A Year of (Not) Running

February 2013 182This has not been my year for running. Over the last ten months, I’ve battled one injury after another—plantar fasciitis, ball of foot pain, and most recently, ankle pain. It all started after I ran my first 100-mile ultra marathon last June (go figure). I was probably dealing with the onset of plantar fasciitis beforehand.  I felt great during the race, but a few weeks afterward the pain set in and eventually became intolerable.

Usually, I’ve found that not being able to run is not good for my mental health. I need it, I crave it. But this time was different. I had plenty of things to take my mind off running—a trip to Spain and a new sport that filled my weekends—cyclocross. But I did miss my morning runs. I put it off much longer than I should have, but eventually I went to a doctor. He gave me shoe inserts for arch support, a painful cortisone shot and told me not to run until it was fully healed and the cortisone wore off, then sent me on my way.

I couldn’t help myself from running the very next day. The pain was gone and I was overjoyed. But just as suddenly as the pain had disappeared, it reincarnated as pain in the ball of my foot. Once I got through that a few months later, I was slapped across the face yet again with ankle pain—the kind that literally left me hobbling in pain and unable to walk in the middle of a run. Clearly I was a mess.

Yet, in the middle of all of this (about a week ago), I convinced myself that I might still be able to get ready for the Ice Age 50 (mile) race in May that I had signed up for months in advance. It’s become my favorite race of the year and I’ve done it each of the last three years. I pictured myself running the race every year until I was 80 or so. Typically, when racers are all lined up at the start, the race director asks those who have run the race x or more times to identify themselves. I imagined that some day I would be the last one with my slightly frail but still strong 80-year old arm up in the air.

I suppose that’s led to slightly unrealistic expectations. Only 8-weeks to train for Ice Age 50? Certainly not ideal, but possible, I told myself. And hey, I wasn’t going to rule out running the Kettle 100 in June at this point either. Definitely still possible.

But then one night last week as I was falling to sleep, I realized it just wasn’t a good idea. If I tried to throw myself into training for a 50 mile race in 8 weeks, the only thing that stood on the other side was disappointment and injury. That next morning, I contacted the race director and asked if it might be possible to switch to the 50 kilometer distance. I was bummed, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

It’s funny how injuries play with your mind. How we go out for  “test runs” when it’s clearly not a good idea (or we’ve been strongly advised otherwise). Or the things we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that the injury is not so bad. The thing is, I think I got a little too accustomed to running injury free. I was very lucky and had gone at least five years without a major injury. Having to deal with it again reminds me of when I first took up running in high school and college. I was plagued with injuries—literally everything in the book. I wanted to be a runner so badly, but my body wasn’t having any part of it. I wasn’t able to run the first marathon I trained for.

Luckily, I was eventually able to build up my body to the point of being able to run an entire year without injury. And then another. And another. I ran marathons, 50ks and 50 mile races, countless 30 mile training runs, and finally, a 100 mile run.

Being injured recently has made me realize how lucky I was to be able to run those distances for so long. And how lucky I am that I can run at all. It’s a gift and a privilege. At the same time, I think it’s good to take a break every now and then. To rest your body. To think about why you do it and what aspects of it you enjoy most. And fall in love with it all over again. Sometimes you need to set it free.

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