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Stronger Through Injury

Last year, I had my first big injury – a stress fracture in my left calcaneus – just 2 weeks shy of my second marathon. I was told this injury would only take 6-8 weeks to recover from, but it has carried on for 9.5 months.

First MRI showing a 15mm calcaneal stress fracture
The Injury - a 15mm stress fracture visible at right in this first MRI.

In the beginning, this injury felt like the end of my world. If I'm being honest, it felt that way until recently. I have had plenty of minor injuries but none that I couldn’t find a way to work around. This was the first time I had to stop everything. I mean pretty much everything that involved being on my feet, which is a lot as a very active and busy mom who thrives on movement. While I had to stop it felt like everyone around me got to keep going. I had to watch friends posting their amazing runs and race photos from races that I was supposed to be running. I have watched friends and teammates go in and then out of injury while I continued to be injured.

I kept reading in books or hearing from other athletes who have come through their own injuries that they are thankful for them. Because of their injury, they became stronger. I was not feeling stronger or finding any positive in my injury. Instead, I felt angry, less-than, depressed, embarrassed, and broken. I blamed myself for causing this injury and felt like a victim of my own self doing. Despite trying to make myself put a positive spin on the situation, I was so hyper focused on the present and all of the things I could not do. I just could not wrap my brain around how fracturing my foot and having to stop running could possibly be a good thing. I needed to zoom out, I needed a perspective change. I started with listening to podcasts and reading the book Rebound, a book my coach sent to me with a bookmark he put inside that said “BELIEVE!."

This book did not instantly fix my mindset. I still rolled my eyes a little when the authors would try to point out the positives in an athlete's injury but it helped me to learn what I needed to move forward. I needed to take charge, to go from victim to captain of my own ship. At the time I still didn’t know exactly what my injury was, just that I was in a lot of pain and I could not run. The first step was to find a different doctor who would help me get a diagnosis and a game-plan. Then I ran into a roadblock when my insurance company denied my MRI claim THREE times!

No one will fight for you as hard as you will fight for yourself.

This is where I learned my first lesson in advocating for myself, something I would normally shy away from but have now had to do many times through my journey. No one will fight for you as hard as you will fight for yourself – and I had to fight for what I knew I needed. I was on the phone with my doctors office, physical therapist office, insurance company and the MRI approval company every day for the 3 weeks it took to get the imaging I knew I needed for diagnosis. This was my first big win. I had a stress fracture, but I successfully fought for myself and I was proud! With the official diagnosis, I could move towards recovery. I was fitted for a walking boot which felt like both a safe place and a prison. This is where I learned to celebrate the smaller wins. Each day and each week that I made it through in that boot I celebrated being one day closer to recovery. I didn’t want to just make it through though, I wanted to take charge and address any potential contributing factors to my injury so that it wouldn’t happen again. That meant bringing attention to my nutrition and recovery. The short version is that I was not properly fueling my body for performance or for it to be able to recover from the demands I was placing on it. I took this opportunity to face this long-term hurdle and worked with a registered dietician so that I can not only perform at my best but give my body the nutrients it needs to recover.

I needed to take charge, to go from victim to captain of my own ship. I learned to focus on what I can do, and I can do way more than I ever thought!

I was given instructions for what activities I could and could not do. Let's not focus on the latter though. This is where I learned to focus on what I can do, and I can do way more than I ever thought! I was told I could bike so I decided that if biking was what I could do then I was just going to get really good at biking! I started easy on an indoor bike at my gym and slowly branched out to riding a real bike outdoors as I gained confidence.

I soon learned I could use biking not only as a way to maintain some level of fitness, but I could use it to have adventures and test my limits in new ways. Just a couple months into learning to cycle I rode 117 miles on the Northern Rail Trail, and then had an amazing 205 mile adventure ride crossing over three states, from Maine to Lake Champlain. Biking just 30 minutes before this injury was hard! Without my injury, I never would have taken to the bike, had these amazing experiences or learned that my limits are much further out than I thought.

It has taken time and a lot of ups and downs, but I can finally say that there have been so many positives to my injury.

Some of the bigger positive takeaways from my injury are personal ones.

For the first time in my life I am not afraid to stick up for myself and what I need. I have learned to celebrate even the smallest of wins, change the narrative in my head and write my own positive script. I stopped being a victim, took ownership for my role in this injury and took back my power to heal now and be healthy for my future. I’ve learned to persevere.

I learned a new skill and had the opportunity to take on new adventures that I would not otherwise have taken. These adventures also showed me that while I am unable to run, I am still an athlete just getting started towards my athletic potential. How can I not be excited about this?

The perspective change, mental tools and taking charge of my nutrition are all going to make me a stronger person and runner as I get ready to return to running!



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