Earlier this year, I reached my goal to double my running distance. Shortly thereafter, I discussed setting SMART goals.
It turns out my initial goal wasn’t “realistic” after all, given my training intensity. When I incorporated more rest, reaching my goal came naturally.
A month later, in March, I got COVID-19 and was unable to run for 9 days. Once out of quarantine, I hit the ground running again. I kept pace and ran every day of most every week in the name of self-care and power and ferocity.
But early May, I heard a “pop” in the back of my right thigh that took me to my knees. I tried a percussion massager and increased yoga, to no avail. My familiar hip/glutes/hamstring pain was now joined by a spasming thigh muscle which always yelled, unless I stood straight up or lay flat on my back.
Perhaps I am addicted to running, because three recovery days later my thought process went something like this: Standing straight doesn’t hurt, so I can run, and maybe running will make this injury go away, and if not maybe running will make me happy so I won’t pay so much mind to the injury, and maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and I’ll be totally fine…
So, I ran after three recovery days. I got a half mile down the road and felt the sensation that my calf, on the same leg of course, was on fire. I sat down on the sidewalk, rubbing my calf, my thigh spasming. A vivid image came to mind: a nest of tangled, bloated, bloodied muscles, throbbing under my skin. The image stayed with me, turning itself over and over inside of my head. I exhaled angrily, got up and limped home.
Resigned, I stopped running indefinitely. And I complained to most everyone I know. Which, yes, to be fair, I am the worst. Oh yes, I need to have my privilege checked. Take away my mobility and I fall apart. To those who live without mobility, I am sorry to speak so shamelessly about my petty athletic injuries. I genuinely admire the strength of those who thrive without unhindered mobility. Because I certainly don’t know how.
At this point, I quietly questioned myself as a “runner” anymore. I was an imposter. As I acquainted myself with colleagues in my new position, I listened to myself speak about running as though I wasn’t the one speaking. I was far away, watching myself speak, hearing myself lie about all the running I do. Because I did run and I want to run and I would run very far and often if I could, so at what point must I relinquish my title? Is it okay to pretend right now? Am I still a runner?
On a random Monday, a colleague named Michelle came limping into the office claiming she hurt herself mulching over the weekend. Respectfully, I thought “what an adorable way to injure oneself.” I lent a supportive ear, eager to talk to someone else who is young and abruptly confronted with physical limitations. She shared she made an appointment with a sports orthopedist later in the week for imaging and was advised she will likely be referred to physical therapy.
Which reminded me of how I had a physical therapist before I moved out of the state. At the peak of my hamstring injury, it was so tight and inflamed that it was affecting my sciatic nerve. I underwent several sessions of dry needling, with some success. The pain went from debilitating to manageable.
And if I’m being honest with myself, I neglect seeking medical care too often. Because I feel that anytime I see a doctor, I end up complicit in animal testing. (Am I wrong?!) Last August, I got eaten alive by chiggers and ticks while camping with my dog Nitro at a primitive site in the Red River Gorge. All I came equipped with was essential oils, because again, concerned with animal testing. No Deet or Hydrocortisone for me.
Two weeks after I arrived home, two huge, infected lesions spread over my leg and thigh. By the time I finally sought care, I was reprimanded for waiting so long because “the infection could have entered my bloodstream and caused death.” Cellulitis, they called it.
It is a strength when we can learn from our mistakes. A strength I would like to call my own. So, I’m going to the doctor. They will probably say its “overuse” and possibly chastise me for being vegan, because “how do I get enough protein”. But it is the first step to any semblance of progress. I am hoping for referral to physical therapy, and I’m interested in learning about PRP injections.
Curious that a colleague who hurt themselves mulching helped me make sense of my running injury. But they did. Despite the different paths we all walk, I believe we have more in common with others than we think. People are people and people benefit by making emotional connections with other people.
To anyone out there struggling with an injury of their own, seek care. Talk to others in similar places. Find support.
And to be clear, I am a runner. I will always be a runner. Soon, I will return with a fierceness that I haven’t yet shown the world. <3
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