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August 30, 2011

The Long Road Back

by Anne Paddock
Warning:  If you’re not a runner, the following blurb may bore you out of your mind as only runners talk about times and injuries incessantly.

For most people, life gets easier as we get older because years of living have given us knowledge and experience. But, staying fit doesn’t get easier as we get older and I find that ironic – just when we get our heads together, our bodies want to do less. When I wake up in the morning and get out of bed, my first thought is usually “there is no way I can run today” as I feel stiff and a bit creaky. But, after a cup of coffee and loosening up, I’m ready to go but it’s never easy.

Last autumn, a friend of mine talked me into running a half marathon – 13.1 miles.  I had never run more than 10 miles but thought I could do the race if I didn’t run too fast.  I ran the 13.1 miles and finished in 1 hour, 53 minutes – disappointed that I didn’t run the race faster but happy to have finished as the last three miles were pure hell. Music, counting to myself, and the shame in quitting kept me going as my husband and daughter were waiting at the finish line.

I finished the race knowing that if I trained better I could improve my performance in the future. So, I started running 30-32 miles a week for the next eight months in preparation for a half marathon race in early June. Alternating between speed work, tempo runs, and the weekly long endurance run, I kept track of how I was progressing by wearing a heart monitor and keeping a running journal:  a spreadsheet with distance, pace, average heart rate, maximum heart rate, and temperature – talk about approaching a run from an MBA perspective. And, I took an ice bath after every run to reduce the chance of injury, and limited my running to 4 days a week. My goal was to run a half marathon in 1 hour, 40 minutes which is an average per mile pace of 7 minutes, 35 seconds.

In late May, I had just finished an 11 mile run in 1 hour, 24 minutes which was right on my goal pace for the upcoming race, when I felt pain in my right foot.  I iced my foot and rested for 2 days and then decided to go out for a 5 mile run.  I was 2 miles into the run when I felt excruciating pain on the top of my right foot and since I was in the middle of nowhere, I turned around and ran back putting the weight on the outer part of my right foot.  Once home, I packed my foot in ice but when the swelling didn’t subside, I knew there was something wrong.

The next day, I was in the office of a sports orthopedic surgeon who told me I fractured my second metatarsal (the long bone second from the left) – a stress fracture that would require me to wear a portable cast for the next month.  The prescription:  take anti-inflammatory medication, apply ice packs, keep the foot immobile and elevated, and no running for 6 weeks.  I had a 95% chance of a full recovery if I let the bone heal.  No race. No running. Big disappointment. My body betrayed me (or did my brain betray my body?).

I wore the portable cast for 4 weeks but found sitting still very difficult;  I was up and about more than I should have been.  But, I did not run for 7 very long weeks because I could feel the fracture in the foot and I wanted to be able to run again:  If I started running too soon, I was afraid the metatarsal would break and then I would really be out of the game. The wisdom acquired through the years gave me the discipline to wait but as I sat on the sidelines, I secretly pined for the road, envying the runners I passed while driving the car, wishing I was them.  I knew I was losing my fitness as the running magazines told me that after 5 days of no running, fitness wanes so the road back would be long. I just didn’t realize how long or humbling the process would be.

This morning was a glorious day to run:  53 sunny degrees.  I ran 5 miles in just over 42 minutes – an 8.30 mile pace and although my heart monitor told me I was working hard, my emotions were dominated by feelings of disappointment:  6 minutes slower than this past Spring (but 3 minutes faster than 2 weeks ago).  I’ve accepted, albeit reluctantly that I can’t run greater distances for now as I have to slowly increase the mileage. There is no pain in my foot but there are nerves reminding me the foot is still healing. So, I’m focusing more on speed but I am frustrated because I’ve been back at running for a month now and although I’m getting faster,  the speed isn’t returning as quickly as I expected.  Am I a fast turtle or a slow rabbit? Time will tell.

If I didn’t know better, I would say my heart and my foot are conspiring to keep me off the road.  My husband reminds me that being able to run is ultimately what is important and I try to remember his words. But, when I set out for a run and have my i-pod on,  the music makes me feel differently. Hearing Adele singing “Chasing Pavements” or C Lo Green singing “F*%# You” makes me feel like I’m fighting the good fight;  their lyrics of defiance push me forward on the long road ahead. 

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