For anyone who has been injured, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve been struggling my way through the ‘comeback’ phase for about six weeks. Sometimes it almost feels easier to be sidelined with an injury, forced to cross train. As an ‘injured runner,’ the reality of actual running fitness is difficult to determine. All efforts are focused on avoiding discomfort at the site of the injury. As much as aqua jogging can be monotonous, the challenge is limited to my heart rate, the clock, and me. But as a runner returning to training, there are major hurdles to overcome…loss of fitness, limitations in training distance/time/effort, and fear of re-injury.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am overjoyed and tremendously grateful to be able to run again. The first time I took more than a walking stride, I had tears in my eyes. There is nothing that feeds my soul more or makes me feel freer than taking a few steps and then breaking into a run. But for this comeback from injury, as it has been coming back from injuries before, I am experiencing a steep curve in returning to running shape, to the level of strength and endurance that makes running feel free.
So as glorious and tear-jerking as those first few running strides felt, they also felt heavy and awkward. With stress fractures, it is important to pay attention to the site of the injury and to make sure that return to activity is not causing re-injury. But during those first few strides weeks of running, everything hurt. How could I possibly pay attention to my foot when all of my rested leg muscles were refusing to fire and I felt pain in my glute and low back and calf muscles?
So I remember, there is no miraculous moment when being injured and in pain gives way to running freely, and free from discomfort. There is a break-in period for remembering how to run. And when the running feels less awkward, and the right muscles start to fire, then there is hypersensitivity to the discomfort at the site of the injury. Our bodies and our minds create emotionally attachments to injuries and negative experiences. We store tension, not only in our shoulders and necks, but also throughout our physical selves.
As an athlete, there is an especially fine line between discomfort that is temporary and discomfort that will lead to the onset of an injury. Coming back from an injury, my immediate reaction to discomfort is fear of injury: the same injury, a new injury, it doesn’t matter. My mind takes over with fear of being hurt again.
It is not easy to find the balance between forging ahead and succumbing to twinges of pain and the fears that surface. But as I build back mileage and fitness, I have developed a new mantra I repeat to myself in the face of that fear: “I am strong, I am healthy, I am free…”
Well, and: “Come on pain and fear, I’m ready for some endurance and speed!”