I recently found myself reflecting on my past or my 'history' of aggravations and injuries. What was the first one? Where did it begin? How did I overcome it? What (if anything) did I learn?
It's a cliche to say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but there is some real validity to this. A bone that is broken and heals properly will be stronger after the fracture...or at least this is what I've been told by a few MDs.
There's little question in my mind that one can become mentally stronger by overcoming an injury. In some respects, I think one can gain more in this department than any other. Chances are you'll learn how to train better or differently or simply learn when to pull the plug on a run.
So, without any further ado, I'm sharing my history of aggravations (or at least the 'big' ones). If nothing else, my battle scarred past may provide a way for you to identify something that is ailing you or learn how to bounce back.
Sprained Ankle, Spring 1992
I had fallen in love with running in the fall of 1990 and the romance was in full bloom as I entered my second season of track. I had gone from a 14:34 for 2 miles to a 10:34 in six months. I was regularly running 15-16 miles for my long runs. I was young and felt pretty invincible. Oh, how the mighty fall.
I was logging a few miles on the trails at Phoenix Lake with some teammates. It was (and still is) one of my favorite places to run. I remember heading downhill and some loose gravel under my foot slid and my right ankle buckled. I lost my balance. I felt something pop in my right ankle as I slide downhill.
The pain was unprecedented and screaming a few expletives didn't do much to assuage it as I struggled to get back up. Hobbling, I eventually made my way home, but quickly went to the hospital when I couldn't put any weight on the injured ankle.
It was a third degree sprain that required crutches and an aircast for several weeks. This first injury derailed my entire track season and still haunts me to this day as the ankle will always be a bit weaker than the other one. Contrary to popular belief, not everything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
But, I learned to protect this ankle and do what I can to strengthen all the surrounding tissues. It hasn't stopped me from running frequently and at a high level. The ankle is prone to tipping, but it's manageable.
Fractured Left Femur, Summer 1999
A seven year interval between running related injuries is pretty good. But, between the end of 1993 and 1997, I wasn't doing a ton of running. It was during training for the first marathon of my life that I incurred an injury that would derail me and bring me perilously close to never running again.
I had been running on a regular basis for the first five months of the year and was feeling strong. I toed the line at the Bay to Breakers that year with the intent to actually run the race and possibly post a personal best. About 4 miles in, I started feeling an excruciating pain in my left hip.
I'd never bailed out of a race for any reason, but I couldn't run anymore. I hobbled my way to the finish line and called my brother (who is an MD) and asked if it was possible I had a stress fracture in my hip. Highly unlikely was my brother's assessment.
So, I hobbled around for 2-3 weeks self diagnosing myself with IT Band Syndrome. I got a shot of cortisone hoping this would relieve the pain and a day later I was in pain that made me lightheaded and nauseous.
I went back to my orthopedist and demanded an x-ray just to 'rule out' the possibility of a stress fracture. x-ray revealed my worst fear, a complete compression fracture of the left femoral head.
I needed to have surgery immediately to insert pins my hip to stabilize the fracture. If the hip displaced, I could contract avascular necrosis and the hip could die....this mean no more running and hip replacement surgery for the rest of my life.
After a deep incision, the insertion of three metal pins, and several metal staples to suture the wound, I was far from running, but at least I knew my hip would survive and I would run again....some day.
A few months later I would have to choke back a few tears as I successfully ran a single mile through Golden Gate Park without pain. Running a marathon was the last thing on my mind, but this injury made me realize how much I loved being able to do it.
I'd be fine with never running a marathon in my life, but losing the ability to run at all put everything in perspective and this injury in many ways acted as a catalyst for a veritable 'running renaissance' that is still running strong today.
Stay tuned for bursitis, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, and more!