A little background for the uninitiated: I compete in NCAA Division I cross country and track for Baylor University . Quickly dealing with injuries and being able to consistently train is extremely important for running at this level. Consequently, not being able to run due to injury can produce quite the panic and identity crisis. This post describes my experiences and emotions with training (and the lack of it) in the past couple months. I realize it breaks the rule about blog post brevity, but I wanted to say every thing I did. Just think of it as a summary of every day of the last nine weeks. It’s brief in those terms :)
Even though I haven’t been running much since I strained my hip flexor in December, running has certainly been on my mind.
In December, I was home in Austin for Christmas break. That’s when my hip started hurting. I tried running through it for a week, but the soreness was getting stronger every day and I started taking days off. I tried cross training, lots of icing, ibuprofen, complete rest, strengthening and intermittent running over the course of the break. I was communicating with my athletic trainer frequently but there wasn’t much he could do from 90 miles away in Waco. The low point of this time was a day when it hurt to even freaking swim. Swimming isn’t supposed to hurt! It’s the break from running, isn’t it? I stayed hopeful though, knowing once I got back to Baylor I could handle the injury head on with the training staff.
In January, I went back to school. I could cross train (swim and ride my road bike) without pain, and tried running every few days. I also rehabbed at the training room with lots of stretching, muscle stimulation and strengthening exercises. I got an MRI and a diagnosis from a sports orthopedic doctor (thanks, Baylor Athletics!) who told me about the strain. He said I could train, but to let the pain be my guide. My coaches, trainers and I were confused about this injury. How could a muscle strain be that bad? It had been four weeks already. I wrestled with the decision of whether or not I should try to keep running with pain. Was I just being a wuss? What if I keep running and I hurt it worse? Hips are weird like that. Despite my best efforts at communicating symptoms and feelings while running, my trainer couldn’t tell me whether or not to run. I had to make the decision myself. One day I even went to the track and ran some 200 meter repeats at track practice, just to prove I was trying to make it work. I could do them but they felt awful! Yes, my legs could still run, and no, I wasn’t even limping. But it didn’t feel right, and it was way too early in the season to try to finish anything out. At that point, I decided I knew how my body felt while running, and I didn’t want to run the whole season this way. I know what it’s like to train and feel good (even in spite of minor aches and pains every runner experiences), and that wasn’t it.
That was a milestone day, complete with a passionate journal entry (in my on-paper journal) and near-tears in the training room when I sat surrounded by three trainers asking me just why I wasn’t going to keep trying to run. “It’s not like I don’t want to be able to train and do my best!”, I told them, “I just know that I can’t right now.” They weren’t judging me, but it is their job to keep athletes out at practice on the track. I didn’t have very apparent reasoning for why I couldn’t run, but they took my word as a seasoned athlete and let me be. As the weeks of non-productive-running dragged on, we decided I would redshirt (not compete) in the indoor track season that runs January-March.
I ran a little in January, starting with 20 minute jogs outside. We tried the alter-G treadmill (which reduces gravity’s effects on your legs while running, enabling runners with impact issues to continue training with less impact) but since my problem was a motion problem it didn’t really help. Probably the highlight of January running was a pain-free 20 minute run on a random 70-degree Friday afternoon. I went with a younger teammate, and we ran about 2 minutes-per-mile slower than normal. But it didn’t hurt!
In February, this month, I’ve been able to build pretty well. I’ve been taking it slowly, but I’ve run 5-6 days a week for 20-30 minutes at a time. Most of the runs feel alright, and a couple have been absolutely pain-free! Most importantly, despite the pain, I feel like myself out on the streets again. I’m running, and it feels close-to-normal. I still go to some practices, though I just run easy and have to cut it shorter than everyone else. Still, it’s nice to feel involved with the team. Oh, and another bonus of this month: we figured out that the strengthening exercises were kind of overkill, as in they were fatiguing my hip too much in addition to the running. So now on days when I run, I don’t have to go to rehab! This is awesome because rehab is really time-consuming.
WELL! Today was the best day I’ve had since before the injury! It was my third day in a row of running 40 minutes, which is quite substantial. Almost healthy. Yesterday my hip kind of hurt, but I stretched well and went to my yoga class. So today I started out with another teammate, and we ran two miles really easy. That was her second run of the day, so she stopped and I continued alone. It was 70 degrees again and sunny, and I ran to the track to say hi to my coach and show him I was, in fact, running. For the next 25 minutes, I kept expecting the hip pain to kick in, but it never did. I even picked it up to a sub-7:00 mile pace, and still felt great.
I’m not saying I’m recovered completely, but I certainly enjoyed feeling that way today.
That’s the thing – this whole injury forces me to take running one day at a time. I don’t know if I’m going to redshirt outdoor or not (possibly planning to stay a 5th year in college? Wow), but my fitness will become evident as I continue training.
I thought redshirting and not competing would be a bummer, but it actually hasn’t been that bad. I’m taking 15 hours this semester (which is a heavy load for me) and I like being able to focus on school. Plus I get off weekends, like, every weekend (what a concept!), which I’ve spent visiting friends and my boyfriend at other schools, and hosting my family here in Waco. Not having to worry about track meets and racing is relaxing too. I’d welcome that stress in my life right now, of course, but I don’t mind its absence.
And the biggest positives that have come out of the negative injury are the possibilities it’s opened up. I might do a 5th year of running if I redshirt this whole season! Since I’m graduating in four years, I could start my master’s while running for Baylor. If I don’t run outdoor season, I could even commit to study abroad this summer – something I’ve never been able to do because of conflicting dates. Wow, study abroad, I never dreamed I could do that! And then if I had a 5th year, I could get even stronger, set higher goals, for that last track season. The possibility is exciting.
I’m sorry I got hurt, but I’m not sorry for where I’m at now. I’m grateful to God for his orchestrating this whole thing. I didn’t know his plans in December and I still don’t really know them, but it’s alright. At this point, all roads lead to good places.
That’s how my running has been: I was at a low, but I’m on the upswing. Here’s to the [uncertain] future!