Lessons Learned from two years of Injuries

This is a story of highs and lows.

For the past 2 years, I have been plagued by an unfortunate series of running injuries. I don’t know what has brought on this onslaught of misfortunes, but I can tell you one thing: I hate it.

I hate feeling on top of the world, peaking in training and preparing to concur dream races only to have my soul crushed in the most epic fashion.

I have learned a lot about my body over the past two years. I no longer ignore pain, twinges or slight discomfort. I’m not afraid to walk when I feel ‘off’. I’m not afraid to take a rest day. If you are familiar with my struggles with body image, you can correctly guess this has been a really hard process.

I haven’t taken the time or space on this blog to document the history of my injuries, especially my most recent one, but as I head into an aggressive training cycle this summer and fall, I wanted to reflect on my past as I prepare for this upcoming race reason.

The Stress Fracture that Ruled Them All

My first injury, my pelvic fractures, made themselves fully present in my life just 4-weeks shy of New York. It was October and I had just come off of an insane September. I ran the Parks and Navy-Air Force Halfs and the National-Capitol 20-miler. I felt strong. I felt ready. I was training like crazy, pushing my pace, grinding out hills, and obsessing over my race strategy.

At mile 14 of a 21 mile training run,I felt a twinge just inside my inner left leg, at the point where my leg connects to my pelvis. It wasn’t much of a twinge, so I did a couple of strides and shook it off. After all, I was leading a group of runners on the ‘Big Loop’ for their first time. They didn’t know where they were going and I needed to make sure they at least dropped down into Rock Creek Park and headed south to Georgetown.

At mile 19, the twinge turned into something more. I stopped running. I told my running partners to go ahead without me.

I walked it off for a quarter mile. I tried to start running again. The pain was worse.

I walked some more, then turned onto the C&O canal, nearly done with the run. I figured I could just walk/jog back to Iwo Jima, and head home to ice.

I put my left leg up onto a fence post in an attempt to stretch out whatever I had going on.

Turns out, that was probably the worst thing I could do.

I put my foot on the ground and shifted my body weight onto my left leg. Pain like none I had felt before seared through my pelvis, radiating up into my back and down into my leg.

I pulled out my phone and hailed an uber.

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I posted this on Instagram after the uber dropped me off near my car. The text of the post tells an interesting story of my denial:

"Post-21 this morning. Pace was great, until it wasnt. I felt good for the first 20 then life smacked me in the face. Don't be fooled by the half smile, I did something terrible to my groin on the run, and can barely walk now, might have cried when I got home. Here's to icing, advil, and ALL of the rest for the next week. Good thing I have so much school work to do, that this will force me to avoid procrastination. Also, my first hat run ever! "

A month later, after the first doctor didn’t believe me when I said this pain was unbearable and something serious was wrong (I had to have my boyfriend put my socks on for me), I finally got my MRI results back and the doctor read them. Two stress fractures at the point where the hamstring attaches to the bone.

The next 7-months were miserable. I couldn’t run. Biking hurt. I couldn’t push off the wall of the pool, making even my first love (swimming) uncomfortable and frustrating.

I gave up.

I was finishing my graduate degree at this time. It was ‘nice’ to have all this extra time to study and write papers, but if you know me, you know I only function when I’m able to peel away and lose myself in exercise for a little while.

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I couldn’t do any of that. My mind and my body were suffering. It was quite possibly one of the lowest points of my life.

As April and May rolled around, I began to flirt with the idea of trying out a real run for the first time since October. Slowly and steadily I worked my way back up to running consistently, albeit short distances.

By October of 2017, I had trained my way back up to completing a 50k ultramarathon.

Just when the going’s good

After my ultra in October 2017, I took some time off to travel, enjoy my family for the holidays, and relax.

I joined the Montgomery County Road Runners Winter Trails Program as a casual way to get back into running with a group. I stuck with them through the New Year.

 Saturday mornings with MCRRC

Saturday mornings with MCRRC

In mid-January, I went out on a casual 10-mile road run. At mile 9, I turned down a hill that leads into Rock Creek Park, a hill I’ve run a million times, up and down. It’s long and steep and has a slight s-curve to it. About 100 meters into my decent, my knee buckled under me.

Cue panic

I had spent 7-months in 2016 and 2017 recovering from two stress fractures in my pelvis, an overuse injury that sidelined me from New York and my Boston Marathon qualifying attempt.

That recovery experience made me hyper aware of every little twinge my body has.

I took a day off, which was perfectly fine since I was travelling down to the Florida Keys for work anyways. The next day, I woke up and attempted to do my normal sightseeing run I do everywhere I go. I made it a mile. My knee buckled again.

Panic.

I messaged my doctor, who advised me to rest and come see her when I was back in town.

My first visit with her was reassuring. A tight IT band was the diagnosis. Nothing a little bit of time can’t heal. She told me to take it easy for two weeks, then try running again. Biking was fine, and so was swimming, so I hit the gym under her advice.

Two weeks later, I tried to run again. My knee did the same thing.

Back to the doctor I went, this time, she referred me to a PT to work out my IT issues, strengthen my glutes (I may have a big butt, but that doesn’t mean it’s strong), and assess the situation in more fine detail.

It took me until mid-March to get an appointment (have I mentioned I hate DC?).

As soon as I had my first PT appointment, I was immediately reassured that I was in good hands. My PT Sarah was awesome, is a runner and former swimmer, and worked with me twice a week through later April.

Just enough to get me through a Ragnar Trail event I had committed to months before.

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The knee is still not 100%, but it’s getting there. It’s been another long three months of injury.

I’ve struggled with this injury because I didn’t even have grad school to occupy my mind. Work hasn’t been the best of late, and so all these forces have combined to put me in a pretty big funk, mentally and physically.

I’ve gained some weight, and briefly fell back into some bad food habits. I’ve had some anxiety attacks that strained my relationship with my boyfriend. I’ve lost confidence in myself – mentally and physically. I’ve been lost.

Lessons Learned

There are a handful of lessons I’ve learned that I can translate into my future training programs, and also incorporate into strengthening my belief in myself, mentally.

1.      Listen to your body

With my stress fracture, if I’m being truly honest with myself, I probably started noticing twinges in my pelvic region related to the emerging stress fractures a few weeks beforehand, but had brushed them off as nothing.

Our bodies are powerful things. They are incredibly dynamic and are capabale of withstanding more than we probably give them credit for. However, they need care and feeding, and our minds need to work with them to protect them from injury.

I didn’t listen to my body until it was too late. I hope I don’t do that again

2.       Don’t over train

Part of the reason I wound up with the stress fractures was because I had an insane training schedule and had not properly built a base to handle that load. I ran three races, coupled extra training miles on top of the half marathons because they were not ‘enough’ and didn’t match my training schedule.

I would race on Saturday, then go straight back into speed and hill work on Monday mornings. I wouldn’t rest. And that was my downfall

3.      Cross-train

My IT Band issue during this past winter is directly correlated to my lack of cross-training. Endurance athletes, especially those who only run, are especially prone to having tight IT bands. I won’t claim to understand all of the mechanics and anatomy of my leg, but I do now know that the glutes are attached to the IT band, which runs to your knee and below, and is directly associated with outer and upper knee pain in particular.

My glutes are weak because all I do is run.

Now, I have learned my lesson the hard way. But I’m equipped with exercises that will strengthen my glutes long-term, and have a newfound appreciation for light strength work, spinning and swimming.

There are a lot of other lessons that I learned through this two year journey of injury and recovery, mostly focused on my mental health and my ability to trust myself. But, that’s for another day.

The exciting news is, I’m almost healed, and am cleared to run again. I just completed a Ragnar Trail Event in Richmond, Virginia, logging 22 beautiful miles on trails. I am running a 5k with my mom tomorrow. I am training for a 25k trail race in August, a 50k trail race in October, and maybe even a bucket list item of a 50-miler in November.

Stay tuned for training plans, updates and injury reports (hopefully none of those!)

Xoxo

Cheetah