Coming Back After Injury

Lessons from a not-your-average nine-mile run

coming back after injury

Coming back after injury isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s usually filled with challenges, stress, and occasionally (at least in my case) a few tears. However, today was a special run for me in a journey that has lasted five months (so far, and it’s far from over).  I wanted to share a couple observations, in the hopes that you might be inspired  to fight back the next time you tweak a knee, hurt your back, or (ouch) pull a hamstring.  It happens to all of us in some form or another, so let’s recognize it for what it is, so we can empower and lift each other up, and get back to our beloved stress reliever quicker!

First, the back story.  On January 26th, I went out for a nine-mile run.  I run early, so that I can get home and showered before I have to get my kids up and moving for the day. So, in January in Indiana, at 5:00 AM, it was dark.

Right about the seven-mile mark, I was crossing the street, went to hop the curb to keep on going, and caught my toe on the edge of the curb.  Yes, we call that “tripping.”

I attempted to keep myself from falling, flailing and trying to stay upright.  In retrospect, that was probably how I managed to hurt my hamstring as badly as I did.  I didn’t realize in the moment just what I’d done, so I picked myself up and tried to assess the damage.  I couldn’t feel anything major hurting, in fact everything was just kind of tight and achy, so I took off for home.

I completed the last two miles and spent the remainder of the day trying to figure out whether or not I’d really sustained much damage, aside from my hip and shoulder, which sustained the brunt of the impact.

I didn’t know until the next day when I tried to run that, yep, something wasn’t right. As it turned out, I’d yanked pretty hard on my hamstring, and it wasn’t going to be an easy fix. Those of you who have injured a hamstring know: they  take for freaking ever to heal.

So, I began the process.  That was late January.  Many rest days, many appointments, much stretching and strengthening later:  today, I ran nine miles again for the first time!

It really was one of those runs that, probably because it was a milestone run, really had me thinking about the past five months.

While I’ve still got a long way to go before I am back to where I was before I was injured, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you a few of the deep (and not so deep) thoughts I was pondering during these nine, glorious, mostly-pain-free miles.

Observation #1:  When recovering from an injury, you can often choose a long route or a short route.

Here’s an interesting coincidence:  my teenage son sustained a similar injury last year, although his was much worse.  He’s a high school runner, and he ran his cross country season in pain.  When his season ended, he stopped running.  Period.  He didn’t use his lower body for anything except walking around his high school, for two months.  He rehabbed, worked with his trainer, and did his strengthening and flexibility as prescribed. And ultimately, he returned to 100% in much less time than five months.

As a mom? I couldn’t not run for two months!  Instead of doing nothing for two months, I did very, very light activity, what my hamstring could tolerate without pain, and slowly built back. My hamstring is still far from healed. I can put in miles, but not speed.

So, you really can choose how quickly you heal. For my son, he was able to truly rest for two months (and let’s be honest, he does have xbox, lol). As a mom, I needed the stress relief of some sort of movement, so it’s taken me much, much longer. I’d rather take longer and be able to move some during these months, thank to do nothing for two months, have no physical outlet for blowing off steam, and possibly bite the heads off my children.  It’s a personal thing, a judgment call.  You have to choose for yourself.

Observation #2:  Slower running really is pretty great.  

To recover, I have had to really ease off the speed.  I have made my focus my form, and running in whatever manner I can as long as it is pain free.  To do that, I have had to slow down considerably.  What I’ve learned:  slow running can still be challenging, and you still feel pretty amazing afterwards.  I have realized that running more miles, slowly, is just as satisfying and releases just as many endorphins as running fewer miles faster.  And in addition: my legs feel better! 

Observation #3:  Brooks PureFlow are my current soul mate shoes.

Running shoes are super personal, so don’t presume that just because I am in love with these shoes that you will be too, but in case your feet and your shoe needs are like mine, I wanted to be sure to share.

I love a lower-drop shoe (the “drop” is the differential between the heel and the toe, lower drops mean that there’s less of a “hill” from back to front).  PureFlow’s have a four millimeter drop.

I want a bit of cushion, but not too much.  PureFlow’s feel great in that department.

I need a wide toe box (the toe box is the part of the shoe that contains your forefoot and toes).  I don’t have wide feet, but my feet do swell when I run, so a shoe that feels comfortable when I put them on might hurt by mile four.  The PureFlow’s never pinch or feel tight in the toe box!  It’s been a long time since I’ve found a shoe like that!

I share this because it’s worth it to invest your time and energy to find a shoe you love.  There are enough battles we fight to get out on the road and do this running thing for ourselves- your shoes pinching shouldn’t be one of them!

#4:  For my awesome mom friends who say running isn’t fun:  check your playlist.

I have lots and lots of beautiful mom friends who are either trying to get into running, or use running for fitness but can’t say that they love it.  One tip I’d like to share:  make an awesome playlist.

Today was a pretty laid-back run, not too fast, but still, after you’ve been running for an hour, you’re going to get a little tired.  When you’re a little tired, and the right song comes on, it can be a shot in the arm!  You can lose yourself in the music!

Today’s shot-in-the-arm-song:  Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee. A sample, for your listening/viewing pleasure:  

That may or may not be a song that makes you wiggle, but let’s just say:  I might have embarrassed myself when the nice, unassuming woman walked around the corner and saw my half-run, half-dance moves.  But it made that last mile so much easier and yes, fun!

Every injury will be different.  Every recovery will be different.  Every mom is different.  Some of us will be able to rest, completely, for a short period of time and recover much quicker.  Some of us do better when we have some type of movement as we recover, even if it means it takes longer.  The bottom line, the takeaway here, is just like running:  just don’t quit.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes, what matters is that you stay committed.  Life is always going to throw us curveballs.  Running is a metaphor for life in so many ways, and how we overcome our challenges is one powerful metaphor.

I’ve hurt.  I still hurt quite a bit. I keep on, keeping on.  And in the struggle, through the struggle, the little teeny wins teach me I can overcome.

Just as our relationships challenge us.  Just as our work situations challenge us.  Just as our finances challenge us.  Just as our schedules, parenting, stress challenges us.

Life won’t get less challenging, but we can get stronger.

Use running.  Let it help you find your inner strength.  It will be hard before it becomes easy.  And even after it becomes easier, it will still be hard sometimes.

But every challenge you overcome, every mile, every ache, every time your laundry or your schedule or your stress pulls at you and you turn your back and go take care of you: you get stronger.

And no one can take that away from you.  Use running.  Become stronger.  Love the challenge.  Take care of you.

xo,

Cori

ben and mom mini

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