If you are a seasoned runner, chances are you have heard of or experienced the Runner’s Blues. It’s the post-partem depression that many runners experience after completing a major race goal. It is also that feeling when an unexpected setback stops you short of that goal, derailing your running for an extended period of time, blindsiding you like a slap in the face.
The latter is what I am experiencing now, less than one month from the NYC Marathon, as I am facing a possible stress fracture in my right foot. I am currently sitting in a coffee shop, with radioactive materials coursing through my veins, as I wait for the second part of my 3-phase nuclear bone scan to determine if the pain is indeed a fracture or possibly overuse of my posterior tibial tendon. Either scenario will most likely knock me out of the marathon on race day (certainly from racing it), with either 6 weeks of rest for the fracture or 2-6 months possible recovery with the overuse injury. Both outcomes seem grim, shitty and downright fucked. I’d love to tell you that being a #gothrunner means I eat this depression shit up, but that’s not the case. It totally sucks.
Above: Nuclear Bone Scan Hot Lab. I wasn't lying when I said I was radioactive!
The short explanation of my injury is that during my long run on Sept. 24th, I cut it short at 15 miles because I couldn’t keep going. The longer you run, the more you learn to listen to your body. You know when a new pain is something that needs attention or can just be massaged out later. I had experienced some similar pains during recent workouts, but chalked it up to newer shoes and just general training pains. So when I was literally hobbling back to my camp that day in tears, I knew something was really wrong. Over the next three days I could barely bend my foot fully enough to walk without limping.
Running helps keep me sane because it gives me both a mental release and alone time (when not running with my teammates) - two things that are very hard to come by in a city like New York. Over the past two weeks, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions: anger, depression, regret, fear, self-hatred, self-doubt, self-pity, jealousy, embarrassment, rinse & repeat. Its very simple to gravitate towards negative thoughts when something you love to do is no longer possible. Right now I am searching for a way to stay positive, to keep myself lifted, even though it feels very hopeless. I am trying to cope with the sudden loss of what feels quite literally like my freedom (to move, to escape, etc) and that is affecting me very deeply.
The first day I was so angry, mostly with myself: at my body for failing me, for not being strong enough, for being foolish enough to do this to myself. What if I had stopped at 13 miles? Or 10? Would I be ok? Was I over or under training? Had I overlooked nutrition? Was I missing vital nutrients in my diet? And then I was angry at everything else. Why were the Adirondacks so hilly? Surely if I had been running on flat terrain this wouldn’t happen, right? Stupid, beautiful nature. What if I miss this race I can't defer? 1 year of qualifying races down the drain plus an almost $300 entry fee? FML!
Besides anger, I was also feeling embarrassed. I spent the rest of my long weekend in the ADX feeling useless, like I was slowing everyone I was with down. I had planned to run a Ragnar Trail Relay the following weekend, which I had to bow out of, which left me feeling embarrassed AND guilty. Telling people you are one of those crazy runner people when you accomplish something feels so much better than when you explain that BECAUSE you are one of those crazy runner people you now are unable to move. “I woke up and ran 19 miles before breakfast” vs. “I woke up, tried to run 19 miles, now I can’t walk, so can you carry me around please?”. See what I mean?
I’ve spent 2 weeks wallowing in self-pity, coming up for air just long enough to browse through my Instagram feed and get simultaneously happy for and jealous of my teammates racing or running together. I spent hours analyzing my training from every angle, regretful for not noticing that I needed more strength training, yoga, and rest days sooner. I’ve been scared that this injury will not only make commuting in NYC a living hell, but also keep me from being able to perform my job as a cycling instructor. And yes, I have searched the injuries I am possibly facing which led me down a Google K-hole and filled my head with even more negative bullshit.
The other thing I hate to admit is that even though I encourage students in my classes to believe they are already good enough or strong enough and to have a positive, kick-ass outlook, I’ve been having a really hard time taking my own advice. It’s easier to say things then put things into action. We all know this. So how the hell do I get out of this rut? Below is my thought process to get out of the abyss, as I try to implement a positive outlook during this shitty situation. Queue the Morrissey.
First, let me take a step back and take a hard, honest look at my return to running. I hadn’t properly trained for a race in over a year before I began training for the NYC marathon this summer. Before I joined GCR in June, running had been demoted to an almost leisure activity for me; Running was time to destress and get some alone time for a few miles. I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon in May and didn’t train at all beforehand. The fact that I was able to eek out a few seconds PR without training is what convinced me it was time to step up my running game. I knew I had peaked and I decided I wanted a coach, I wanted a team and I wanted to get back to running goals. Yay goals! With the marathon in the fall, it seemed like perfect timing. I joined a team, ran a couple solid races earning new PRs and felt pretty good about my improvements.
Next up, my training schedule, which is obviously very heavy on running, but is lacking much else. Since I teach cycling I have a lot of rides built in, but these are not a stand-in for strength training or yoga. While teaching cycling may help strengthen my legs and keep my overall fitness level from dropping, its not providing some essential things I need as a runner - mainly increased strength for different muscle groups and improved overall flexibility. If I am totally honest, yoga and strength training have been a “once in a while” kind of thing this summer. I went boxing a few times. I went to yoga a few times. But it was mostly running and even though I love running, my body doesn't always agree. Plot thickens.
Unfortunately, this summer also proved to be quite challenging for my personal life. In short, my partner and I have been dealing with some scary shit and it has been a rollercoaster of emotion for the past few months. It would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that our situation may have brought some extra stress into my life, both mentally and physically, as we tried to keep afloat during a very tumultuous summer. If you are wondering if mental stress can make you more injury prone, thanks to another Google K-Hole, the answer is yes. I found there are numerous studies linking psychological stress to sport injuries. And not just "performance" or "race day" jitters, but real life every day stress. Fuck.
So it appears that my current training plan needs tweaking and my life has been hectic. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about this now. So while it explains why this type of setback might happen, I don't feel any better about it. Ok Erika, deep breathe. Maybe I need a wider lens to look even further back to gain new perspective on my current situation? Worth a try. The Smiths have a generous catalog.
Not to get too sidetracked, but one reason I decided to delve into fitness a few years ago was because I got mugged. I was jumped by a group of teenagers in broad daylight in a subway turnstile. One of my attackers kicked my face in which earned me a trip to the hospital for 4 of the most grim hours of my life. Afterwards I was pretty shaken up and it took a while before I wasn’t scared of walking around alone in my neighborhood or of every pack of teenagers that boarded the train. The attack also ignited my underlying Napoleon syndrome, or short (wo)man syndrome, which is something I’ve carried around as I have been one of the scrawny/short kids for my whole life. I felt violated and shitty, but I also felt weak. At that point in time I was naive enough to think my tough looking exterior might be enough to keep away would-be muggers. Once I recovered from the attack, I resolved to be stronger and never let it happen again.
Compared to then, am I stronger? Hell yes. I have worked my ass off and I can proudly say that I am both mentally and physically stronger. I could even honestly say I am stronger now than I was 1 year ago. And that is nothing to scoff at. If I take a look back at my running with a wide lens, I can map improvements I have made and see how much better I have gotten at achieving race goals in the past few years. Even with this setback, I have already earned 4 new PRs in 2016 (1 mile, 5K, 10K and Half Marathon). Holy shit!
Above: After rocking out a 6:07 at the 2016 NYRR 5th Ave Mile - photo by Coach Josh Maio.
If its all about perspective, not running this race wouldn't be the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. Maybe it's the #gothrunner in me, but I can think of much harder times that I have experienced, much shittier "feels" if you will. This is just another speedbump on the road of my life as a runner (there have been many before and there will be many after). Not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
As I am finishing this entry, for the first time in a while I no longer feel angry or embarrassed. If my strength was needed elsewhere for more important reasons than personal fitness goals this summer, I would be more than happy to give it again. Even though I may not be strong enough to compete in a month, I am a stronger person than when I started this training season.
I have read on numerous blogs that one way to getting over Runner’s Blues is to set your sights on a new goal. Pick out a race (or anything really) in the future that you can feel excitement about. Its not always possible to replace that race day feeling, but not running means I have some extra free time for non-running activities. Setting new goals can help you refocus your energies, so I am looking forward to finding something new to sink my teeth into this fall/winter!
I also have to remember that I am not a trained athlete. This pursuit of running is something I do for fun (yes FUN!) in my free time, but it is not my profession. There will be other races. There will be a return to running for me. And I will come back stronger, faster and hungrier than ever. (definitely hungrier).