on being an injured runner

There's a lot that's been unexpected about breaking my hip while running the Boston Marathon. The first was that I was running a marathon at all. Here are two words I never thought I would use to describe myself : runner. Athlete.

And yet here I am, a month out from a broken hip that was almost certainly because of working out. Sort of. If you want to get technical, the broken hip happened while I was attempting to run a marathon, it was caused by a doctor misdiagnosing my pain as a muscle tear instead of a stress fracture and it all stemmed from a stress fracture in my femur that I probably got because I've gone and gotten myself addicted to : running. spinning. [solidcore]. Even a little weight training.

 

When I was little, my mother referred to me as "allergic to exercise." But after college, something funny happened : I fell in love with it. All kinds of workouts, really - I love testing out new ones. Something about running, though, makes it my favorite.

Can you even explain how much one can grow to love running? It became my workout, my stress relief, my source of fun, my chance to zen out and listen to some music, my way to tour D.C. and any new city I found myself in. 

I learned that my runs almost always had stages. Around mile 3 or 4, I'd hit what I began to call my "mini wall," sure I was too tired to go any farther that day. And then around 5 or 6, I'd forget I was running. Seriously. There's nothing better than getting to the stage where you just sort of go. The rest of the world falls away and if you're lucky, your playlist is perfect.

I ran at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m., in rain and sun. Earlier this winter, I did 17 miles in the D.C. blizzard you probably heard about. I wore three pairs of pants and still had the beginning stages of frostbite on my legs by the time I happily stumbled back inside. Halfway through, I'd stopped in a store to unfreeze my water bottle, where the security guard matter-of-factly informed me I was crazy.

I tend to have a little bit of an all-or-nothing approach to all things addictive (never leave me alone with your pint of ice cream). So in a few short years, I ramped up from 5Ks to 10-milers to half marathons to marathons. Well, to a marathon. I kind of passed out during my second one. Whoops.

Not running is driving me absolutely insane. I know that I need to honor my body and let it heal, but imagine if your favorite hobby + your source of stress relief + the activity that made you feel less guilty about your love of cheese got ripped away. I've done a lot of crying.

Plus, not finishing a race really sucks. I never wanted to see a DNF next to my name, especially not at the Boston Marathon which, for a myriad of reasons, is a deeply emotional and personal race goal for me. I was sad (so sad!) and deeply embarrassed.

I've kind of gotten over the embarrassment - anyone who's going to judge and mock you for DNFing when you broke a goddamn hip isn't anyone worth considering anyway. But being limited physically hasn't gotten any easier. There's pain every day. Every. Single. Day.

I didn't realize at first how bad it was. I thought maybe I had a low pain tolerance. And then, on my first night home from the hospital, I was trying to push myself into bed while seated, using only my arms, and it hurt so badly that I was sobbing and dry-heaving from pain brought on by nausea at the same time. I looked up, and both of my parents were crying - and that's when I knew that this was way worse than I'd considered.

The pain's better now, and I'm off any meds. But I'm still in a pretty much constantly uncomfortable state. Little things, like getting out of bed, sometimes seem impossible. Showering is an endurance event. And forget about sleeping through the night - have you ever rolled over on a broken hip?

Plus, I'm bored. What am I supposed to do in the mornings now, anyway? Sleep? 

But here's the other - and the most important thing I've learned from this experience : you have to feel your feelings. You can't run away from your problems. Pun unintentional, but also that's exactly what I was trying to do. Two months before the marathon, I lost a beautiful friend to cancer. It's a brutal, ugly disease and I was pissed. And I was scared by the depth of my grief. But I was also in the midst of training for a marathon. So I decided to lose myself in my training, pulling double (or triple) duty on workouts until I was so tired I didn't really have to think.

It wasn't smart.

I know I'm really lucky. It's downright miraculous that I didn't need surgery, or a hip replacement, or that I can even think about running again. It's taught me a lot about resiliency, about checking in with and maintaining your emotional health and about support and friendship. I was quite literally running away from my feelings earlier this year, trying to outwit one of the saddest moments of my life by working myself to the point of exhaustion. That doesn't work. You have to face your feelings heads on. Sometimes, it takes a broken hip and mandatory bedrest to figure that out.

I can't wait to run again. I. Cannot. Wait. And to go back to [solidcore], to spin, to everything that makes me feel like a more complete "me." But right now, I'm trying to reframe this whole experience for myself. It's only a minor setback. It's an injury. It will heal. It's taught me a damn lot about checking in with and listening to your body and mind.

Besides, it's going to make eventually crossing that Boston finish line that much cooler.