It is a beautiful fall evening and I am home in bed with a book, nestled in my 2013 Army Ten Miler sweatshirt, having done nothing since 11am except watch a movie on the couch.
To some this might sound lame. To others, heaven. For me, it depends on the day. Some days this is all I want in the world – me time, relaxation, a book, a movie, maybe some ice cream or hot cocoa, depending on the weather outside. Other days, when I have no choice, I find it harder to appreciate. Who knows — maybe if I could walk comfortably right now I’d still choose to be at home alone in bed. But there’s not much I can do right now. I limp everywhere I go. Even going from my room to the kitchen for more water is a chore.
Before yesterday things seemed like they were 90% better. I could walk, take the stairs, swing my legs in and out of my car without thinking, when 5 days earlier, getting in the car was almost impossible, and moving my right foot from the gas to the brake was cause for a gasp at the sharp pain in my right hip. But yesterday at work I was walking without a limp, bringing my knee to my chest with hardly any trouble, even balancing and bending at the knee on the right. So I felt optimistic. I’d do a couple miles at a very easy pace to remind my body about running.
I set the treadmill for an almost 12 minute per mile pace and within four steps had to pull the emergency stop. It was excruciating to run and land on my right foot. Pain shot up through my whole leg and exploded in my right hip.
I began to panic. It’s a fracture. I thought it was a strain but it must be a stress fracture. The Internet said that’s 6 weeks of no running and then 3 months of physical therapy. I can’t run the 10K tomorrow. I was supposed to run a half marathon tomorrow! I thought I’d at least be better for the 10K so fuck I signed up for a half marathon for next weekend instead! What was I thinking?! FUCK MY MARATHON IS IN 4 WEEKS. That’s it, no marathon. So much money wasted. So much excitement and enthusiasm for marathon training for nothing, no marathon.
I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t let myself. I yanked my keys back off the wall of the gym and limped out to my car, fighting between panic and despair and just being pissed. Pissed at myself, mostly, and pissed that I took on more than I can chew and pissed that I can’t chew it. Pissed for not seeing a doctor sooner, for not taking my own injury seriously, pissed for not doing the strength training that could have prevented this anyway that I used to be so preachy about. Every time I thought of the words “Marine Corps Marathon” tears threatened my eyes but I couldn’t quite accept “nope” just yet. Pissed won out over despair and I resolved that the money I spent to sign up for the Clarendon Day 10K would not go totally wasted. People walk 10K’s right? It didn’t hurt to walk. Only to run. I resolved to call a physical therapist and/or get an X-ray ASAP and even stopped by a Righttime Medical Center on my way home from the gym. Their sign said “SPORTS INJURIES” and then they told me they couldn’t do anything for a hip so I stormed out after asking them “then what the hell do you do for sports injuries?”
Ask me if I feel bad today about calling BS on advertising help for “sports injuries” without the ability to X-Ray the most core part of an athlete.
Every PT I looked up online was already closed for the day, it being Friday evening, so I requested an appointment through an online form, left a voicemail for another place, put my bathing suit on at home, and went right back out to the Aquatic Center.
I went to the Aquatic Center on Monday, too, and did water jogging in the shallow area because the deep water area wasn’t open and the lady at the front asked me skeptically where my “weights” were. I assumed this was the equipment needed to stay afloat. So I stuck to the shallow. My hip did feel better after I did the water jogging and ended it with positioning my injured hip directly in front of a hot tub jet. I was worried, though, that running in the shallow end wasn’t safe because it was still putting some impact through my feet up through my leg, as I had felt a few jolts in a few moments while running. I decided to rest for the next few days, and every day felt better, and I continued to ice my hip on and off.
But on Friday I was determined. “Is the deep water section open?” I asked the teenage boy working the front desk. “Uh, I think the alcove is,” he said, pointing to it on the map. “Can you just tell me which way to walk to get to that part? That map is… busy.” He pointed to the “alcove” through the window and asked me if I had “the weights.” I replied “nope” shortly and got on the elevator down one floor to the ladies’ locker room, realizing I hadn’t brought a towel or a lock for my locker. Oh well. Not being dry when I left the pool was the least of my problems today.
Normally I need to ease into a pool one body part at a time, but on Friday I was so pissed that my stupid hip wasn’t doing what I wanted to that I jumped straight into the deep water section like punishment for a body that wasn’t cooperating. Fuck the floats, I swam/ran back and forth the long length of the pool for 30 minutes. I had to tilt my head back most of the time when doing the running part to keep my nose above water, and swam a few laps just to see how long it took me in my untaught, uncoached freestyle stroke I’d have to use if I had to save myself from drowning, and found I’m not a terrible swimmer. Hey, I thought. Maybe if this whole running thing has gone to shit I can use all the money I spend on races just to buy an annual pool membership and become a really awesome swimmer. I loved the feeling of my arms burning with every dive my hand did through the freestyle stroke. I loved the feeling of being tired and heaving for air without sweating.
Eventually the draw of the jacuzzi was too much so I got out of the pool and made my way over to the hot tub. My mind was still racing with alternatives depending on whatever specialist or doctor I see has to say about what I did to my hip, how to fix it, and whether or not I should run a marathon. I decided to scrap the 10K and show up early the next morning and walk the 5K instead. At least then I’d get a shirt out of it. And some answers to my mind about whether I still have 3 miles in me if I had to.
I closed my eyes and put my forehead on my hands while I let the hot water stream onto my hip crease. When I opened them, I just stared.
I play this game with myself sometimes when I feel myself starting to sink into depression and despair. It’s called “Name the Good Things.” I cannot tell you how hard it was to push out all the thoughts of the money spent on the Nashville trip I wasn’t on, the registration for next weekend’s half I won’t be able to do, the races I have lined up that even if I am allowed to participate, I will not be able to give my best, everything I’m capable of having come this far in training. I’ll still likely be in rehab, or afraid of re-injuring myself even if I feel 100%. This isn’t when I sprained my ankle in March — I could run then, it didn’t hurt after an initial ache for the first quarter mile, it was just orders to stay off it until the swelling was all gone. But I could do the races I’d spent money to sign up for, they just weren’t my best. But I did them.
This morning I showed up to the Clarendon Day 5K start line knowing I was telling myself to walk but the previous night’s attempt to run had already fired up my hip and I’m an impatient person. I found Courtney and Julie and was immensely jealous that they could run. Neither of them were shooting for a PR as they got to do the Clarendon Day Double, which was the 5K followed by the 10K to get a long run mileage in. But they could engage their bodies in the physical act of running without a shooting pain, and just of that simple fact, I was crazy jealous.
Remind me, in the future, when I’m all healed, that just being able to run a 5K, even if doctor’s orders are to never push to a sprint again, but just to coast along for three miles, is a blessing and a gift. I watched people go by me on the turnaround and wanted so badly to break into a sprint on the glorious downhills. I could have PR’d the crap out of my 5K time on that course. Instead, I limped along, sometimes trying to limp-jog, knowing it was only making things worse but impatient just to cross a finish line, any finish line. At one point, just after the turnaround, I saw the last participant in the 5K, a girl hurrying along as best she could on forearm crutches, clearly physically disabled. I suddenly felt like a total asshole, pushing my blessedly healthy body to the point of injury, when some people are just happy to be last place if it means they get to be there.
I crossed the finish line thanks to my hobble-jog-walk combination in under 42 minutes, and tried to gain perspective that only just over a year ago that was the best I could do when I was training for my very first 5K, that when I was completely uninjured I struggled to complete my third 5K in under 40 minutes because I was, even though I was running a couple miles three times a week, so out of shape. The only thing holding me back from having finished in the top half of the field today was an injury, not my fitness level. I tried to take that as a means of comfort. Somehow, feeling like an asshole and all, it made me feel worse. There were people behind me who were not injured nor physically disabled, and yet I took no perspective in that. I am supposed to be able to run a marathon. I am a seasoned half marathoner. I have dutifully done my 14-miler, my 16-miler, my 18-mile long runs. I just ran a 10 mile race at a 10-minute per mile pace, I am no longer a person supposed to be trucking along just under 14 minutes per mile for 3 miles. But then I thought of Shalane Flanagan at the finish of this year’s Boston Marathon, giving it her all and beating her own personal best and still being desolate that she hadn’t won for all she’d given. I thought of runners I know who’ve gotten hip replacements and done months of rehab and at their first 10K race were more grateful than ever.
I was just swimming in fighting between being completely disappointed and trying to grit my teeth and laugh and smile at my stupid luck. Of course I would put all this work into marathon training and get injured just a month out. Of course I would be so amped about running and skimp out on my strength training when it used to be the other way around. Of course. It’s me and my stupid life. I tried to laugh. I tried to say hey, it’s a beautiful day, Clarendon Day is going to have vendors full of pretty things, even if you can never run again you can buy those crazy cool looking harem pants and peacock earrings and feel good looking cute at a happy hour right? No. All my expendable income has gone into running.
The finish line had a booth for a Physical Therapy clinic that was mainly located in Arlington and they looked at me like I was crazy when I told them it wouldn’t be terribly convenient for me to schedule an appointment with them because I lived in Rockville, but could they tell me if my hips were misaligned?
The PT that took me through a few basic stretches and checked out my hip seemed 100% confident I wasn’t suffering a stress fracture. On the other hand, when I told her, “Okay, what if I’ve been training for a marathon that’s happening in 4 weeks?”, she laughed guiltily. “Marine Corps? Yeah we need to get you into some good PT.” In a whirlwind of business cards and brochures, they promised they could get me into one of their Rockville locations for a free screening. As I was leaving, I looked back at the PT who had shaken me out and said, “But you think I could still do the marathon?”
“With 4 weeks?” she said. She grimaced. “I mean, it’s promising. But you need to do that PT. And ice your hip. 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. Do your PT.”
So here I sit. On a beautiful Saturday night that, as of a week ago, I thought I’d be spending in Nashville celebrating a half marathon PR, looking forward to a 20-miler next weekend, sitting at a bar or maybe even the Grand Ole Opry and soaking in the country music. Instead I’m in bed, having claimed my slowest 5K ever this morning, now unsure when my next race of any distance will be.
I just want answers and a plan. If the PT says “no Marine Corps,” fine. I’ll whine and fret and hide in a hole on October 26 while the rest of the field does MCM 2014, but I’ll also be determined. This is a setback, not the end of my life. I will do my PT. I will cross off the days keeping the numbers 26.2 big bright and bold in my head, knowing no matter what, some day I’ll run a marathon. I’ll rearrange my plans accordingly.
I do not have a runner’s body. I have wide hips, always have, and a big butt to carry around. Except for about three years of my life when I was strangely underweight, I’ve always been at least 10 pounds overweight. But I have a runner’s heart. It’s a cardio sport, after all, right? I may panic and recalculate, but in my mind the most important feature of being a runner is the shape your heart’s in. And my heart is in this. Whatever I have to do to become a marathoner, I’ll do it.