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Learning from a Running Injury

Last June, during the weeks that would lead up to my very first 50km Ultra Marathon, I came face to face with something that most runners deal with at some point in their running careers; I was injured. It wasn’t an obvious or spectacular injury—that is, I didn’t roll an ankle, I didn’t trip fantastically over some ill-placed obstacle, there were no broken bones, no pulled muscles. But with every run and eventually with every step I knew something was off.

Initially I tried to ignore the signs that were suggesting something was wrong. I figured that the signs were instead an excuse I was concocting to address the anxiety I was feeling about running my first ultra. However, what began as tightness and some soreness in my right ankle became something so painful that I couldn’t ignore it further. My ankle felt bruised and battered, and worse than that, weak. Every morning I’d jump out of bed and be greeted by an intense pain that radiated from the pad of my foot through my ankle and up my leg. I’d limp to the bathroom trying my best to work through the pain. By the time I finally sought medical advice I was sure I had broken one or more of the bones in my foot.

Learning from a Running Injury

I hoped beyond hope that what I was feeling was going to pass, that it would be nothing more than a stitch in my side that would fade if I just stopped to breathe for a minute or two. Sadly, the day before I was to run the ultra I made the wise (in retrospect) decision to withdraw from the race. It was not an easy decision despite the pain, and I was anything but happy; it seemed that all of my work, all of my training, and all of my invested time were spiraling quickly down the drain. It was a hard pill to swallow. I don’t like being reminded that I’m human, but there I was with a clear message from the universe: you need to take a break.

I saw my chiropractor, went for massage, and had x-rays. I rested and stretched, and tried to do whatever I could to expedite the healing process. I hoped that this would be a short term setback. I hoped that I would be running after only a few weeks of rest. But those hopes were immediately dashed when x-rays failed to identify a skeletal issue. My doctors were convinced the pain was due to a tissue injury; possibly repetitive strain due to the ultra training schedule. Even worse, they suggested it might be months before I’d feel comfortable running again. This did not sit well.

My break from running would essentially last six full months. It was awful. I missed it. I missed experiencing summer as a runner. I missed running in the cool breeze of autumn. I missed the mental health it brought to me. I missed how strong and confident and healthy it made me feel. I watched as other people ran by me, jealous and envious of them. And even though I went to the gym to hit the weights, my heart wasn’t in it. I put in a half effort, and then I allowed work and life to get in the way of doing even that. And even after my ankle started feeling better, I allowed work and life get in the way. I succumbed to feeling lazy, feeling sluggish, and feeling fat, and I hated every minute of it. Running was my escape and for six months I was lost.

Learning from a Running Injury

As the year drew to a close I sat down and reflected on my health. The break from running had resulted in the need to loosen my belt buckle slightly (something that no one seemed to notice but me), and it had a tremendous impact on my energy, and my ability to handle stress. I was far more irritable than I should have been. I was also exhausted most of the time. I was living a life that differed from what I wanted, and the minute I realized this I knew things had to change. So at the start of 2014 I vowed to get back on track. I set out a roadmap that would bring me back from the depths of lethargy and laziness, and lead me to the man I wanted to be. After almost two full months I can say that running has changed my life again. While I’m not quite back to my old long-distance running form, I’m getting there. And after six months of being lost, I’m far more aware of my body and what it might be telling me. I’m working towards staying healthy and injury free. I’m running, I’m resting, and every day I’m getting that much better. And it feels great.

So what have I learned from all of this? That injuries suck? That they can easily get in the way? That they can knock us down for a time? Sure. But most importantly, I’ve learned—or relearned—what running means to me. It’s more than exercise. It’s more than getting fit and staying fit. Running is a way of life. It provides me something that nothing else does. [tweet this] It gives me clarity. It gives me hope. It gives me the energy to live the life that I want to live.

Featured image credit: Kris Krug

Dan Gillis

About the author:
Dan Gillis

Dan is an Assistant Professor and Statistician in the School of Computer Science at the University of Guelph. Along with Danny Williamson, he is co-founder of Farm To Fork—a program designed to change the emergency food system by creating a direct link between donors and the grocery lists of food banks and food pantries. Having received international attention, they are currently crowdsourcing funds via Microryza to complete the project. Please consider contributing if you can.

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