When running tells you, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Six weeks ago, I got a call from my doctor on my way to the airport saying I would not be able to run my first marathon. The marathon I had been preparing for over the last 18 weeks. The marathon I had put so much dedication, thought, and hours into. I couldn’t hold back my tears; I was heartbroken. I was that girl at the airport pathetically  and awkwardly sobbing as onlookers wondered what was going in her life. No, my boyfriend did not just break up with me. Running broke up with me.

Let’s backtrack a bit to two weeks prior to that phone call. I had just finished my 12 mile “long run,” (runners’ speak for the longest training run of the week) the second-to-last long run before the race, and I felt a weird pain in the inside of my left ankle. I thought it was probably temporary; maybe I had pulled something during the run. I continued my training that week, and did a couple of 3 and 4 milers during the week and an 8 miler on the weekend. However, my ankle continued to hurt during each run. It wasn’t a throbbing pain– more like an ache or a sore, something noticeable but not noticeable enough to stop running. After I completed that last long run, the 8 miler, I decided that I should get my ankle checked out just in case. So, I made an appointment at an orthopedic clinic and met with a doctor, who told me that since I could walk/hop on my ankle with no problem I probably had tendonitis and not a stress fracture. I was relieved. He gave me the option to either take the risk and run the marathon, or not run the marathon and let my foot heal. I told him I would take the risk since I’ve been training for so long, and he wrote me a prescription to get an MRI in case it was a fracture (which would mean I wouldn’t be able to run the race).

I got the MRI that Thursday, and results were supposed to come in Friday– the day I was leaving for Madison, where the marathon was being held. I got the call from my doctor that evening on my way to Newark Airport, telling me the MRI showed a ‘stress reaction,’ which is a precursor to a stress fracture, and if I ran the marathon my foot would most likely break and I would end up on a boot for weeks. I was shocked. But my ankle barely even hurts, I thought. Do I really have to do what the doctor says? Why did this have to happen to me? Am I too weak of a runner to be able to get through marathon training injury-free? 

My mind raced with self-doubt and discouragement. I was so upset. I trained so hard for this, never skipping a run and completing the program just as Hal Higdon had laid out (excluding the last week since I was resting my ankle).

I told my friends, my mom, and my sister to explain the situation. They all gave me words of encouragement, telling me that it’s ok, I’ll be a stronger runner because of this, there are plenty more marathons to run, and it’s a good thing I got it checked out before because can you imagine if you got seriously hurt?

Their words really comforted me. Everything they told me was true. There are many more races I can train for, and during this time off I can build muscle, get stronger, and really let my legs rest from all the pounding and stress I had put on them during my months of running. Being in a boot in NYC would have been literal hell– commuting to/from work, going up/down stairs (I live on the 3rd floor of a walk up), going grocery shopping, etc– it all would be 100x more difficult with an injury. So, I decided to let myself cry it out, be upset for the next hour or so, and then shake it off. Things are always a lot worse than they seem, and once the shock wore off and I began to look at the situation more holistically, I realized this wasn’t so bad. I got a lot out of the training program, including the confidence to know that I can push myself to run really long distances, and, although it didn’t seem like it at the time, I knew it was not a total waste of time.

In the weeks since that day, I’ve been trying to maintain my fitness by biking a few days a week (two are usually longer rides, about an hour, and then a 20-30 minute ride on the other day), doing the stair climber/elliptical once or twice a week, and also weight training. Whenever I’m training for a race I don’t have enough time to fit in both muscle-specific weight lifting workouts (i.e. shoulder day, leg day, arm day, ab day, etc) and a run, so I end up doing full-body weight workouts along with cardio. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but now I’m conditioning 3-4 times a week, as opposed to 1-2 during training, and I can focus more on specific muscle groups instead of combining a bunch of exercises in order to fit everything into one workout. I’ve also never biked this frequently in my life, so it’s nice to get out of my comfort zone and see how I can push my body in ways other than running.

As positive as I’m trying to be and make the most out of this situation, there is still a voice in the back of my head telling me I’m just not made out to be a marathoner. What if I try to train for a marathon again and end up with the same injury? Or a different injury? What if this happens every time here on out? I try to push these negative thoughts out of my head, since I know stress fractures are very common among runners and people recover from them all the time, but I can’t seem to help it. I just want to prove myself wrong so I know once and for all that I am indeed capable of finishing a marathon.

I miss running so much and I still think about it everyday. Running broke up with me and now I can’t get him (it?) out of my head. Thankfully we will get back together soon. Next week marks six weeks of rest and I plan to slowly get back into it. I need to do some more research on how to properly rehab my foot and how to ease back into a regular running schedule. I’d love to hear suggestions/tips if you have any! :)



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