A Year Ago I Fractured My Foot in a Race. Tomorrow I'll Run a Half Marathon. Here's How I Recovered.
In April 2019 I entered the Kingston Race Weekend 10K feeling fit and confident. I'd had a bit of a tendon issue in my left foot, but after a couple of rest days it was gone. My workouts leading up to the race had been excellent, and I'd broken 40 minutes in the last 10K of a half marathon just 6 months prior. So, despite the hilly course ahead, I went in with a sub-40 minute goal. All the hard work was done; I just needed to lace up my shoes.
As I approached the turn-around point I had a comfortable lead. Suddenly that achy tendon started bothering me, and a few strides later my foot exploded with pain. I considered finishing at a slower pace, but even walking was excruciating. I limped to the nearest support vehicle and for the first time in my life, I dropped out of a race.
If you're a runner you know that sinking feeling when an injury sets in- the immediate fear about missing workouts, losing hard-earned fitness. It's like helplessly watching the stock market crash after working hard to build up your savings. You know it will come back, but you don't know when and you don't know if you'll ever reach your peak again. It gets worse if you're in your 40s, a time in your life when you discover that your body's recovery up until now has actually been miraculous and that it can, in fact, be permanently derailed.
The eventual diagnosis of my race injury was a stress-fracture. I had suffered one before as an underweight and undernourished varsity athlete running over 100km a week, and it was an injury that took years to heal. But I knew that I had one advantage over that overachieving teenager: experience. Last time, I tried to get back on my feet after 3 months. This time I knew my body so much better and I understood the stakes. I could be patient. The doctor said 6 weeks; I resolved to wait 12. It wasn't an easy decision: I have a history of pushing myself too far. Once my husband locked himself in the bathroom with my spikes when I decided to jump into XC Nationals too soon after a calf injury. I won that battle, and survived the race intact, but that was lucky. This time I had to have discipline.
I tagged along with my team to the Cabot Trail Relay in May and cheered them on. At Mackenzie Mountain, which was supposed to be my leg, I admit thinking that maybe I had dodged a bullet but I still wished I was running. After the race the team went hiking and I limped along in my aircast, welcoming the breathless exhaustion that I had missed by not racing. I realized that I needed a plan to get that high without being on my feet.
I talked with my coach, and since he was going in for surgery he suggested that I take his rowing machine for a few months and follow an intense workout program he had designed. I should note here that my coach was recovering from a serious fall down a mountain that broke almost every bone in his body, so I really had no legitimate reason to refuse. I rowed, swam, ran laps in the pool and lifted weights. Despite working hard I gained about 25 pounds and still couldn't reach that elusive running high. I tried other things. Yoga. Acting. It was fun, but not the same. Running is a huge part of my life: it's my meditation time, my mental health pill, my entire social circle. Nothing was more important than a full recovery, so I waited.
Finally, after about 7 months I started a program of running just a few minutes a week (the program I used can be found at https://runnersconnect.net/how-to-return-to-running-after-a-stress-fracture/). Once I was able to do 30 minutes I was able to return to the Monday night running group that I've been with since 1998. It took about 6 months to shed the extra pounds and get into race shape. I was hoping my first race back would be the same 10K that broke me last year, but naturally it's been cancelled along with pretty much everything else. Instead, I'll be solo-running a virtual half-marathon organized by a local runner to help raise money for the food bank. The virtual race is only $10 and it includes prizes, official results and camaraderie. Click here to join. https://www.trackie.com/online-registration/event/kingston-virtual-race/465342/?fbclid=IwAR1GFhMKQVuOvr-rU4pwgwyQhYnOeRxhi715lcycbP8ZM5XzFKRx152M454#.XqSPy2hKiUm
Stay safe, and if you run this weekend I hope you feel gratitude for being able to do so. I know I will.
Below: me at the Cabot Trail Relay, 2019