In It For the Long Run

We all love a good underdog story. We love to watch the weak or underestimated rise up victoriously as David slays Goliath or Rudy sacks the quarterback in the final play of the game. We see ourselves in these underdogs, and we want to believe that we, too, could rise victoriously against all odds.

Two weeks ago my foot started hurting, and since then I’ve scaled back my training significantly.  I’ve hardly run at all, and instead have focused on swimming to let my foot heal. In my mind, I visualize myself running strong and pain-free as I continue working toward my goal of finishing (and hopefully setting a PR) at the Eugene Marathon.

The closer the race gets, the less likely this fantasy becomes. 

My foot still hurts, and the pain has shifted over the last two weeks. I initially met with one doctor who gave me a diagnosis and advice for recovery, and yesterday after the pain became worse I met with a different doctor who suspects it may be more severe. I’ll meet with yet another specialist this week for even more focused feedback, but right now 26.2 seems beyond what my body can realistically handle.

Part of my brain can rationalize that there will always be another race, and a short-term goal isn’t worth jeopardizing my ability to run for years to come. I know this part of my brain will ultimately win and with time I’ll understand that this was the right and rational choice. A day will come where my mind is zen and I have the peace and clarity to see this as nothing but a temporary setback.

Today is not that day. Right now I’m just so fucking sad. After leaving the doctor’s office with crutches, I sat in my car and cried. Waves of self-pity have continued to hit every few hours. Life isn’t fair. I’ve been working for months towards this specific goal, and to lose it with the end in sight is demoralizing.

On especially long runs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the distance, so I put on my blinders and just focus on the mile I’m in. When I complete one mile, then and only then can I think about the next. One of the greatest joys of this training cycle has been building friendships with other runners, and yesterday I needed that community more than ever. After reaching out to a friend to express my sadness, she told me to take that same advice that has gotten me through so many long runs: just focus on the day you are in. Today I focus on rest, ice, compression, and elevation. These are the things within my control, and they will get me (at least marginally) closer to my goal of running pain-free. Tomorrow I can call my doctor to schedule another appointment, and once I have more information, I can make a decision at that point.

Who knows, I might be getting ahead of myself. A lot can happen in a week, and it’s still within the realm of possibility that the trusty old RICE method will work its magic. Perhaps I’m nearly healed, and in a few days I’ll be able to run 26.2 as planned.

But bit by bit, I’m making my peace with withdrawing from the marathon. Bodies can only take so much, and sometimes in the process of pushing our limits, we push a bit too far. Muscling through an injury isn’t brave. It isn’t badass. It isn’t strong or heroic or any of the other glamorous adjectives that we like to attach to underdog stories. Pain is not just a barrier to overcome; it’s information that something in the body needs to change. As much as it breaks my heart, I’d be a fool to ignore this out of pride.

If nothing else, being this sad has clarified how much running really means to me. This isn’t a mindless hobby I do out of habit or boredom. Running fuels me on a deeper level, and I feel aimless without it. If just a few weeks without running has me feeling this low, I don’t even want to fathom how I’d feel if I were to force myself into a more severe injury that would take me out indefinitely.

So now I take it one day at a time. Maybe I get good news. Maybe I don’t. Maybe next Sunday I run the race of my life. Maybe next Sunday I hide under a quilt and cry. Today I’m doing what I can, but it’s ultimately out of my hands.

I may not make it to the finish line (or even the start), but the lessons learned from training are a prize all their own. I dreamt big and set a goal while forging lasting friendships on the trail. No doubt I’ll cry even more if I need to withdraw, but regardless of what happens, the last few months have been worth every mile.

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