This was hard to write, and even harder to decide where to begin. My senior year at Baylor was emotional enough knowing it was my last homecoming, last season, last night with my friends, last time with my favorite professors, last time in the Lariat editing room, last everything. Now, let’s throw in an injury that would drastically impact my plans for the year, and turn some of my “last’s” into “never’s.”
At the end of my junior year at Baylor, I got a stress fracture in my left tibia (shinbone) that had been growing for a while, but I ignored it. I was so driven to keep running and keep trying to get faster and keep working toward a certain time or meet or goal, that I ignored the signs from my body that I needed to chill. As the year was coming to an end, even simple mileage days felt just as draining as hard workout days because my shin was in so much pain. I took it as tight, sore muscles, but every time I treated the muscle, the tenderness of the bone burned more and more.
At the end of the year, I had a boot on my leg and was told to lay off it completely. For two weeks I had crutches and couldn’t put any pressure on my leg, and then for four weeks after that I was walking around in the boot. Mind you, its summer in Texas, so this wasn’t fun. I also wasn’t allowed to do anything beyond aqua-jogging – no elliptical, no lifting weights, no biking and obviously no running or Alter-G. This was hard, but everyone said if I focused on getting better, I could have an amazing senior year. Maybe this was just the rest I needed to recuperate.
Fast forward to late August-early September, I’m in the boot for a second time. The fracture didn’t really heal and I started running on the Alter-G too quickly. Combine that with walking all over campus every day, the injury flared up. I didn’t get to run on the ground until Halloween. I built up my mileage slowly, cross trained as much as possible, and tried not to push it…until I felt my speed coming back. Come January, I feel pain in my foot. We do an X-ray and MRI that show its residual pain from…a stress reaction in my left shin.
Thankfully, this wasn’t as bad and we caught it early. I only spent a few weeks on the bench, and at least got to bike ride this time. By getting to do harder-intensity workouts that focused on my heart rate, I came back like I never left. I was determined at this point to run one race my senior year, and luckily I got to run two. After the last one, I put the boot on again until I graduated.
So, let’s fast forward about a year, and here we are today. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be running as much as I am now, and be healthy while doing so, I don’t think I would have believed you. I really thought I had messed up my ability to run forever, because it felt like I would just hit that one week of mileage and I would be wrecked and go right back to where I started.
In retrospect, I think I was so eager to get back to running, that I ignored any signs of pain or red flags from my body. I spent last summer running at most 10 miles a week, and learning to enjoy other workouts like SoulCycle, barre, swimming and more. I slowly added a few more miles each week so that by the time I ran the Army Ten Miler in October, I felt prepared – and I even ran 10 minutes faster than my seed time! Now I’m running a half-marathon every month (sometimes even twice a month) and two weeks ago I ran my longest distance ever, even beating my college record, running 15 miles.
To say I was crushed and struggling my senior year of college would be a major understatement. Running always was and always will be a big part of my identity – the difference was, before this, it was my only identity. I couldn’t find a way to enjoy movement and enjoy myself and the way I looked at myself without running and without succeeding at running. Everyone knew me back home as the girl who ran, and even at Baylor I was so enthusiastic and excited and proud to be part of that team and show up every day.
When I went through my first and second stress fractures, my therapist asked me what I was doing to fill the time I could have been running, and my answer was, “Whatever it takes to start running again and keep my speed.” He asked if I could never run again, how would I feel? And I was speechless. I couldn’t imagine a life without running, without my escape, without the thing that gave me strength and confidence. Before I started running, I was an awkward girl who looked at the ground when she spoke, and after finishing my collegiate career I blossomed into a whole new person. No running just can’t be possible.
That inspired me to do whatever it took to safely get back to running, avoiding speed and times and all that. But I also found a way to enjoy my workouts and enjoy myself without running. I learned about goals I had in life, things I wanted to accomplish, I met an incredible boyfriend, I ended up at my dream school for grad school, I came to peace with my body and my abilities and most importantly, I learned how much I truly love running for myself, not for anyone else.
I’ve been running nearly every day in quarantine, with gyms closed I have to do something! I’m definitely more in tune with my body and looking forward to cross training again safely. Occasionally, I get upset when I do a workout slower than I once could or having a run that never would have cut it while competing in college. However, I always bring it back to the present, and remind myself how truly lucky I am to be running at all, and how that girl sitting in the doctor’s office all those times just a year ago would kill to be in my shoes now. Comparison is the thief of joy, and no matter how slow, a run is a run, and I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow.