to check the status of my injury. To the doctor’s (and my own) surprise, I’m healing incredibly fast and I could be back running pain-free in under three weeks!
I’m reminded of Kilian Jornet’s incredibly speedy recovery from his fibula fracture earlier this year and now I’m motivated to recover just as remarkably! I heal like I race. When I commit to the goal, I’m all in. And my biggest goal right now: to heal like a puppy unicorn!