I have been running for almost 5 years now. Up until this year, I had never been injured. 2012 jolted me into reality and hit me hard. I haven't had a regular running routine since February and am just now getting back to "normal." I lost an entire summer thanks to my stupidity and my decisions. A brief background for those of you who don't know me very well: I am an ultra runner; I am a trail runner. I spent my spring recovering from a nasty shin splint while training for a 50 mile race. I spent my summer recovering from an abductor strain/tear after running a 100K.
We are all an experiment of one in this game of running, but this is what I learned about myself in the past 6 months.
1. Not everyone can get a billion miles out of a pair of shoes.
I have friends who get 1,000 miles out of a pair of shoes. Friends
who wear their shoes for so long that holes start to develop in the
soles. Friends who don't need to rotate between 6 different pairs.
Friends who can run in a pair of Crocs and be fine. I am not one of
those people. I wear motion control shoes on the road. I am a heavy
heel striker. I have flat feet with no arches and am hard on my poor
shoes. I need to replace my road shoes somewhere around 350-450
miles. If I don't, bad things happen. I completely attribute my shin
injury to wearing broken down, old, needing to be replaced shoes.
Don't be a cheapskate. Replace your damn shoes.
2. Roads are evil.
I say this semi-facetiously, but the truth of the matter is that my
body is not used to road running. This winter was very mild in
Wisconsin with a lot of warm days. This left the trails an icy mess
and thus I retreated to the road. I was putting in 50-60 miles per
week on the road. I was running long runs on the road. I've never run
that many road miles on a regular basis before. I've never run my
long runs on the road. Last year I ran about 60-70% of my runs on the
trail. My body is happy to put in a half marathon or a little more
on the road. Any more than that and it turns to me and says, "Hey
lady! What the f--k? Where's my soft dirt and rocks to jump over?"
3. If you have a good base, it will carry you far. (And why every runner should own a bike.)
I'm slow. No, really, I'M SLOW. I couldn't tell you a thing about
lactate threshold. I don't do speed work. I don't follow training
plans. Did I mention I'm really slow? But if there's one thing I'm
good at, it's consistency. I run. A lot. All the time. Oh sure, I am
smart about my rest days, but I never took any significant time off
during the first 4 years I was running. I was consistent. I had a
damn strong base. I had a lot of miles on my feet. So when my shin
injury popped up this spring, I didn't panic. I trusted my base to
carry me through. I took 3-4 weeks completely off running and made
friends with my bike. I am a far cry from a cyclist. I own a
mountain bike that I noodle around the trails on. But I pulled on my
padded shorts and gloves and hit the roads with my bike. I tried to
bike as many hours as I would normally run. My ass was not happy with
me, but I told it to shut up and spent a lot of time on a hilly part
of the Ironman Wisconsin course. I didn't lose any cardio thanks to
my bike and was able to run my 50 miler feeling like I hadn't taken
any time off at all. Who knew 6 week cycling tapers worked so well?
4. Maybe running that goal race is worth it.
Maybe it's not. That's your call. For me, running that goal race was
worth it. I stood in the middle of my hotel room the night before
the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile race, standing on my left leg and hopping
up and down. No pain. Yet, I could still dig my fingers into my
shin and find a tender spot. It would have to do. I resolved to run
until I felt pain in my shin. I finished the race and my shin has
been fine ever since. 4 weeks later, I tried to PR the Ice Age Trail
50K (I never said I was the brightest bulb). I ended up going out too
fast, finishing 4 minutes off my PR and wound up pulling something in
my groin area. That groin pain would plague me for the next 4
months. 3 weeks after the 50K, I toed the line of the Kettle Moraine
100K knowing that I wasn't in peak condition. I could
feel...something... Something wasn't right on the inside of my left
thigh. Guess what? 15 miles into the race and I was feeling like
crap. I had a pain deep in my groin. I popped ibuprofen twice during
that race and ended up finishing, although it wasn't pretty. Running
for 17 hours on an already sore groin was a recipe for disaster. Was
finishing the 100K worth losing my entire summer? For me, it was. I
had been wanting to run that race for years. I never thought I would
do it, yet I did. And my finisher's award, a small copper kettle,
sits on my desk and reminds me that I completed a dream of mine.
5. Sometimes you need to just sit on your ass and drink a beer.
I tried to cross train through my groin strain with no luck. After
walking 2 miles around my neighborhood one evening in a lot of pain, I
decided I needed to cease all activity. For more than 5 miserable
weeks, I did nothing. I sat on my ass. I hobbled around the dog park
with my dog. I didn't run, I didn't bike, I didn't walk. I drank
beer. I baked cookies. I read. I did anything but exercise. I went
insane. It was horrible, but it worked. After those 5 weeks, I was
complaining to a friend about not running and he said to me, "Look, if
you're going to pace at Sawtooth Superior in a month, you need to be
able to run now." So I threw on my running clothes and ran a meager 2.5
miles around my neighborhood. I huffed, I puffed, I swore, my quads
were jello. I felt like noob, but it was a run and it was mostly pain
free. Those 5 weeks with no activity clearly did the trick. (And I
did wind up pacing successfully at Sawtooth last weekend for 12
hours. Again, I attribute this to my base.)
6. You are not invincible.
thought I was. I thought I was smart. I thought those getting
injured were doing something wrong. I waited 3 years to run my first
ultra marathon. (And to this day, I still haven't run a road
marathon.) I didn't increase my distance too quickly. I didn't run
fast very often. I took 2 rest days a week. I felt invincible. The
truth is, none of us are. You run long enough and you WILL get
injured. I don't care how smart or cocky you are. Inevitably, it will
happen. It's what you make of your injury is what's important. How
you react, your attitude, and what you do with your time off. Was I
cranky as hell sometimes? Absolutely. But there was no question in my
mind that I would come back. I am runner and I plan to be a runner
for as long as I can physically can.
I'm still not 100% quite
yet. My cardio has some catching up to do and my daily runs leave my
exhausted instead of invigorated. I will run the very technical and
very hilly Glacial Trail 50K in three weeks and probably put up a
personal worst. But I came home from work today, laced up my running
shoes, grabbed my dog and headed out the door. My feet hit the
pavement and I felt...nothing. I felt fine. I ran down the sidewalks
of my neighborhood and felt nothing. I ran up and down the hills of
the Ice Age Trail and felt nothing. I stopped to refill my water
bottle and felt nothing. I continued my run and my feet hit the
pavement back to my house and I felt nothing. I ran 8.3 miles and felt
absolutely nothing. I stopped mid run and I watched the sun start to
slowly set in the distance and felt alive. I have 43 miles planned
for this week. I have piles of dirty laundry again. My shoes are
full of dirt. It's good to be back.