Stay off Strava: the rollercoaster ride of an injury

It was just a short easy run. Our big race was over and we were enjoying a few weeks of easy. My friends and I, having just finished a swim, set off on a 5 mile run. We ran together, joking and reliving all the fun moments of the Ironman 70.3 we had all completed just two weeks earlier. On a long flat section of sidewalk, I stepped on a rock and slipped off of the sidewalk which was raised about three inches off of the ground. My ankle twisted off the sidewalk and I fell, seemingly in slow motion, down. All the way down. And in that quick few seconds, my life changed.

When I was young I would run with my dad around the neighborhood. It was usually just a loop around the block, which I’m sure was painfully slow for him. As I got older, friends and other activities took over and the runs ended, but I never did forget that feeling of being outside, the sun and wind on my face, as I moved forward.

Life moved on and one day I looked up and I was a newlywed who had gained a lot of weight. That happens when you eat exactly what your 20-something husband eats! So, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to only drink diet drinks and to run every day. And, as can only happen to someone in their early 20s, it worked. I lost the newlywed weight and gained a running obsession.

But now, here I was, all those years later, with a sprained ankle. The fall left me with a black and blue lump on my right ankle the size of a baseball. I could barely walk! Then, two days after the fall, I boarded a plane with my family to travel around Europe for 10 days. I spent the trip hobbling around in my compression socks and brace. Just the look I was going for on the streets of Milan!

Needless to say, my ankle was still swollen when we returned home. I managed to get off of it for a few days and the swelling finally went down some. Deciding that my ankle looked better, I got right back into my training because I had another triathlon coming up in a month. I ran and biked and strength trained with my brace. My ankle was feeling a little better, but the left side of my back began to hurt. It was just a little pain, I reasoned with myself, I can work through it.

The final straw came during a bike ride on beautiful late June morning. We had begun our ride in the murky pre-dawn light to beat the heat. It was a beautiful sunrise and I was admiring it when my bike hit a pothole. The bike listed hard to the side from the impact and I tensed my whole body to keep from falling. A sharp spasm ripped down my back and left leg, taking my breath away. I finished the ride but, when I got off of the bike I could barely walk. My back hurt and I felt pain and numbness all the way down my left leg. Finally I took the hint and ceased all activities.

A trip to the doctor a few days later revealed that I had a herniated disk that was pinching a nerve brought on from overcompensating on my left side due to the sprained right ankle. Very common, I was told, as the doctor prescribed me a high dose NSAID, physical therapy, and rest.

Rest! It’s just not something I do well. I have trouble sitting still. But I really didn’t have a choice and I could tell it was needed. I hurt!

It wasn’t all bad. I got to sleep in past 4:20am on weekdays for the first time in a long time. And on one unseasonably cool morning, my husband and I took a long walk around the neighborhood just enjoying the sunrise and each other. Mornings definitely slowed down for me. Plus, I found an amazing physical therapist who I will go to forever!

But I missed it! I have worked out in the morning for nearly two decades now and, more recently, have consistently been training for something. I had a number of races planned and everything was now on hold. I felt as if my identity was slipping.

Mornings would find me a little depressed. Depressed because I wasn’t able to do what I have always done, but also, I suspect, because my brain was missing that shot of endorphins it got each morning. I could really tell that I was just a little down compared to days when I do exercise. There is really no doubt in my mind now as to what a strong positive effect exercise has on mental health!

I also became lonely because my friends whom I train with were moving on. They were getting stronger and faster and completing lots of “fun” workouts. They were competing in races while I was home completing my daily strength workout from the physical therapist; just not the same!

There finally reached a point when I had to get off social media. No, not Instagram or Facebook, but Strava! I would look and see all of the long runs or fast swim times or bike rides through beautiful countryside that everyone was doing, and become so sad. Definitely had FOMO!

I wish this post was about how I was past all of that now, fully healed, stronger than ever, and have just completed a full Ironman or something like that! But it’s not. I’m still stuck, slogging through an injury.

I was finally cleared to slowly get back into things. Swim, slowly run/walk, and try the spin bike. This is where I’m at now. I was so excited to get back into it, but it I’ve found that it’s just not the same. I’m slower, things hurt, I can’t keep up, and I’m not “allowed” to do as much as I want to do. It’s tough to accept, especially with running; my first love. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m not going to be able to do the races I had planned to do this year. I’m not in the shape I was just two months ago and it’s going to take awhile to get there again.

This was not the summer I thought it would be, which has been very rough on my type-A, highly competitive personality. Instead of long runs in the cool of the morning or bike rides through the beautiful Tennessee hills, my days have been filled with doctors and MRIs and physical therapy. I’ve become a person who talks about her medical issues- yuck! But it’s also been a lesson in slowing down and rest and priorities. I know I’ll heal and get stronger and compete again, so I’m trying to embrace right now, enjoy my summer as it is, and rest. I swear I really am trying!

And, yes, it still hurts to go on Strava because I really do have amazingly fast and strong friends!!