Guest Post: How To Win At Being Injured
Just as I’d reached full speed, everything came to a screeching halt. I had just achieved some running victories: my first half-marathon in 1:23, and 2nd place at USATF’s Club Nats in the 10K. But suddenly I was going nowhere fast. Here are the small steps I took on the road to recovery.
Step #1: Admit and accept that I’m injured and won’t be running for a while.
Never in all my years of running had I experienced a pain this strong. At first I thought I could just shake off the ache in my left shin. I talked myself into running faster and faster just to get the miles in and worry about the nagging pain later. This kind of wishful running had me wincing throughout miles instead of enjoying the ride. After the end of a particularly tragic race, it struck me: There would be no magic breakthrough, just a much longer injury if I didn’t hit the brakes.
The brilliant idea of running hard through early signs of injury forced me off my feet so fast my head was spinning and it kept me from my sport for the better part of a year.
Once the pain had become unbearable, I went to several doctors. I was prescribed a lot of painkillers and physical therapy, which left me feeling dazed and underwhelmed. But I realized that, with my ambitious goals, there was no room for no running. I had no choice but to keep moving forward in any way that I could.
Step #2: Sweat through arduous cross-training in an attempt to maintain a base level of fitness (while not going crazy).
I was often pretty depressed and discouraged when my body didn’t allow me to run. Those times when I was able to drag myself out of bed, I hit the gym to do all the things I used to make fun of. Pedaling on a bike without going anywhere or sliding back and forth on an elliptical just wasn’t me, but at least it was something.
The most challenging part of cardio without running was jumping the mental hurdles I set up by watching others run. While I worked out just behind the treadmills, I stared begrudgingly at the bobbing pony-tails of runners who seemed so light and free while I was trapped in my injury. My competitiveness sent me into some dark places as I knew I was getting farther away from my single most favorite pastime. But this frustration also had a bright side: It fueled me as I plowed through my alternative training.
Since I wasn’t soon going to reach any new running milestones, I sought out ways to be self-competitive in other ways. I got really ambitious on the stair-climber and decided 10,000 steps was a nice target. Then I moved on to see how long I could go as hard as I could on the rowing machine. It wasn’t long before I mega-dosed on stairs and rowing. But I realized that nothing could compare to my running. Still, I kept looking forward, because I could feel my injury slowly healing.
One day, when running felt like a distant memory, my fiancé pointed out how fast I was skipping up the stair-climber. He suggested that I try going on an easy run, just to see how things felt. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I was reassured when he said he’d hang behind and watch my form to see if anything looked off.
Three miles later, everything changed. It was a short and light run — but most importantly, it was pain-free. I was dumbfounded. My body seemed better than it had been in ages. But my mind knew that returning to running after so many months off was going to be easy.
Over the next few weeks, I continued with my “other forms” exercise, and saved a few miles for the end of my workouts. Each day those runs got a little longer, and once I hit five miles I knew things were on an upswing.
Step #3: Remember how to go fast, which means starting slow.
The hardest part about my injury was coming back to running and seeing my times. Even though the pain was gone, I had become painfully slow. I didn’t want to think about how my injury had undone all the work I had put in over the years. I actually covered up my times since I couldn’t bear to watch how long it took me to run a 10K.
I realized how spoiled I’d become back when I’d whip out 10 miles in under an hour or 5½-minute miles like no one’s business. But, as I cursed through 9-minute-miles and felt out of shape, I looked down at my legs and reminded myself that the fast miles were still in there, deep down.
Slowly but surely I shed seconds from my times. Miles began multiplying. Some of the winter fluff I had accumulated started to evaporate into thin air, and I could fit into my old running shorts again. I began to feel at home locking into speeds that felt familiar. Then, after my first race back, I knew I had broken the seal and was officially recovered.
As I am on the road to catching up with my old times, I’m convinced that I will beat pre-injured me’s accomplishments with a post-injured me’s wiseness. The humility my injury brought through the physical and psychological pain of not being able to run emphasized weaknesses elsewhere, tangible points to strengthen, so that now I’m confident that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.
Above all, I learned how surrendering to my injury transformed me into something new. I feel unbreakable now, and I know that this is all part of becoming the best athlete that I can.
Lucie Beatrix is a Brooklyn-based runner and writer. As a teen, she had the opportunity to work under contract with one of the most reputable modeling agencies in the world, Ford Models. She began traveling the world to perform in an incredibly competitive market and her work paid off as she appeared in several national magazines, advertisements, and was on the cover of Elle. In an attempt to balance out the hectic lifestyle that came with modeling, Lucie started running every day and decided to start racing competitively. Now she runs with North Brooklyn Runners and has a very ambitious goal of running a sub-2:45 marathon. Follow her on Instagram at @luciebeatrix.