I truly believe that the struggles you face as an athlete are just as - if not more - defining than your successes. And this struggle has proven more difficult than any others I've faced, and I've spent most of the past week thinking about why. I had plenty of time to ponder it, as I wasn't running or working out at all.
Some of the added difficulty has to do with the timing. I tried to look at the bright side when I was first injured, and reasoned that it was better to get hurt now, when I was only missing taper runs, which are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But two weeks later, the bright side wasn't looking so bright.
Missing taper runs is the ideal situation, if you have to miss some of your marathon training. But coming so unbelievably close to race day, only to have it snatched out from under you, hurts far worse than having something like this happen earlier on in the training cycle.
I was right there. I was on the verge of finishing my last 20-miler, and feeling better and healthier and stronger than I've ever felt. Aside from the hip flexor issue that delayed the beginning of my training slightly, I hadn't felt a single unusual ache or pain over the past 13 weeks.
And my training had gone great. Every workout left me feeling stronger than the previous one. I was ready. So ready.
And now I have a hard time remembering what that even felt like, even though it was just a couple of weeks ago.
Another thing that made this injury so much more challenging is that I spent much of last week still experiencing pain just walking around. Not enough to keep me bedridden, but enough to keep me in a constant state of discomfort. And enough to make me feel like a 90-year-old woman, as I struggled just to keep up with the kids as we walked together. That feeling was unlike any injury I've experienced before - usually I'm sidelined with some kind of tendinitis that keeps me from running, but doesn't hurt on a daily basis.
Feeling like an invalid, combined with the timing of the injury, combined with the fact that Scott was in the midst of a 12-day business trip, combined with the fact that I tried to run Wednesday morning, only to have to stop half a mile in due to excruciating back pain, made for a nearly insurmountable dark cloud that settled over me about halfway through the week.
Not only did my back hurt when I tried to run on Wednesday, but my hips and pelvis literally felt completely out of alignment, like none of the joints were in their sockets correctly - it was a freaky feeling, and I was scared. And that's when it all came crashing down, and my mind went to a very dark place.
I was convinced that I was never going to run again. I decided I'd be ok with just not working out at all. I was afraid to do anything, for fear of further aggravating my back, and I can't say I enjoyed not working out, but even over the course of just two weeks, it became the new normal.
After that failed run, I let go of Boston. I knew that if I couldn't make it half a mile, there was no way I was going to make it 26 miles two weeks later. Sure, miracles happen, but you can't plan for miracles, and as much as I believe in the power of positive thinking, you also have to approach something like this with a healthy dose of realism. And the pain I felt during that test run was very real.
Somehow I felt better finally reaching that conclusion, though - at least for a little while, I did. And then a little while later, I had a good cry. Repeat that cycle over and over, and that's how the end of the week played out for me. I described it to someone as emotional whiplash, and that's the most apt description I can come up with.
The one bright spot was that I felt well enough Friday to try some cross-training, so I got on the elliptical at the gym, and it felt really good to work up a sweat, and it didn't aggravate my back at all. I didn't immediately feel better, but later in the afternoon, my mood had lifted a bit - and Scott coming home from his trip Friday night helped tremendously, too.
I was also feeling significantly better physically at this point - I finally felt like I could go about my normal daily activities without feeling any discomfort or sensitivity in my back. That was a huge turning point. Not being constantly in pain eased a lot of the stress and anxiety that had become a fact of life over the past two weeks.
Since I knew I could now cross-train safely, I abandoned my plan from earlier in the week to just convert to a sedentary lifestyle (we all knew that wasn't really going to happen!), and was at the gym when they opened Saturday morning. After a while on the elliptical, I figured I'd give a run on the treadmill a try - being able to just hop off the treadmill would make it easier to call it quits if I started hurting.
And while I can't say I had a pain-free run, it was definitely a huge improvement from the Wednesday attempt. So much better that I actually made it 3 miles! There was some discomfort, but not from my back. What I felt this time around was tightness through my piriformis and glute - which is definitely related to the SI joint issue, but which feels far less scary and debilitating than a back injury.
The same held true with my 4-mile run this morning - no back pain, but very tight piriformis. But this morning's run was way better because I got to run outside with my friends : )
I'll continue with my chiropractor and PT visits this week, and I also have an acupuncture appointment, and may have more of those in the future, as well.
I'm going to continue doing absolutely everything I can to fix this and get back to running regularly, because just that little taste of it this weekend made me feel like me again, and I need more of that. And I'm also going to put my energy into cross-training as much as possible, so that my return to running is as smooth as possible.
So progress is finally being made, and being able to work out and even run a few miles has caused a very dramatic shift in my mood.
I'm still very disappointed at the thought of missing Boston, but if I can at least be staying in shape and logging some miles, that disappointment will be a little easier to process.
And as I think about it, it's less about being at Boston than it is about the run itself. What makes me the most mad about all of this is that I was so well-trained, and that I came so tantalizingly close to putting that training to the test - a test I was almost 100% certain I was going to pass with flying colors.
So many things can wreak havoc with your training cycle, but mine had gone by largely unscathed.
That PR was mine for the taking, and getting it in Boston would have just been the icing on the cake.
But it can - and will - happen somewhere else. I'll certainly shed more tears over missing this opportunity, and Monday is not going to be an easy day for me. But this is one of the risks you take when you sign up and train for a long-distance race that requires months of training. I've been fortunate enough to never have to bow out of a full marathon, but my luck ran out.
Running teaches us to keep moving forward, one step at a time, even in the most painful moments.
I had my two weeks of self-pity and inertia and feeling utterly lost, and I don't regret that I allowed myself that time - I think it was part of what I needed to do to process all of this.
But now it's time to start moving forward again, and that 3 miles I ran yesterday was the first step on that path.
I'm looking forward to taking many more steps, and can't wait to see where they lead.