This isn’t my first time coming back from an injury. Last summer after running the Utah Valley Marathon, I took six weeks off to heal from a hurt foot. I’m still not entirely sure what the underlying cause of that injury was, but I did my best to stay off it and at the beginning of August, I was able to start running again.
I took it easy and ran slow and low mileage for a long, long time. I started this blog sometime in September last year, and that was when I had started to increase my mileage, after committing to a half-marathon in December and the Phoenix Marathon in February. Even still, I took it easy with my mileage and didn’t hit double digit runs until sometime in October.
Before that, any time I took time off running I came back gradually. I didn’t push pace or distance. I kept my miles between 3-4 each run and let myself come back slowly. I was always of the mindset that it should be a slow burn coming back from an injury. The last thing I wanted to do was push myself too much, too soon and injure myself again. I would read blogs where runners coming back from illness, injury, or a significant amount of time off would suddenly be running double digit miles just days (or what seemed like days) after returning to their shoes.
And I could NEVER understand how they had that endurance. It was always a mystery to me. Coming back to running after a significant amount of time off has always been hard to do for me. My endurance always seems to be completely shot. Maybe that’s due to the altitude in Flagstaff (7,000 ft is no joke)–whereas others are running at much lower altitudes. Regardless, I’ve always given myself a break and let myself come back slowly.
Not this time. In the last two weeks I’ve pushed myself to gain as much endurance back as possible, pushing myself through 7 awful, painful miles on Saturday. While I was doing this I kept asking myself “Why?!” Why wasn’t I okay running 4 miles for the day and working on gaining my endurance gradually as I always have? The answer isn’t a mystery: I have a race this Saturday.
When I signed up for this race, I was originally going to run the 27k (16.8 miles). I was pretty excited about it–it’s my first trail race, and it’s a distance I genuinely enjoy running. 16 seems to be my sweet spot during marathon training–it’s far, but it’s not too far to have to commit to serious long runs ever weekend. After taking a little bit of time off to recover from the Phoenix Marathon (and by that, I mean significantly dropping my mileage), I was beginning to increase my mileage again and I was feeling good. In fact, I was out for a 9 mile run when I fell and sprained my ankle. You all know the story–I spent the next six weeks nursing my ankle back to health. I took it easy: focusing on pilates and ab work, and then yoga and certain strength workouts when my ankle was able to tolerate weight again.
On the whole, I let cardio completely drop from my regime. When I was able to get my running shoes on again 2.5 weeks ago, that came back to bite me in the butt. Running has been hard. I’m out of shape (for a distance runner), and it’s been a struggle. I began to question whether pushing myself to run the race was a good idea and emailed the race director to inquire about a refund for medical reasons. I was informed that I couldn’t have a refund, but I could have a credit (for half of what I paid for the race) to put towards another race the company puts on.
I considered it, but Aravapai Running is mainly in Phoenix. If I took the credit, I’d still be paying an additional 50% of what I already paid, then driving the two hours to Phoenix and spending the money on gas, a hotel, food, etc. When it came down to it, it was silly to back out, because I’m cheap and I’ve already spent the money to run on Saturday. So, I responded that instead of taking the credit, I’d like to move down to the 13k (8ish miles) for the race.
So, that means that I’ve pushed myself harder then I normally would have coming back from a break. My ankle feels good, overall. There’s been a few runs when it’s been a bit sore, so the next time I go out, I tape it up, but on the whole, it’s felt good. I don’t feel like I’ve been overdoing it, but I also know that if I didn’t have the pressure of this race in a few days, I would be taking it way, way easier.
Which begs the question: How Soon is Too Soon? What’s a better way of going about getting back from an injury: going balls to the wall and doing everything you can to get back to it as quickly as possible, or taking it slow and breaking yourself back in?
After experiencing both, I have to say, I think it’s really up to how you’re feeling. Great advice, right? Physically, the mileage doesn’t seem to be affecting me too much. I’m hungry again and my legs are feeling fatigued (I felt the glorious soreness yesterday at work and it made me so happy), but overall I feel good (I actually just typed ‘food’. I may or may not be hungry..again)! My mental game is a different story, however. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve taken it so slow to get back in the past, but I am so full of self-doubt right now. Doubt that I can finish a run, negative thoughts about my body and even though I’ve waited six weeks to be out running, I’ve had to push myself out the door several times to run.
Honestly, I wish I had dropped out of the race. I considered it again early this week, and decided against it (again), because now I’m determined to conquer it, along with my negative mental thoughts. I know that not having the pressure of needing to be in shape to race so soon after an injury would have helped me come back a little stronger, but, I also know I would have let myself float on 3-4 miles/run for too long. Even though it hurts, it does feel good to be back to a good amount of mileage so soon after not running.
All runners suffer from periods of self-doubt…usually accompanied by a looming race date. I’ve experienced it with the taper crazies, and usually toward the middle of a long training cycle. It’s part of the rollercoaster ride that is this insane sport we do. I’m not writing this post to garner sympathy–but to be honest and say that I’ve been having a hard time. I thought not running was hard, but feeling like I need to be in a certain amount of shape by a specific deadline has been really stressful.
So, my plan for Saturday is this: do everything I can to have fun. I may or may not run with my Garmin. I like using it for mileage reasons–so I know where I am and how far I have left to go. On the other hand, I’m afraid that having it will cause me to push my pace and not enjoy the race as much. So, that will probably be a game time decision. It’s supposed to be potential stormy and probably quite muddy. It’s my first trail race and I just want to enjoy it. No matter how much I have to walk, I’ll finish it. My only performance-related goal is that I hope I finish in under an hour and a half. Normally, I’d say that wouldn’t be an issue, but with the elevation changes, I’m not entirely sure how quickly I’ll be moving…
If you stuck with me through this post, bless you. Thanks for sticking with it as I blathered on and on. I was voicing these concerns to J the other day and he said to me “How many people can go out and run 8 miles? Not many. Enjoy the day and the fact that you get to be out there doing it.” Such a wise man he is.
How long does it normally take you to feel ‘normal’ after time off running? Any advice for overcoming the self-doubt?