Every athlete has a different journey through his or her injury. This is just a recap of what I learned through the last 7 weeks.
After an initial right quad tear diagnosis right after a DNF at mile 52 of Georgia Death Race on March 19th I was told the reason for the quad muscle shutting down and subsequently tearing was likely from something wrong in my right hip. I then scheduled a hip arthrogram (hip MRI with contrast). BUT they couldn’t fit me in for another 5 weeks. My symptoms were- spasming quad up to the hip/IT band and extreme pain on the outside of the hip to which I couldn’t even lie on at night. I had terrible glute pain, swelling, my right SI joint felt out of place and hamstrings were like ropes. This pain was pretty intense for about 2 weeks. I was on advil for about a solid week after the race. The pain wouldn’t allow me to sleep without it.
I saw my PT who said- most importantly to 1) REST my body, REST the muscle and 2) slowly work on mobility and stretching and only when both of those were accomplished could I then 3) Strength train and hopefully around 6 weeks if all went really well, 4) start light running again but only depending on what MRI could confirm.
In the interim, I saw my massage therapist every 10 days and a good chiropractor who immediately recognized my right SI joint was completely out. After he put my SI joint back into place- I finally started to feel some recovery happening. (Side note: I have struggled with SI joint issues since my pregnancy and some of the running I did so late in the pregnancy).
I took two weeks off with absolutely no running, no walking, nothing. Just light light yoga and stretching, icing, epsom salt baths and foam rolling. My mind was a mess- I felt super depressed and hopeless about what I was going through and I began googling hip labral tears and I was sure they would find that on my MRI.
After almost 3 weeks, I began hiking about 3 miles every other day or as the leg felt okay. PT twice a week, and my own series of hip strengthening and stretching 4-5 days a week. I worked on core, upper body and flexibility as much as it felt good.
Finally after 4 weeks, I could feel some progress. I began more intense hiking, returned to pilates classes and bumped up the whole stretching/strength routine. I still took 2 days a week of doing nothing to try to stay patient. Foam rolling provided a major major relief to the hip after the workouts.
Week 5: HIP MRI. Ouch!!! Getting a needle into your front hip all the way into the joint is the most odd feeling ever. My hip felt like it was going to explode. No issues from the MRI the next day other than a huge bruise from the contrast needle. I even went for a hike/run of 5 miles. There was still shooting pain but it was coming from glute/bursa of hip. Appointment with Orthopod revealed- hip bursitis and no labral tear! YAY!!!! Such good news considering I could likely work through bursitis and began training again.
The mental side of injury is tough. Rollercoaster of emotions the entire 6/7 weeks. But here’s what I learned from my inury:
1) Chronic sleep deprivation and chronic life stress are almost 90% of why I got injured. I have a 19 month old who has only slept through the night a handful of times. I have pushed and pushed and pushed through training on such little sleep, my body could never really recover. Meanwhile life stress for me was at an all time high for the last 7 months (really since the death of my brother) and therefore I had a bout of sinus infections, flu’s, and other illnesses that I too trained through. Those sorts of stressors can and will injure you. Acute stress might actually workout okay for racing, but chronic stress is another story altogether. I have retired my superwoman badge. That shit is an illusion and a dangerous one.
2) I raced a hard 100k 6 weeks before the injury. Now, for some people, this might work out okay. But what I realized made a difference for me was how hard I ran in the last 10 miles of that 100k race. I raced for broke trying to catch second place after a long bonk in the middle of the race that I couldn’t make up for. I ran downhill on trashed legs at 6:00 minute pace for 6 miles and probably caused so much damage to my quads, they were set up to fail at Georgia Death Race. I asked too much of myself given the degree of stress my life is. I couldn’t sleep enough to recover from this effort. Just because some elites can run races back to back, does not mean I can or should. In fact, I think racing less will make me a much better runner.
3) IF there is not complete joy for training and racing, don’t do it. Not every run is supposed to be rainbows and unicorns. BUT what I realized is, you should love being out there most of the time. Take the time to look at the wildflowers and the summit views. Take into consideration what else is going on in your life. I was in such a miserable mental space at Georgia Death Race not because of the race, but because my life was not in a good place going into the race. That is the key. Life caught up to me and shut me down. Hello universe, I am sorry I wasn’t listening to you.
4) I didn’t follow my own plan for the year. I got too greedy and too anxious to get a spot into WS100. If I had just listened to my gut I would have 1) taken more than 2 weeks off at the end of 2015 as my coach recommended. 2) Would have just picked one 100k in that 6 week span and 3) would have scrapped training on days that I was sick or tired.
5) Just race because you love it. Just run because you love it. Be kind to yourself. Push when its time, but don’t push all the freaking time.
The great thing is, some major major things have changed for my family and I. Due to some serious life stress and the overwhelming grief of losing a family member, I realize it’s time to follow the path that is being shown to me. So some plans in the works that I can talk about in the next month or so. But in the meantime, I am loving running again. I am enjoying no real specific workouts and most of all I am not thinking about running while running. I vow to take better care of my body as I realize this injury was a lucky one as they go. I have to still manage it and be smart but it should recover well. I plan on running Leadville 100 in August with maybe one other short prep race in July. That’s my entire year agenda. I will absolutely not make any plans until I assess my body and mind after that. It’s only taken me 10 years of ultrarunning to learn this lesson. Man I hope I learn a bit faster on the next one.