It all started with a fantastic winter training season. I joined the Charm City Run Bel Air Ultramarathon training group led by Coach Darren, and from December through March, our dedicated crew of trail runners explored, got lost on, and generally had a great time on trails from Baltimore County to Delaware as we trained for the HAT 50K trail run. Despite my proclivity for tripping on the trails, I was feeling strong and confident about the race as I racked up the miles, following Darren’s training plan.
It was just a couple days before the big race when I felt a funny twinge in my shin. As a long-distance runner, I’m accustomed to aches that come and go, so I dismissed it. But when I took my first step on the HAT race course and pain shot up my left shin, I thought, oh boy, this could be a bad day. I kept quiet about it, not saying a word to my running pals about the worsening pain for fear that would make it real.
Long story short—and by long, I mean 30.5 miles, four stream crossings, about 4,300 feet of wicked climbing, and 6 hours & 53 minutes—I finished the race, I celebrated, iced and elevated my leg, and woke up the next morning completely unable to put any weight on my left foot.
What I have is not an ice and elevate sort of injury: I tore a tendon. This is a crutches-requiring, multiple doctor visits, X-rays, MRIs, big boot-wearing and lots of physical therapy kind of injury. I’m under doctor’s orders not to run for a couple months, and my return to running will be a slow and gradual one.
After I received my diagnosis, I was furious at myself for pushing through such pain and causing damage. I really screwed up. My body was broadcasting SO LOUDLY that I was hurt—how could I have blown off those signals?
As the acute pain faded, I wondered if maybe the MRI results weren’t read correctly. Maybe this is a much less serious injury. Or maybe my heeling trajectory will be significantly faster than any of the professionals could have guessed. When I brought up the idea of going out for a short run to my physical therapist, Brett Clark, Partner at Lifestrength PT (who many Charm City Run Timonium runners know from his regular visits to consult mid-season), he gave me a kick in the butt with common sense: “It is always better to miss a week or two of running now than miss several months of running later because you tried to run through an injury.”
If you’re taking the time to read this blog, you likely understand what I mean when I say running isn’t just a hobby, it’s a huge part of my identity: It’s how I play, how I manage my stress. I plan my life, my work, even my vacations around running. It’s a tough adjustment to operate with this chunk of my life missing. I also have a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out): I’m bummed out on perfect running weather days. When I see runners on the road, I’m hit with a jolt of wildly irrational envy.
That said, I’m done being mad at myself, and I’ve swept up the last of the black confetti from my pity party. My physical therapist is right. The process of healing is one long, painful exercise in delayed gratification: By staying off my injured leg, eating an impeccably nutritious diet, and following the orders of my doctor and physical therapist, I have a solid chance of running pain and injury free next season. And more importantly, I have a real shot at longevity as a runner if I play this smart.
So you may not see me crushing miles on the trails or roads this weekend, but you’ll see me out there soon. And I’m willing to be you’ll see me out there for many years to come.
About the Author: Lauren Shafer
Lauren is a certified Health Coach who helps busy Baltimoreans articulate their health + wellness goals, and make measurable, sustainable diet and lifestyle changes for lasting transformation. Though she would never be described as athletic in her youth, Lauren started running as an adult, begrudgingly at first, until she discovered she actually enjoyed it. Now an 9-time marathoner and 4-time ultra-marathoner, you’ll frequently find Lauren running on roads and trails with her husband John and dog Osita.