I never saw this coming. Not once did I imagine not being able to stand on the starting line of the Olympic Trials.
In my wildest dreams I saw a small town girl from Washington state tearing through the streets of LA, flying down the finishing stretch, arms in the air, happy tears in her eyes, draped in an American flag. Now I know what will happen. Hundreds of women will cover those streets and three will qualify for the Olympic Team. The rest will cross the line with happy tears, sad tears, smiles and grimaces. They will fall into the arms of their coaches, their friends and their families. And on that day, I will be thousands of miles away driving alone from Florida back home to Kentucky.
In 12 years of competitive running, I experienced my first injury this winter. I’ve been ridiculously lucky. My body was fearfully and wonderfully made to withstand a stupid amount of abuse. I’ve thrown myself into the type of mileage that many runners don’t perceive as humanly possible, while ripping workouts at the top end of my pace range without any type of injury that required more than a day or two off.
In the beginning of December, I ran an interval workout and cut down from 5:45 pace to 4:50 pace for the final pieces. The next day, I had trouble lifting my right leg while running uphill and walking up stairs. Relentless optimist that I am, I didn’t give it a second thought. Three days later I ran 21 miles with the final 10 miles cutting down from 6:45 to 5:45. The next day, trying to run 2 miles was excruciating.
Now this is where I screwed up. I coach athletes. In this situation, the advice I would give to ANY athlete would be to rest. Only I didn’t. I kept running. Speed work was out of the question, but easy running was tolerable. I kept my mileage at 120 miles the following week, and the next, and kept attempting and failing faster workouts. And then, one day, it wasn’t just my hip flexor anymore, a tugging in my lower abdominals began to set in.
So what do you do when you’re injured? You spend hundreds of dollars on therapy, you despair, you fall on your face and beg for healing.
I did all that. And I kept running.
Then, on a lonely run in the middle of Kentucky, surrounded by horse farms and snow flurries it hit me. I was receiving an answer to my pleas for help, it just wasn’t the answer that I wanted. And now I think I know why. In 12 years of running, not once have I had to learn what it meant to be truly patient with my training. Not once in all this time did I truly appreciate what a gift pain free running is. The second I realized this, I stopped running. I turned around and walked 3 miles back home. That was the last time I ran. That was almost 2 weeks ago.
This winter taught me something about myself I never realized before. I am a deeply, deeply happy person in the way I imagine many people are deeply sad at the core of who they are. I simply cannot stay unhappy. My psyche is like a bubble of air in a coke bottle; you can shake it all you want or turn it completely upside down, but that bubble of air will always find its way back to the top. I am bursting with happiness, even in the midst of this, because I knew I would find a bright side and a few days ago I did. My MRI came back clean. I will be ready to run at the end of this week and the timing is oddly perfect. I will be running the Boston Marathon. And I will state my goal loudly right now. I want to be the top American at Boston this year.
I wouldn’t take that month back. I mean that. 2015 was the hardest year of my life, personally and professionally, but I wouldn’t take back a moment of it. Winter was cold and dark.
But spring is coming.