As much as we’d like to think so, exercise — especially at an intense level — isn’t always totally kind to our bodies. Yes, pushing the limits makes us better, faster stronger. We reap the benefits of our efforts through increased fitness and ability, and in the case of a racer like me, improved performance. These changes and improvements feel amazing, and are totally worth our efforts to step up to that next level. But what about those times when our bodies don’t respond so positively, and our efforts prove to be detrimental?
For most of my athletic career, I have been fortunate to remain relatively injury-free. I have had my share of nagging aches and pains and the occasional more serious issue, but for how hard I’ve pushed over so many years and in so many different capacities, I’ve rarely faced issues that have caused me to have to break from or even significantly alter my training schedule. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when I probably should have taken it easy or changed my routine to let an injury recover, but in the past there have been few exceptions to my ability and desire to just push right on through and keep going. Unfortunately, my current injury is one of those exceptions. But fortunately, I am a smarter athlete these days, and I’m determined to focus on doing the right thing for my body, and for the long-term. Those “exceptions” should from now on be commonplace, as I’m working hard to prioritize recovery and healing, and long-term success over instant gratification — a seemingly simple, but revolutionary intention for me.
I haven’t raced since Vineman. In fact, things have been relatively quiet in my athletic world, much to my dismay. What I had thought was merely a bruised heel during the week leading up to the race is still lingering, and has proven to be something more serious — though I’m not exactly sure what. Initially, my thought was a stress fracture. But talking with a friend in health care seems to have ruled that out as the cause of the intense pain I’m feeling when pressure is put on my heel (as in the case of running, or even just standing too long on a hard surface, and post-pressure, including laying in bed at night). Regardless, the yet-to-be-surely-specified injury has kept me out of running, my favorite activity — and sorely disappointed — for some time now.
I feel as though I have been on the sidelines, watching everything pass me by: the Xterra race that would have been my first; a Half-Ironman I’d really set my sights on; and the first of several running races I had planned on my calendar for this year. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the sidelines. It’s a whole new perspective for me. But I’m slowly seeing, and convincing myself, that maybe it’s not a bad one for me to learn and experience. It’s tough to feel like you could be out there achieving success, but to have something holding you back. It’s tougher still to be missing the long runs I so love and long for on a difficult or stressful day, or the intervals that hurt so much but feel so worth it after a strong performance. For so long, running has truly fed my soul. To be without it for weeks is certainly deprivation.
But for now, all I can do is focus on all I do have; focus on the positives. My biking and swimming hours have increased immensely, and perhaps the injury was in fact just what I needed to ensure that I’m working on my weaknesses. I do tend to try to squeeze too many races in the schedule, and undoubtedly must sacrifice performance somewhere along the line, so perhaps this is the way for me to learn that lesson, too. And perhaps — and this is my hope, my goal and my reasoning — I’ll come back a better and stronger runner and athlete than before, having learned from my mistakes and treated my body as it should be. In the end, slowing down may just be the key for me to become my fastest. Sometimes allowing ourselves to step back, recover and let our own bodies take the reigns is the toughest thing to do, but undoubtedly there is value there.