Injury, Invincibility, and The Wandering Mind

The internet is an incredible thing. It allows the average person access to an entire world of information. With just a few clicks of a button, anyone can learn everything there is to know about whatever they want. A person can spend hours reading and learning and investigating. They can become completely lost in time and thought as they wander down a million different paths, each one digging deeper and taking them further from where they began.

The internet is an incredible thing…until you one day develop random pain in your groin and decide to start self-diagnosing. Then the internet is the devil.

Last week I hit my highest ever weekly mileage, 76. It was preceded by two other weeks of 70 and 74. This past spring I hit 70 on singles for three solid months and felt great, so we decided to try out the mid-70’s range on doubles this summer. Last Wednesday, I did my first workout in preparation for this upcoming fall season of road racing. It was a tempo run. Arthur didn’t give me paces, he just told me to go out and run and give a good effort. I was a little nervous going into it, but it ended up going great. Certainly not my fastest tempo ever, but for my first one, it was excellent. Three days later, I did my first spicy long run of the season – 16 miles. That one was tough, tougher than the tempo for sure, but it again went extremely well. The next day I did an easy 8 to close out one of the best opening workouts weeks I’ve ever had. I was feeling on top of the world, excited about where I was at with my training and, more importantly, where I was headed.

Flash forward 24 hours – everything had changed.  I began my run and was instantly in extreme discomfort. Something in my groin felt so off and so awkward that I had to stop after 3 steps. I stretched out for a bit and tried again. It felt better than before, but something was still not quite right. I decided to give it a minute or two, though, and it actually ended up loosening up. I went ahead and did my run, and it felt mostly fine for the remainder of the run, though every once in a while there was a slight twinge. Right after I stopped I felt fine, but later throughout the day, the discomfort emerged during general activities – walking, shifting my weight, getting up from a chair. By the evening, the discomfort had morphed into actual pain. Not sharp. Not persistent. But it was definitely there; a tiny, dull ache. I texted Arthur and explained what was going on. We agreed a day off was in store. It was probably just tightness from the workout and long run and me being bad about stretching. A day of rest and I would be good to go.

That day of rest was 5 days ago. I haven’t run a step since. And, despite the fact that I have been resting, it’s not getting any better. It’s actually getting worse.

It’s been a frustrating and confusing week. There have been tears. There has been pity-partying. There has been entirely too much Googling and speculating and freaking out.

Thankfully I have had Arthur, John and Katie, and my parents and other family and friends, to help get me through. Handling all this alone would be infinitely more miserable and frightening, so their support means the absolute world.

But I must be honest when I say this week has been one of the most unpleasant in recent memory.

Arthur told me once last year when I was dealing with my first tendinitis flare-up in my knee, that I wasn’t very good at being injured. He was, of course, joking, and was mostly referring to my generally bearable impatience and stubbornness being exacerbated to insufferable levels when someone or something thing tries to tell me what I can and cannot do. My go-to mechanism for dealing with things that stand in my way is to put my head down and power-through, but while this technique has been largely successful in many situations thus far in my life, it is unfortunately not universally applicable to all of life’s challenges. Injuries are a perfect example of one such challenge. Through a glorious process of trial and error, I have come to the realization that attempting to handle an injury by battering through the wall with my thick-skulled head not only halts any form of progress or forward momentum, but usually winds up setting me back considerably.

Overcoming an injury requires patience and composure and strategy. So far in my career I have, thankfully, dealt with very few injuries, big or small. Staying relatively healthy for so long has, in my mind, played one of the most crucial roles in the success I’ve achieved. In fact, my ability to handle and recover from large volumes of training is probably my greatest strength as a runner. But as wonderful as it has been avoiding the trainer’s and the doctor’s and the pool all these years, dealing with injuries so infrequently, even the minor, nagging ones, has left me woefully unprepared for how to handle them when they do come about.

Whenever I feel pain or tightness or sense that something is off, my first instinct is to just push through it until it goes away. Most of the time this tactic is actually successful, but the moment it stops working, I am a deer in the headlights. I have no idea what to do. Instantly I become paralyzed by fear and What Ifs. The rational side of my brain implores me to see reason, but the other side of my brain, the side that is all-go and no-stop, and sees only in black and white, cannot help but wander down dark paths.

Learning how to stay calm and composed in difficult situations is an incredibly important skill to have to be successful, not just in running, but in throughout all of life. Battles are won by those who keep their wits about them, not those who run around like chicken’s with their heads cut-off (one of my Dad’s favorite phrases to describe one’s personal state of chaos). Keeping my head firmly attached to my body is something I have been working on and trying to implement in all aspects of my training for years. I have made a tremendous amount of progress in many areas so far – during races, at big meets, when there are outside distractions – but injuries is one area that still needs a significant amount of improvement.

One of the biggest roadblocks to that improvement is that sometimes, I feel like I am invincible. Having that kind of confidence in myself and my body and my training has been incredibly useful these last couple years when its come to races and taking chances and not being intimidated by others, but it needs to be kept in check. I need to make sure that confidence does not morph into arrogance, or worse, stupidity. Carrying on under the delusion that I am a machine and that my body can handle anything and everything and will never break or tire is borderline both.

The fact of the matter is, injuries happen to everyone. Some people unfortunately get them more often than others, but anyone who runs competitively is going to experience them at some point. It’s just a part of this sport.

I don’t know what this injury is. Maybe it’s nothing serious. Maybe it’s just soft tissue. Maybe it’s just these blasted hamstrings of mine tightening up again. Maybe I just need a massage, a couple more days, and lots of stretching and I’ll be back at it.

Maybe it’s not soft tissue. Maybe it’s bone. Maybe it is, in fact, pretty serious. Maybe my rehab will be extensive. Maybe my recovery will be long.

Right now, I just don’t know. I don’t have all the information, I don’t know all the variables. And while I think it’s important to at least understand and acknowledge some of the different possible situations, I can’t keep letting my mind gravitate toward any one in particular. It’s not constructive. It’s not healthy. It’s not making me feel the slightest bit better. All it’s doing is driving me absolutely crazy.

So I am going to just go with the flow right now. I’m going to keep resting and doing my initial rehab. I’m going to keep communicating with Arthur about how I’m feeling and where things are at. I’m going to try and relax and have some fun this weekend. I’m going to go to my appointment with the sport medicine doctor on Monday and get real professional advice and assistance.

And when we figure out what the problem is, whenever that may be, I’m going to continue to stay calm and composed. I’m not going to let my mind wander down paths of darkness and despair. I’m going to take the information I’m given, and work with Arthur and the doctor to figure out a plan for how to move forward.

Because that’s all you really even can do in this life. Just keep moving forward.