I’m running again. It’s wonderful. I’m slow as ever and turn red faster than usual, but I’m doing the damn thing. That said, rebuilding is a humbling process. Taking a few months off has me back at square one, and starting over is rough. I survived the eight week healing period (which actually ended up closer to twelve), and now I’m in the mushy nebulous reintroduction phase that could take anywhere from six more weeks until the rest of my life.
This April I injured my foot, and it took me out of commission and derailed my plans to run the Eugene Marathon. I took some time off. I rested. I listened. After working with doctors and a physical therapist, I was able to run again. Great! But recovery can be a bit of a trap. You do the work and then you start to feel better, and then since you feel better, you think you can get by without PT.
But you can’t.
As with most things, I learned this lesson the hard way. Old habits have a way of creeping back in, and given the choice between spending half an hour doing bridges and single-legged squats every day and, well, not doing that, I chose the latter.
Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t my wisest move.
My toes started hurting again, but now I knew the warning signs. One upside of making bad decisions is knowing when not to make them again. I took a few days off, got back into swimming, and recommitted doing the work. The actual work. The single-legged squat work. The kettlebell work. The slow, tedious, thankless work of physical therapy.
If you’ve spent any amount of time with me in the last few months, you’ve heard me bitch about PT.
PT exercises are not fun. They’re not supposed to be. They’re a carefully calculated series of movements that train and develop the muscles and fine motor skills of our hips or glutes or knees so they can move efficiently and pain-free. These itty bitty motions can have an enormous impact on health and comfort. Fantastic! Problem solved!
But you have to actually do them.
The catch to this miracle solution is that physical therapy is boooooooooring. I’ve tried everything I can think of to make the process more enjoyable — bribing myself with TV, podcasts, Lizzo, treats afterward –- and while they make the experience marginally better than Lizzo-less squats, it’s still a fairly unpleasant part of the day. However, turns out being in pain and not being able to run is significantly less pleasant, so I’m adding this to the likes of flossing my teeth or eating kale where PT is just a nonnegotiable that I need to do. Health isn’t always fun, but being unhealthy is infinitely worse. PT is medicine, and I’m grateful to have learned the boring, minor motions that make the rest of my body function like a body.
When training for anything previously, I’ve loved the Prepare-Perform-Release cycle, but that isn’t the case now. There is no finish line. There is no end game. I’ve gradually built up to running three to five miles a couple times a week, and I’m ecstatic about it. Three miles is so much more than the zero I was running in May! As tempting as it is to set my sights on another marathon, I’m keeping my blinders on. I’m running. It isn’t hurting. This is good. This is great.
Over the last few months I’ve worked through injury and recovery, and I’ve come to see how insanely lucky I am to have been able to run all the miles I have. Running has helped me explore, it’s helped me be healthy, it’s helped me make friends, and it’s helped me feel alive.
These last few months, I’ve also come to see that nothing in the future is guaranteed. I was running strong until I wasn’t. Seemingly out of the blue, I lost my biggest outlet, and I’ve had to navigate a new way forward.
Recovery is a beast all its own. I’ve been here before and I know I will get through it again, but no matter how I’ve tried to reframe the narrative, this process is hard. I miss running long distances. I miss racing. I miss having hours to myself on the trail. I’m learning as I go, but no matter what I know that I need to do the work to keep moving forward.
Bit by bit, I’m learning to adjust (and readjust, and re-readjust) my expectations and be grateful for all the things my can do instead of stressing about what it can’t. Maybe I make a full recovery and return to running regular marathons. Maybe I don’t. There is a wide range of ways that I can keep running in my life, and it’s just as valid if it’s not 26.2. I’m not writing off the possibility of running another marathon, but if six is what my lifetime holds, that’s six more than a lot of people do, and I’m proud of every last one of them.
Time takes time. There is no shortcut. This is my life now — a life that includes a little bit of running a lot of single-legged squats. And also some whining.