I was standing in my driveway…shoes laced up, Garmin locking a satellite, iPod pumping. I had stood in that exact same position countless times before. But this day was different.
On those many other days before covering miles of ground in my neighbourhood and beyond, I had always been raring to go, silently pleading with my Garmin to hurry up already and find that satellite. On this day, though, it could take all the time it needed. I wasn’t feeling the anticipation I usually feel before a run. I was feeling something new: fear.
It was my first run since the 4-week hiatus my injured foot had imposed on me. During those 4 weeks, I had been given custom orthodics, tried the RICE method, suffered through shockwave therapy, then ultrasound therapy. My foot was still swollen. There was no guarantee that the injury was any better – only that the swelling was manageable enough to try. My foot was taped in a strange fashion that reminded me of a mummy. But I had been cleared to run. I had been cleared to try.
For most runners, there will unfortunately be times when you are sidelined from the sport you love. Likewise, there almost always comes a day when you are able to return to it. While injured, you long for this day to come. But standing in my driveway, I was paralyzed with fear. I didn’t trust my body anymore. I didn’t trust that I was healed. I didn’t want to know if I wasn’t. But here I was: the moment of truth.
When kids fall down or fall off a bicycle, they are generally so eager to get back up and try again. When is it that we lose that resilience and start to become so fearful? And how do we run with it?
Well, for me, it was one step at a time.
I was on strict orders from my physical therapist to start slow and take frequent walk breaks. While I have nothing against the run-walk method, it is not something I have ever practiced. When I run, I just run. I shift into a whole different zone and stay there until I’m done. But on this day, I couldn’t do that. I had to be present, perfectly in tune with every step. And with every footfall, I waited for a twinge or pain or sign that something was wrong.
I fought back tears as I started to run, so scared of finding out that I was still injured. Soon those tears turned into ones of frustration – this was hard. How could running for 2 minutes be hard when I used to run for 2 hours? As I started to find a groove, they turned to tears of nervous and cautious excitement – maybe the treatments had worked.
It was a short run of only 4 miles, but I felt like I had run a marathon when I finished. I had built it up into such an event in my mind. I would love to be able to say that I was healed and have been running happily ever since. But the truth is that the run was not easy and it was not pretty. I had not experienced any of the shooting pains that sidelined me, but I felt like I had lost all cushioning on the ball of my foot. The only way I can describe it is that, despite my shoe and orthodic insert and sport sock and tape, I felt like I was running bone on pavement. And then my toes started to go numb – an early precursor to the pain I had before. The injury was still present, if not as bad as it had been. The only thing worse than fear is realizing your fear is justified.
I did a few more runs like this before making the decision to be even more aggressive with treatment, seeking a cortisone injection. I ended up getting a double dose of cortisone in my foot, which was apparently too much for my body. It had been shocked and poked and prodded for weeks. After the second injection, I passed out. When I came to, I could hear the doctors talking about the alarmingly low blood pressure of an athlete. I remember thinking, “there is an athlete in trouble – they better go help him.” They were talking about me.
It was difficult to believe, as I was taken out of that medical centre in a wheelchair, that I would be ready to run just 3 days later. But, that was what the doctor had said.
Three days later, I found myself in a similar situation. Cleared to run, but afraid to try. If it hadn’t worked, did I want to know? Wouldn’t tomorrow be a better idea? Shouldn’t I give it just one more day? After all, I had barely been able to walk the day before and my foot was bruised at the injection sites. So many excuses and they all sounded pretty reasonable.
But then a louder voice inside of me told me I was just scared. That it would never feel like the perfect day to try. I asked myself – do I want to let this injury change my running? I have always been an aggressive runner. I go for it. Whether I’m working on distance or speed, I give it everything I have. Leaving it all out on the pavement is a powerful feeling. This injury had taken that away from me for a month and was jeopardizing my goal race. Was I going to let it completely change me as a runner too?
The answer is no. So, before I could change my mind, I went for a run. And you know what? It was not bad. It was a huge improvement over where I’d been. Since that day, I have kept running. Every run is better than the last. My foot is feeling pretty good. I am not where I was before my injury, in terms of endurance, speed or confidence. I am running more slowly and I am constantly checking in with my body – but it’s not because I’m running scared. It’s because I’m running smart.
This morning I got up to go for a run. Although I went to bed with green grass in my front yard, I woke up to a winter wonderland with snow squalls in effect. So many reasons not to do my scheduled long run. The climate-controlled comfort of the basement treadmill beckoned – a short run would make so much more sense.
Gut check: was I scared of the extra work that comes with running in snow? Was I worried it would be too much too soon? All the more reason to get out there and try…and that’s exactly what I did.
I was aiming to run 12K – a distance that would normally not even qualify as a “long” run, but for me it is right now. I’m trying to train back up to 10 miles (16.1K) before the Princess Half-Marathon. So I set out on my wintry run, unsure of what it might bring. It was hard slogging through the snow on unshovelled sidewalks. It felt like running through sand in places. And it was cold. But I was out there and I was doing it. With each run, I relax into it a little more and I trust my body a little more. In fact, I lost track of time and ending up running 13K. Considering where I’ve come from, I’ll take it. After all, if I had listened to the fear, I’d still be standing in my driveway.
***We were so honoured to be featured runners this week on AnotherMotherRunner.com! The Queens of all Mother Runners, Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell, will be running the Princess Half-Marathon as well as speaking at the Expo and selling their fab tees/books. Be sure to check them out!