Christal Cuadra var min första lagkapten när jag tävlade i terränglöpning borta i San Diego. En envis, rättvis, fantastisk löpare som hade sprungit hela livet. Hon lärde mig otroligt mycket och var min stora förebild när jag senare skulle axla ansvaret och ta över kaptensbindeln. Tyvärr avslutade Christal sin collegekarriär med en löparskada. En skada som gjorde att hon inte kunde springa på flera år. Är man som Christal, född löpare, är detta kanske det svårast tänkbara. Läs Christals historia om hur man återvänder till löpningen efter en skada nedan:
It is amazing how fresh the memory of the most serious running injury I have ever and I hope ever will experience becomes when I recollect on the event.
It is the last easy tune-up before conference championships on the final stretch of my collegiate career. I am warming up on a grassy field off to the side. I feel terrible –not just sluggish or butterflies in my stomach, but serious pains in my lower legs. My shins have been bothering me for months and each landed step rattles my shin bones shooting a shivering pain straight through my skull. There is also a recently developed pain in my right foot. It feels like an ice pick is wedged right through it each time I try to get up on my toes and sprint. I am beyond nervous, but not for the usual reasons. I do not care about running a slow time or that whats-her-face showed up to race – I am worried that the pain will be too much to handle and I will give up, quit. Thoughts free flow in to my brain from every which way: How am I going to make it 12.5 laps around this oval in my current physical condition? This is the last time I will be donning the scarlet and black, I’ve got to give it everything. I am the team captain; I can’t let my team down. I am not a quitter, I’ve never quit. Pounding and pounding, louder and louder in my head.
Before I could block out all the self-manifested white noise, I’m out of my sweats and toeing the line. BANG! The gun goes off and I soon realize after one lap, I should not be running in this race. In most cases, worry pains vanish as soon as the gun goes off. But not this time.
Needless to say, I didn’t finish that race. I physically could not do it. It would take me years to accept that it was my body that failed and not a conscious decision I made to quit. An ignored stress fracture blossomed into an actual fracture during the race. My foot ballooned to the size of a football. I collapsed on the inner field, ripping my shoe off, horrified at what my foot looked like. I had never seen my foot look like that in my life. The frustration I felt flushed to my face, hot tears streamed down my cheeks – why is this happening to me?
The months afterwards were depressing. The connection with my running comrades grew faint and I did not run at all for two years. It took me a long time to recover physically. It seemed like every time I started a training program I would get sidelined with another injury. And it took me a long time to recovery mentally from the death of an identity. I was a runner once. Now I had to look at my self in the mirror and all those around me who knew me as an incredible runner and ask ‘Who am I now if I am not a runner?’
I learned a lot during those really dark years of my life and I want to share with you my lessons learned. I want to thank Lisa Naucler, my former teammate and good friend, for asking me to share this with Runday. I hope it will provide guidance to you when dealing with injuries and assist you in coming out on the other side – healthy, happy and stronger than ever.
1. Do not be a victim.
After my injury, I often asked ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘why now?’ It is counterproductive to be the victim – whether it is in running or in life – do not be consumed by self-pity but focus on what you do have control over.
You can control your physical therapy rehab program, eating healthy, getting in the gym and strengthening your core and muscles surrounding the injured area, and so on. Track your goals and celebrate improvements, like in increased range of motion and less pain experienced in the injured area. If all of your focus is on your plan to kick this injury’s butt, you will not have time to dwell on the negative and pity yourself.
2. Strike balance in your life.
The reality is that a majority of us will not be Olympians and/or professional runners. That said, be sure to have other interests and hobbies in your life that you can fall back on, fully develop, and enjoy when you need to take a break from running.
I successfully completed law school and am proudly a licensed attorney in the State of Hawaii. It was such an amazing academic feat for a jock like me, one that I could not have achieved without the skills I gained through running – focus, perseverance, patience, dedication, determination. Not to mention the awesome study breaks running provided. It was like an oxygen boost to my brain and helped power me through millions of pages of legal case law post-run.
I also started stand-up paddle surfing and really got in to it. I celebrated my improvements and I found a love for a new sport. Once I was able to return to running, my upper body, shoulders, and core felt stronger than they had in years.
3. If it hurts, rest it. No matter what.
Running will always be there. You are not going to lose all of your training by taking some time to rest up. Why not take a few days off, maybe a week, to rest and recoup. Isn’t that better than getting a fracture or a tear and being sidelined for weeks, months or even years?
If you are on an intercollegiate team or other running team and feel pressure to run even when you are in pain, just tell your coach ‘No.’ You are your own person, with your own goals and your goal should be longevity in the sport – to be a lifelong runner. And you know your body best. It is so easy to get tunnel vision in these types of situations and it does not help when you have outside pressures influencing your logical thinking, but step back and remember that it is not the end of the world. Any given running season or single race is only one small part of your life and it is not worth it to risk your entire running career.
4. “Why so serious” – The Joker, from Batman: The Dark Knight
As my boyfriend always tells me, ‘stop and smell the roses.’ Ditch your watch and go run. Enjoy running for what it is.
For many years, I would put my head down and focus so much on getting from point A to point B as fast as I could that it would become stressful if I could not match or beat a time previously set. I became obsessed and could not enjoy the people, the weather, the flowers – all this life and beauty around me.
If you enjoy the ride, you will not have taken it for granted. Do you ever notice how acute your senses become when you run – how the air smells sweeter, the wind feels crisper, the rustling sound of the leaves sound like beautiful wind chimes. It is so amazing and you are lucky to be doing it. So ditch the iPod, forget your Garmin, and embrace the run.
5. Last one – You are a runner and you always will be.
We are a unique breed of people – we actually love to run. That being said, we need it in our lives to be happy. But we also need to feel good on our runs to enjoy what it offers. Remember, even when you are recovering from an injury and have not run in months, you are still a runner and you will be back on the road, trail, track, sand – gliding along with the wind and melding into the beauty of nature – when you are ready.