I started my running career kind of abruptly. Deciding to join the Deerpath Cross Country team in seventh grade was a somewhat spontaneous decision. But I truly think it was one of the best decisions of my life. Running is not just my sport; it’s my outlet for when I’m stressed out and my refuge for when I need to calm down. I know many people don’t feel that way about running, but I do.
I often get asked how I have the drive, the motivation, the will to run every single day. I never quite know what to say because it’s hard to put into words. I love something that most people hate. Ever since middle school, my classmates would dread the mile run and the pacer–even today, a three mile race would not be at the top of many’s to-do lists. But for me, I have found a sanctuary within running and can’t imagine my life without it. It has become, without question, a part of me.
Having such a passion for running has been key in my cross country and track career. I know people who can’t stand going to practice and say that it’s their least favorite time of day, but it is the opposite for me. I find happiness in every run, whether the scheduled workout is a six mile base run or hill repeats. It sounds odd, but putting myself in an uncomfortable position where the workout hurts is what I love the most. Pushing my legs and lungs to the limit and completing a difficult workout is the most rewarding feeling in the world to me. There’s nothing that tops that “finished” feeling, having conquered a track, or a hill, or an opponent. My love for running has produced a strong dedication within me. There are days that I wake up two hours before school, layer up, and go for a 15 minute “shake out” run–a short, two mile run to get lactic acid out of my legs– in the pitch black and single digit weather. I go on my Sunday long run no matter what– whether that be having to complete it on the “dreadmill”, running on Christmas Day in Utah 7,000 feet above sea level, or driving to the Santa Monica Strand on my family’s trip to Los Angeles early before my sisters even woke up. I do it all to not only become better, but because running has become an integral part of every single one of my days and an integral part of my happiness.
And then it stopped.
On February 2, a little over a month ago, I felt something off in my left piriformis muscle as I got into my forty minute treadmill run. As the minutes went by, the pain increased.
Don’t stop, Brett. You haven’t stopped a run in forever. You’re fine.
I said this to myself over and again. But after about twenty minutes, I pressed the pause button– something that sounded the defeat alarm in my mind.
Did you really just do that?
I stretched for about thirty seconds, then got back into it. I told myself to shake it off and that I was fine. Only a few strides in, the twinges of pain returned. I stopped not once, but twice more–the second time I physically got off the treadmill and foam rolled for a minute before getting back on to finish my run. By the time forty minutes were up, I could barely walk.
Five days, a doctor’s appointment, two chiropractic sessions, one trip to acupuncture, and an MRI later, I was told I had a stress fracture on the left side of my sacrum, the bone that is at the base of your spine. I immediately started to cry. The words “stress fracture” are the last words any runner wants to hear– especially one who had been training harder than she ever had before all winter, trying her best to do everything she could to prevent injury, and setting big goals to accomplish during the upcoming track season. So many thoughts and questions clouded my mind.
Why me? What did I do wrong? Am I even going to be able to run this season?
My parents hugged me and told me it was going to be okay, but at that moment, all I could think was that “okay” was exactly what it wasn’t.
I was instructed to use crutches for two weeks to jumpstart the healing process of my bone. My only workout option was swimming laps with a pull buoy in between my legs– which meant no kicking– but I was also told not to swim too often because my body needed rest. I went from getting my heart rate up once or twice per day to having to be somewhat of a couch potato. I started having headaches, tearing up whenever I thought about my circumstances, and not talking about how I was feeling or doing to anyone. I spent my free time reading tens of posts about sacral stress fractures, only to be disappointed with each and every read because they all said “6 to 8 weeks of no running.” I simply could not imagine going that long without doing what I loved. I convinced myself I would run again in four weeks, injury or not. When I’d tell my parents that, they’d shake their heads and tell me that this was a serious injury, not just one that I could brush off.
My mom asked me if I wanted a career or a season. I sat on that for a while.
It was one particular Saturday when I was laying in my bed in the middle of the afternoon, head pounding, parents asking me to talk about how I felt when I realized I needed a change of attitude. Sulking and pitying myself was not going to heal my stress fracture any faster. I got out of my funk, went to Whole Foods with my mom and bought all my favorite foods, ate dinner with my parents, and then went to bed early and got ten very much needed hours of sleep. The next day when I woke up, I said to myself It’s a new day, Brett. Be positive.
I (somewhat) got the hang of walking with crutches and motivated myself to get to the pool and swim almost every day. Instead of dwelling on how long my recovery could be, I began to daydream about the day that I will finally be able to run again and how good it will feel. I came to terms with the fact that I do want a running career, not just this track season. I want to go on and improve on the collegiate level. This junior track season is not the end all be all for me, so I’m not going to injure myself even more by going back to my intense routine before my injury is healed. However, with all of that being said, my goals for this track season still remain in the back of my mind because with my shift in mindset and incredible determination to get healthy, I know they could still be attainable.
I don’t just think, I know that I will come back stronger. We all know the cliché quote, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” but I’ve got to admit that it’s incredibly true considering all I’ve learned in the past month. I didn’t take running for granted, but I definitely did not appreciate it as much as I should have. When I get back to running, I know that I will cherish every single time I get out on the roads, track, or even that uninspiring rolling tread. This injury has lit a fire within me to become even stronger than I was before, both mentally and physically.
I thoroughly believe that everything happens for a reason; that this is just a bump in the road for me. I may have stumbled upon my passion for running randomly and had no clue if I would even excel at it, but I know that there is so much more in store for me in the sport.
I can’t wait to be back in the grind of training, pushing my body to the limit each day. But until then, I’m just gonna keep my head up.