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How I get back to running after an injury

I became a runner during the pandemic. I've never been able to go very fast or very far, but for the past two years, the two to three times a week where I've laced my shoes and hit the sidewalk have always been invaluable to me. Short, easy runs cleared my head and brought me peace, while longer distances brought me to a mental and physical place of joy and strength. I miss it so, then a lot.

A little over three months ago my running practice came to a halt after I slipped on a patch of ice and sprained my ankle on a mountain trip. I went from logging miles to limping and being unable to put weight on my foot going down stairs. Over time my injury healed, however, and I am now able to do jump squats and hike again. And, finally, last month, I decided to test the waters with a run. The plan was to go for a 20-minute super slow jog, I decided. If it hurt, I would stop.

I bought a brace at the pharmacy and remember feeling incredibly excited. This feeling lasted as I put on my running shorts, ultralight top, hat, belt, and running shoes. I had missed this thing! Putting it on made me feel like a version of myself that I loved. I launched my playlist and left.

My body is strong and capable, and not being able to do what I did three months ago doesn't change that.

Immediately, everything seemed different. Before, the start of the race was pleasant, because I moved without making an effort. That day, I felt like I was running through molasses. My ankle was fine, but my calves were on fire and my hamstrings hurt. Worst of all, I felt pain in my lower back, a sign that my core muscles were weak. I realized that two and a half months had put all those tiny specialized muscles that support a run – the ones I had been developing without even realizing it over the past two years – into hibernation mode.

Feeling defeated, I calmed down as I walked and called my mother. I was almost in tears. I felt mad at myself for slipping on that ice and being let down by my body for backtracking in such a short time. How could this happen in just two months? How could the peace of a short, easy run be stolen from me so quickly?

But there was nothing to do but keep going because I had an event coming up that involved a race, and I wasn't going to back down. It was on the beach, the site where I had run my longest distance (five miles), the place where I always feel the best.

During my training, I enjoyed using the guided runs in the Nike Run Club app. One day, halfway through a 30-minute run, the narrator, Coach Bennett, asked me to think of a word to describe how I wanted to feel. Immediately I thought: under pressure! That's what I've always felt after 15 minutes of racing. But then I realized I was anything but energized. I was tired and in pain, and that feeling was probably going nowhere. Maybe, I thought, I could choose a new, better word for now, and settled on "acceptance."

I repeated it over and over again recognizing my tired body. It's okay, I thought. I can be tired and slow down. If I'm still tired, I can walk for 30 seconds and catch my breath. I inhabited the struggle, and by living in it rather than being mad at it, I was able to get through it. I finished the race.

Getting back into running was the ultimate lesson in humility and acceptance. How quickly so much can change made me humble and had to come to terms with everything that was beyond my control. But I am also in awe of the resilience of the human body. My body is strong and capable, and not being able to do what I did three months ago doesn't change that. I'm learning to take giant leaps again and feeling all the more grateful for my overall health and love of movement.

After many miles (and more than a few tears), I arrived at the day of the event. Immediately fell to the back of the pack, the very last person. I accepted this. I was going slow, but the weather was nice, and my body didn't hurt as much. I managed to run 27 minutes, and yes I felt muscle pain, but also elation. Was I back? I was back!

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