Friday, 20 March 2015

"I don't know how you can run at all, let alone those distances…"

Mimi's words were both friend and foe: my physiotherapist had just slapped me with her praise, or perhaps raised me up onto a podium constructed of dog poop. She was impressed by my right ankle's improvised functional stability given its appalling lack of structural stability.

She held up the films and pointed out several images with bright white patches where I had newly torn the calcaneofibular ligament. She then pointed out the anterior talofibular ligament that the report claimed was "chronically deficient" and explained how my peroneal tendons were overworked from the effort of holding my ankle together.

The verdict:
  • I need to take 8–12 weeks off running;
  • I should be on crutches for two weeks, keeping the weight off my foot as much as possible;
  • I can swim and cycle, and will soon be able to water run;
  • I should see an orthopaedic surgeon in case he or she recommends surgical intervention.
I've always found running injuries hard to deal with because they hit me twice: I miss out on something I thoroughly enjoy doing (running) and I also miss out on the endorphins that boost my mood every day and leave me feeling stronger, more resilient, and more able to deal with the disappointment.

Within days of my injury I recognised how much my identity is tied to running—at some point I've internalised this idea that running is what makes me interesting, what makes me me. Without running, I've noticed irrational thoughts creeping into my mind—perhaps my friends won't want to hang out with me now, perhaps my boyfriend will seek an upgrade, perhaps everyone will forget about me…

I'm grateful here for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques, because I can actually catch and interrogate these thoughts. On a logical level, I recognise that these doubts are all nonsense, that I'm a multifaceted individual, that the wonderful group of friends I've built up over the years love me because of I'm me, not because I'm a runner. But the doubts still creep in, and I have to keep addressing them.

So while I'm gutted to miss out on the ANZAC Ultra 2015 (a once-in-a-lifetime event), I'm taking this enforced time-out as an opportunity to reflect on what else is important in my life and to address how I became injured in the first place. 

I'll accept that some injuries are truly accidents, such as tripping and falling in a race, but I don't think that was the case here. I think my body was more vulnerable than usual because I haven't looked after myself since the Adelaide 6 Day race last October. I never gave myself the time to recover properly because I was greedy: I was running fast and strong, so why stop?

I rolled my ankle as I cornered on a trail where I've never even come close to hurting myself before, and I did significant damage. Normally a little ankle roll wouldn't even slow me down—I'd have the weight off it in an instant and no damage would be done. So why did those super-strong peroneals not hold up? 

Have I been eating well enough? 
Drinking enough water? 
Getting enough sleep? 
Doing enough trigger pointing? 
Getting enough massages? 
Probably not.

Fortunately for me, Mimi is also a life coach, so she's been able to offer some interesting perspectives as I work through my intellectual and emotional responses to this injury. She seems surprised that I'm so keen to rest and heal up properly, even though it means more time off. But I have a very long term goal that always helps me keep things in perspective: I want to be running in my eighties. I have to take care of myself.

I'm going to spend my rehabilitation period not only fixing my body, but also doing the other things I love. One of those things is writing, and I'm going to blog regularly about how I'm coping, in the hope that maybe it will help others who are dealing with their own injuries and negative thoughts.

I may not be running right now,
but I'm still a runner.