Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When you can't run


        If you are reading this, you are mostly likely a runner.  And if you are a runner, you have been injured.  You have probably read the studies saying we are the most injured athletes; the consensus of most studies seems to be there are about 75% of us with running related injuries each year. Obviously running cannot compete with cheer leading as the most dangerous sport in the world (safer to jump off mountains than human pyramids), but many seem to think the injury rates in long distance runners make the sport dangerous and thus unhealthy.

      Put running related injuries aside, and we are among the healthiest people in the world.  Have you ever been at a race and overheard a runner talking about their last bypass surgery?  Ultra runners have very low risk of developing some of the common diseases of our modern world, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Healthy...until a race

      Before we get into all the advantages of being injured, a little background.  I have run all my life, but have been running longer than marathon distances for about 3 years, making me pretty green in the world of ultra running.  I think a lot of us new to the sport are intrigued by the never ending challenges it presents, and after conquering one distance we can't help but try for the next soon after.  I went from 50k to 100 miles in less than 2 years.  I have had injuries, but nothing that took me down for too long.  This past summer I ran some big races, and expected to continue this fall, making some big goals for myself.

      Most injuries I have had have been related to overuse and lack of recovery time,  I was having a tough recovery this August and my hamstrings just weren't happy with my training plan.  Then I compounded things by missing my step down off a ten man human pyramid (pyramids trump those boring lined up running group photos by about a million).

Lesson learned...ten man pyramid should be completed
 before beer mile, not after

      When I finally came back in September, I felt like I could take it easy, listen to my body and slowly work back to where I wanted to be.  I planned for a 50k in October and 50 miler in December.  Going into the 50k, Cave Creek Thriller, I felt under trained and very uncertain of what my body was capable of.  I surprised myself and just missed the female course record.  I cartwheeled across the finish line, and felt strong and ready to keep going.
Cave Creek Thriller 50k

     In the next couple weeks some events in my life transpired that made me need running even more, and my anger propelled me to push myself too hard.  I ran faster than I should have.  I competed with 8 of my friends at the Ragnar Trail Relay and surprised myself at how fast I could run short distances, as I have always been the slow and steady long distance runner.  The week after Ragnar I was doing hill repeats when a little pain in my hip began to flare up.  I pushed through it a little, and as it got worse I realized I needed to call it a day and walked back to the parking lot.  Walking hurt.  Little aches and pains always come up in running, so when something hurts I try to be smart and listen to my body, but usually with a little time it will work itself out,  Over the next couple weeks I backed off a little, and the hip kept bothering me.  It wasn't this piercing, excruciating pain, more a dull ache that got worse as the miles built up.

     I was at a point where I desperately needed running (and still am).  I have always relied on exercise to balance me out.  All my life I have struggled with a mood disorder, and when things are particularly bad, running provides an immediate remedy.  If I'm really down, I know a good run can get me outside of myself, give me some motivation to continue forward.  If I have an excess of energy and feel like I am going a mile a minute, a run lets me get it all out without things escalating.  We can all agree it sucks when you can't run.  But when things are particularly rough and the only way you know how to deal with it is to run....and you can't, what do you do?

      I wish the end of this story was my eventual healing.  But really my point here isn't a pity party.
Everyone has been here in one way or another.  You can let it take you down, or you can figure something else out.  So maybe if someone is reading this one day and feeling like I do, they can learn something that might help.

So here are 11 dilemmas I have encountered, and what I do to fight them.

When you can't run and.....

1. ...your schedule just opened up.

       You realize how much your life revolves around running when all of a sudden you can't do it, and you have no idea how to fill up all that free time.  A good friend suggested I try and think of the things I feel like I never have time for.  I came up with painting, yoga, reading, writing, going to movies and performances, dancing, pie making, meditating, watching reruns of Glee, and meeting up with friends to do something other than running.   No, none of these have the same effect as running, but they are something to focus on in the meantime.

2. ...everyone is talking about that race they signed up for, ran, are planning on running, or are posting about.

This is a tough one.  For the past couple years signing up for, training for, and finishing races has been a major focus in my life.  I get that excitement and anticipation when I click that registration button on ultrasignup, I have a focus for my training, and I set goals.  There have already been 3 races I've had to pull out of since my injury.  I have always volunteered at races when I'm not running them.  Now all I can do is volunteer.  I know I will be miserable if I only focus on the fact that I am not running and everyone else is, so I try to focus on really doing everything I can to help the runners competing.  It feels good to still be a part of the process, and having experience racing helps me know what runners need!

Volunteering perk: you can still sneak on the podium

3. ...every event you are invited to involves running.

I have been trying to avoid facebook.  I really don't, but I know it makes things worse when I see all the posts about group runs.  I used to have 3 or 4 different runs to choose from on the weekends, and now... I am scheduling other group events.  My friends run, but I have found I can get them to do other activities too!  Dancing, art walks, dinner... I'm still working on this list.  And I haven't utilized it yet, but I know if I run out of things to do, or everybody is busy, I can go on meetup and find something new.

4. ...you are depressed and thinking about how you cant run makes you more depressed and then you realize you don't even know when you're going to be able to run again and you try to run in hopes that maybe its a little better and its not.

I have gone for several runs when, after lots of rest that I thought would help, pain creeps in a few hundred meters or a few miles in.  I cry.  It's pathetic, When I start to feel really bad for myself, I think of all the things I CAN do.  There are people out there that can't walk.  I try to be grateful for everything I have: aside from injury I am healthy.  I can run a couple miles.  I have amazing family and friends.  I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a reasonable income. Life is not over because I cannot run.

5. ...you cant eat.

This may be a problem specific to women (and not all women). Sometimes due to anxiety and stress I have no appetite.  But I also know that I am not burning the calories that I did when I was running 40-60 miles per week, and like almost every lady I know, I do not want to put on weight.  If anyone has a way to remedy this problem, please let me know.  It is psychological, and unfortunately many of us girls have this issue.

6. ...other activities hurt too.

Every other time I have been injured, I've been able to do yoga, hike and bike to help me stay active.  Right now I can hike for about 30 minutes before I start to feel it.  Some yoga poses are okay, but usually my hip will be sore after a real yoga class.  I can bike for about 20 minutes before pain.  The only option I see if one that I have always been very opposed to: swimming.  But I'm going to try.  There is always something else to try.

7. ...everyone you know and don't know asks you why you can't run.

I love my fellow runners.  But at a certain point, explaining my injury becomes redundant.  My only solution to this: summarize or walk away.  "It's my hip, going to physical therapy, no improvement."  Advantage: Runners know people.  One out of 3 people have a recommendation of some sort, and while it can be overwhelming when you are writing down the 10th name of a recommended doctor, it is wonderful to have so much help.

8.  ...you see someone running.

Runner's envy is so real.  When I am hiking and someone runs by me, I feel two things: outright jealousy that I can't do what they're doing, and embarrassment that I am now a "hiker" (not that there's anything wrong with that!)  What a dilemma.  Sometimes I will actually jog a bit to comfort myself.  I smile and try to live vicariously through these people, but really I want to beat them.  This problem will not go away, so if I don't distract myself by running a little, I try to focus on my surroundings rather than the runners.  We are all out here together, enjoying being in nature and feeling our feet against the trail.

9.  ...you go to that group run and...walk.

Thanksgiving group run "hike."
 I think we had more fun than the runners!
Sometimes I have had to walk alone.  But at least I am there, enjoying others company even if its only at the trail head and afterwards for a beer.  Fortunately the loner walk is not always the only option.  It turns out THERE ARE OTHER INJURED PEOPLE!  Sometimes they are just recovering, but when you consider the statistics, chances are a lot of people might need to take it easy.  Then there's always the option of meeting everybody at the bar!

10. ...you just can't cope.

Stress, anxiety, depression, desperation- we all know running can help us through these things.  I struggle so much with finding an alternative, and I know really it doesn't exist.  So some things I try when I get really down and start spiraling into a panic:

Phone a friend- a good friend will always be there, and it always helps to talk about it.  When you start to think "they're too busy," "they don't want to hear about it," "I should be able to handle this on my own," just think about what you would do for your friends if they were going through the same thing.  And hopefully, you would answer the phone.

If you can, pick up some hand weights and start punching.  This sounds ridiculous, and don't do it with weights that are too heavy, but I'll do this is front of a mirror and feel like a bad ass and it helps a little.  Really any way I can get my body moving and hopefully release a few endorphin helps.

Pick a therapy activity.  I draw aimlessly.  Coloring works well.  Go for a walk if you can. Generally drugs and alcohol are not a healthy way to go, but go easy on yourself if you need an IPA to relax.

Sometimes when you can only run a mile...a beer mile is the best option.

11. ...you don't know when it'll get better, and the "what if it doesn't" question presents itself

This is horrible to think about.  My whole world revolves around running, and if I can't run I have to find a new world.  My dad actually said to me on a hike today, "Well, you got a couple good years of running in," as if it is all over.  I forgive him for this comment, but really?  Still, not everyone runs, so there must be something else out there.

In conclusion: I hope this might help someone else who is in the same situation. I'll end this post by saying it is my friends and family that carry me through my challenges, thank you.

At least I can still cartwheel!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Erica! I wrote one when I was injured too ;) ChiRunning will help you get back on track injury free...when you are ready to run again, let me know and I'll go on a run with you to get you some immediate feedback so you don't get injured again!