I am supposed to be in Santiago today, having just finished up Xterra Chile, and enjoying being happily reunited with my Chilean host family. I’d been planning on it all winter (okay, actually, since the moment Xterra Chile finished last year…), and I was so excited to be kicking off my season at what has become one of the single most special races for me on the entire Xterra world circuit. From there, I was set to go on to Xterra Argentina, another race that stood out in so many ways for me last season.
Each of these destinations is particularly meaningful to me. More so than I could describe, really…
During my time in both Chile and Argentina last year – which marked my first visit to South America — I fell in love with each locale and its unique, vibrant culture. While the races themselves were amazing, I was most fascinated with the cities of Santiago and San Juan, and everything I was able to see and experience there. These are two strikingly beautiful places that, while very different from one another, are both SO full of life. I felt in awe of the energy and enthusiasm surrounding me in each of these cities, and it was absolutely contagious. But what really made these experiences so special were the people I got to share them with. The relationships I was able to form at these races made my time in both Chile and Argentina feel so personal, and very close to my heart.
I’ve been looking forward to returning to these races for months, and was so eager to soak up all that positive energy again, and see the friends who had made such an impact on me.
So when I incurred an injury only a few days prior to my scheduled departure last week that left me suddenly unable to go on the trip, I was absolutely devastated.
I had an accident that broke my big toe, and also caused a lateral deviation right at the interphalangeal joint. In other words, my toe was pointing in towards my second toe at the top, rather than facing straight out like it normally would, in addition to the bone being fractured across – YIKES! (And yes, really, REALLY freaking painful!) Apparently the nature of this displacement can be particularly problematic, and can cause a lot of long-term damage, so it had to be manipulated back into an improved position in order to heal properly.
When the accident first occurred, I knew it was bad because my body reacted pretty severely. I wasn’t immediately sure if the bone had actually broken, but the displacement was visually apparent, and the whole experience was especially painful. Of course my mind went straight to the race, and my stomach started to sink as I looked at my foot and realized there was a pretty good chance I wasn’t going to be able to do these first two races. I felt panicked as I started to think about missing out, and overwhelmingly disappointed by what had just happened, and the horrendous timing and misfortune of it all. I simply couldn’t believe it!
But, I tried to stay calm, and wait until I had more concrete information about what had happened before jumping to conclusions. I told myself to stay positive and not give up hope. Perhaps it was simply a dislocation, and could be swiftly healed once it was put back into place, I told myself. But deep down, I think I already knew that was probably not going to be the case. Something just really didn’t feel right, and while I had never in my entire life broken a bone before — despite many hard crashes and all sorts of other injuries — I had a pretty strong feeling that I hadn’t evaded that fate this time around. It’s amazing how well we come to know our own bodies…
Once I made it in to see the doctor, they confirmed what I had feared, and told me exactly what I did not want to hear: the toe was broken (specifically, the proximal phalanx), and then of course there was also that particularly poorly placed deviation at the top, which was further cause for concern because of the way it was impacting the joint. The doctor told me it would take a solid six weeks for the bone to heal, and that it would be at least that much time before I could run again. Needless to say, the South America trip was off the table.
Even though I was mostly expecting it, getting this confirmation and hearing it said out loud that I would not be able to race was crushing. I felt stunned and heartbroken. I’m generally pretty good at keeping it together in these types of situations, but much to my embarrassment, I totally broke down right there in the Doctor’s office. I tried to hold back the tears, but I simply couldn’t do it, and they came pouring right out. I wasn’t even thinking so much about the injury itself in that moment, or the recovery — I was just so, so incredibly sad about the thought of missing out on these races.
I made it out to my car, where I could finally really let the tears flow freely, and had a good hard sob for about 15 minutes. It was like once the floodgates were open, it couldn’t be stopped. I haven’t cried that hard in a long, long time, and I was still surprised by how emotional I was, but I just couldn’t seem to help it – an indication of just how much these two races mean to me. I felt so indescribably disappointed; like someone was ripping this amazing gift right from my hands, just as I was about to open it.
The first doctor sent me off to see a foot specialist, who ended up manipulating the toe back into place. On the way there, I got a bit hopeful that perhaps he might have a different opinion on the outlook and my ability to race, but unsurprisingly, he delivered more of the same news… with an even harsher warning. No running for six to eight weeks. No activities at ALL for at least a full week. And absolutely, unquestionably, no Xterra Chile or Argentina.
More tears came, and then I began to prod, desperate for a different response…
“Is there any way at all I can possibly still do the races…? Because if it’s just a matter of pushing through pain, I WILL do it…” I told him.
I meant that too, in every way. If all it came down to was just ‘toughing it out,’ I would absolutely do whatever it took to be at those races, and make it through, no matter how painful. But I was swiftly – and sternly — shut down. (Or, as I should probably say, educated…)
The podiatrist explained to me that if I attempted to do the race, not only would I be totally unsuccessful in that my toe would almost inevitably be literally sideways within the first mile, rendering me completely unable to run or even walk… but the long-term repercussions of that decision could be immense. There is ready potential for a variety of serious, permanent damage by doing something as crazy and short-sighted as trying to run, let alone race, on a broken toe that has just been re-positioned, he explained. I could end up dealing with a seriously ‘messed up’ big toe for the rest of my life, plus a whole host of other consequences as a result.
And yet, there was a part of me that was still somehow tempted to try to do it.
I did understand everything the doctor said; it made perfect sense. But I didn’t want to accept it. I just wasn’t ready to give up on South America. Wasn’t quite ready to let go. Because for me, neither one of these Xterras was “just another race;” but something that meant a lot more. I wanted so badly to just push through. To just grit my teeth and make it happen. I wanted to be there; to take part. And I would have done anything I possibly could to make it happen.
In reality, though, it simply wasn’t an option, and perhaps in the end that really is a good thing. Because this isn’t just a matter of gritting my teeth and pushing through, as much as I wish it were — since that is something I know how to do so very well. On the contrary, this is something that requires diligent, intentioned patience and care – something that comes far less easily for me.
The consequences here are much more serious than simply coming up short. As important as these races are to me on a personal level, I know that I have lots more races ahead, not just this season, but hopefully for many years to come; not to mention, a lifetime of being active and doing all the things I love. I certainly would not want to do anything to potentially compromise that, and ultimately, no race is worth that risk.
I totally get that missing my trip to South America was not just the right decision, but frankly the only one, and I am keeping all of that in mind. I know that in the long-term, being home recovering right now is the best thing I could possibly do for myself, and I also know that I will probably somehow end up looking back on this all as some kind of a blessing in disguise… but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier in the moment.
Xterra Chile took place yesterday, and watching (from afar!) the race go on without me was brutal. I felt so poised to show up in a major way at this race after a winter of hard work, and was so eager to try to make that happen. Missing out on that chance is such a difficult feeling, and right now it really, really hurts. And I think after the journey I went through mentally these last few months, as I talked about in my previous post, it feels that much more disappointing to not be able to be there right now, soaking up every moment of the experience.
[Although, I am so incredibly grateful to both my host family and the Xterra Chile race director, Rod, for sending me some fantastic photos from the Kids’ Race day (one of the coolest days EVER!), which made me feel like I was still a part of it all, and was very, very special to me!]
I do think that in this type of situation, it’s important to allow yourself some time and opportunity to be disappointed, and to really feel and acknowledge all of the emotions surrounding it, because they are all significant.
I have definitely given myself the space to do that over these last several days, but now I’m ready to start moving forward. And I know I have a choice now about how I do that. I can continue to fixate on the misfortune of getting injured right when I was about to start my season, all the ways it derailed my plans and preparation, and all that I am missing out on; or I can focus on all the opportunity that still lies ahead, and how I can do every single thing possible to make the very most of it. So, I am determined to jump into this healing process like it’s my new job, and do all I can to ensure a proper, complete recovery, so that I can come back firing on all cylinders, with no lingering issues, and hopefully even stronger.
Right now, healing is the absolute priority, and activities are still extremely limited. Because of the manipulation, I had to be super careful through the first week to ensure the toe didn’t slip back out of its restored position, or I would have had to have a surgery to repair it. Fortunately, I made it through that period safe and sound, and the recovery looks to be on track!
But my mobility is still very restricted. Even with the boot, I can’t walk normally, or even actually put full body weight on my right foot. (Which is a pretty clear indicator of just how impossible trying to race on it would actually have been!). The projection is still a minimum of six weeks before I can run, and I am confined to the boot pretty much at all times.
But I am slowly adding back movement, and working to do the best I can with the options available to me. For the time being, that is upper body and core strength work, and now also some pulling in the pool with a pull buoy, while my foot is taped in position. I’m really hopeful I can potentially get into some spinning on the road bike within the next couple weeks too, if all continues to go well! It’s tough to be so limited, and have to watch my fitness decline right after I’ve worked so hard to build it back up all winter and get myself race-ready… but I’m trying hard to remember the big picture, and stay patient and positive!
This is a particularly frustrating injury in that it seems so insignificant and simple – I mean, after all, it’s just a toe! But it’s also a good reminder of how every piece of the puzzle, no matter how small, plays a crucial role in the way it all comes together. Being without a “working” big toe for this past week-and-a-half has shown me just how important the big toe actually is, and how difficult it is to do just about anything without it!
Every injury is tough, no matter how big or small, or what time of year it takes place. But I do know from experience that injuries can actually have their plus sides, too…
They give us renewed motivation, as we become all that much hungrier for our chance to get back out there – and the reward is only that much sweeter after a long wait and a whole lot of hard work. They give us new perspective, and a deeper appreciation for a strong, healthy, fully functioning body, and all of the amazing things it can do. They help remind us of how powerful our support systems can be (and I’ve been leaning on mine heavily every step of the way so far!). And above all, they help make us stronger, as adversity is what pushes us to grow.
It really is so true that every setback is just the set-up for a comeback, and I am determined to rise up to meet this challenge, grow as much as I can as I work through it, and come back stronger than ever. I know that won’t be at all easy to do, but I feel ready to embrace the process.
I’m not quite sure yet when I’ll be kicking things off this year now, but I do know that there is still a lot of season left ahead, and plenty of time to achieve all of my original goals, and then some. I am committed to keep on working hard through this challenging time and the modified routine that it merits, and to carry all of these lessons forward with me for what I hope will be a healthy, happy and successful rest of the year, thanks to doing the right things now. (Even if they’re not the things I wanted or expected to be doing).
And as for Chile and Argentina, I know for certain that I will be back, but at a time when I can fully enjoy the experience, and be ready to give it 100% of all I’ve got — because these races deserve nothing less!
Will keep everyone posted along the way, and thanks so much for all the good thoughts so far!