At the beginning of the year I flew around the Country to Capital course, I was in great shape, not super fit, but really good, strong winter fitness, I hadn’t run over 60 miles in training, clocked a couple of 20 mile long runs in the mud, but mostly had been doing lots of steady runs with some short intervals thrown in. I felt that this was going to be my year and was so pumped at all the races I had planned. And then slowly this pesky injury creeped up on me, taking over my normal life, then my running life and it has now completely taken over every waking moment of my day.
Last week, after finally getting back into some running, building my mileage up from 1.5 mile jogs to a couple of pretty decent grass reps session and I was feeling OK. The foot wasn’t pain free, but it wasn’t hurting like before just aching and a bit stiff….then BAM, I woke up and couldnt walk. The pain was so bad it hurt sitting down, I had been hiding this from my husband as I didn’t want him to be cross or disappointed and in truth I had been hiding the pain from myself. Getting so used to the fact that I was always running in pain, but this was exhausting. I am so drained from juggling clients, kids, life and simultaneously trying to force my body into shape because I am so desperate to race.
This week I finally asked myself why? Why am I doing this? How long am I going to go on pretending this is all ok that I can manage this all until I crack. The foot needs your attention, it doesn’t need to be swam, biked, strengthened into submission. It needs rest, sofa time and a bit of listening to. Stop slamming the door on what you know is the truth and listen to yourself. Jump off this merry go round you have got stuck on, trying to hold onto fitness, trying to get fit for a race, trying, anything to be back to how you were. Because you are never going to be that athlete again. You are never going to be the athlete who had never had an injury, who bounced back from having two kids and ran ultras whilst stopping to feed the babies half way through. Who didn’t need to do strength work, stretch, could run and run with barely a niggle. Life is different now and its time to adapt. Stop and Listen.
So this is what I have told myself. Start to become the athlete you are going to be next year Now. The athlete who has hit rock bottom, who without running has felt an irrational sense of loss and identity. Stop letting the person I was self destruct the person I can become. There is no going back I need to restart somewhere different and be someone different.
This someone different needs to start by listening and learning. Being patient and most of all being kind to myself. Instead of seeing this injury as a sign of weakness that requires me to punish my body, I must see it as a sign that my body needs a little time to heal. It doesn’t need to be pushed in other directions, forced into submission. It needs a little bit of nurturing, it needs me to stop and let it refresh all by itself.
I have talked before about believing in myself, but somewhere in the last few months I have lost that belief, convincing myself that without my running I am worth nothing, merely a cleaning, cooking, clearing up machine to two very demanding children. Without races and competition to reinforce this believe I have somehow got swallowed up in the day to day mundaneness of life at home and lost my identity as a person. Believing that without my value as a runner I have no place in life. The desperation to get back out there competing has completely overtaken the sensible part of my head telling me that the world will not stop if I can’t go jogging round the fields. I had totally underestimated and misunderstood that the mental side of injury in someways is way more powerful, painful and destructive than the actual physical damage you have inflicted on your body.
The same mental toughness that we find out on the trails, that pushes us to limits that most normal people will never achieve is capable of allowing us to drive ourselves into holes and then keep on digging because we don’t let the sensible side of our brain pipe up, if it did we wouldn’t do what we do.
So mentally I am forcing myself to heal. I am forcing myself to face life with NO exercise whatsoever for the next couple of weeks. And you know what? The world still goes on. I still wake up every morning, the kids still love me just as much, the husband still asks me a 100 times where something is before he looks, life just carries on. Really who cares if I am running? Only me. My kids don’t want me sad, limping and spending my entire time on google trying to diagnose my injury. They want a Mum who is fit and healthy and happy. So I am pressing restart on 2014, starting to get ready for 2015 instead. Beginning to create the new athlete I am going to be. Yes stronger, but mentally so much tougher. The ability to suffer has never left me, but the desire to achieve which I know sometimes faltered will never leave me now.
So when I see you, please don’t tell me I will come back stronger, that rest is the thing I need and that all the best athletes carry injury at some point. I will want to punch you in the face. Please don’t ask me how my foot is or whether I am running. Instead I want to hear all about your running adventures, I want to hear how you smashed out your hill session. I want to hear how you ran through the dawn and into the dusk. I want to hear how you have found a new trail for us to run on, that you have races planned and goals to achieve. I want to know that the running world is out there, waiting for me whenever I am ready, just let me get set and I will be there again, pinning on that number, kissing the kids goodbye and getting ready to fly.