The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare. –Juma Ikangaa
If we could imagine an Everyrunner–our running community’s version of Everyman–then Everyrunner would periodically be hobbled by injury, with the actual frequency governed by wisdom or luck. Anyone who regularly laces up running shoes knows this. But as it turns out, injury harbors its own teaching.
My own story goes something like this. I fell too in love with racing in my second year of running, and raced far too often for my level of training and weekly mileage. I ignored small injuries and pains because all I could think about was running fast–and I was very good at denial. And then I ignored a meniscus strain not long before the San Jose Half Marathon on October 7. I ran, with pain, and still achieved a P.R. at 1:36:32–which only encouraged me to race more. On October 14, I paced the back half of the Nike Women’s Marathon. And then, on October 21 came the coup de grace–I attempted the Humboldt Half Marathon, even though I had been in pain that week.
The race started, and immediately I knew I didn’t have it. My pace dipped from 7:30, to 8:00, to 8:15. The teammates I’d anticipated running with left me in their dust. I resigned myself to a training run.
And then, at mile 7, a searing pain shot through my right calf. I was well and truly done, unable even to walk the rest of the way. The dreaded season-ending injury had arrived, cutting me out of all remaining races for 2012.
It was three weeks before I ran again at all, thanks to the guidance of a wise friend and coach who convinced me not to run in the presence of any pain, however small. The injury didn’t settle in my calf–it stayed in my meniscus, which was scary. I decided that I finally needed to listen to the wisdom of those who’d been telling me I was weak in the hips and core. That weakness opened me to injury and I had to fix it.
But I had to change my orientation to my body first. Being open to injury meant that I had to think more deeply about why I’d gotten hurt if I truly wanted to heal completely. I realized that while I am a no-shortcuts, focus-on-fundamentals person, I hadn’t used that approach with running. I’d tried to race too frequently, on too few miles of base, with completely inadequate stretching and strength training. I was fast, but I was weak and lazy too (harsh but true).
So I found a personal trainer and started twice-weekly kettlebell and barbell workouts. And I got treated by my chiropractor and sports massage therapist. It helps that everyone on my personal team understands and supports my running goals. I also resolved to build my mileage slowly and carefully to 40 miles per week by the time my team starts training again on January 22. So far, so good.
I got injured because I failed to understand both the harsh calculus of competitive running and my own current limits. But failure is a powerful teacher. I also failed because I tried to do things I couldn’t yet do, and that is the best kind of failure. You can grow stronger at the point of injury. My injury was physical, but it was also mental and spiritual. Opening a pathway from mind to spirit to body was necessary if I wanted to begin learning how to listen deeply to my body. And so being open to injury has meant rededicating myself to getting stronger, faster, and better by doing the hard work of the everyday.
Because one thing I learned is that competition is only partially about racing. Even more, competition is about showing up every day. Competition is every drill, every 5:30 a.m. alarm, every mile in the rain, every deadlift. It’s every time you think you can’t go any further, and then you do. It’s about strength of body and mind. It’s about purpose and intention and even love. And it’s also about knowing when not to run, which is perhaps the hardest learning of all.
Every runner carries this knowledge in her body. Now I do too, and I’m grateful.