[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I have a grade one hamstring strain that's really been a drag to deal with. It isn't painful enough to be totally debilitating but it's pretty annoying and I've stopped running for a few weeks so as not to make it worse. I had a few dark days of feeling blue and was turning the corner to feeling relatively positive when I crashed my motorcycle. I'm mostly fine; I sustained a sprained wrist, some gnarly road rash, and my body is very sore. Setbacks don't always come one at a time, do they?
I haven't had to take a break from running in over a year. I maintain a fairly structured workout plan that includes yoga, strength training, mountain runs, and easy runs. I hit nearly 2,500 miles in 2020 and was feeling a bit bulletproof which is exactly the moment shit usually gets fucked. We are less indestructible than we'd all like to think.
The first time I sustained a major injury I was 21, and had been running for many years. I had a laberal tear in my right hip that took me away from competition for over a year. That was a difficult injury to sustain because at the time, my life revolved around running. I was a Division 1 athlete who, prior to injury, was fast. Most of my friends were runners, and running took up the bulk of my free time. Suddenly, that was gone. My identity was somewhat gone as well.
The difference now, is that my injury isn't as bad and my identity does not rest solely in my ability to run and perform. That's the crux of the matter, really. I miss my daily endorphins and my community of runners, but I know both of those things will be back soon.
Identity is complex. Let's define it, no?
Identity: The distinguishing character or personality of an individual; the relation established by psychological identification; the condition of being the same with something described or asserted; the sameness of essential or generic character in different instances.
The sameness of our essential character is our identity, but I think it's apt to point out that our personal identity is far different than our social identity, meaning that other people probably think of you in a different way than you think of yourself. This is so normal I might cry. Obviously our sense of self is different from what others see, but it's important to note that both are highly subjective.
Psychologists believe that our identities are rooted in our personal potential which is how we choose a purpose for living. As we age and grow, we continue to develop our identity by reevaluating our potential and realigning our sense of purpose.
All of this is somewhat subjective, but the important bit is that your identity will continue to change as you age and grow. Allowing your identity to shift is your golden ticket to freedom. When I was young, an injury was devastating because running was such a huge part of my identity that I didn't know who I was without it. That approach is a bit immature, through no fault of my own. Running garnered me praise and notoriety. It paid for my college education. It was a big part of me, but slowly, it became nearly all of me.
In my current season of rest and renewal I'm embracing things I've neglected in the past in favor of running. I'm addressing physical weaknesses, getting back on my yoga mat, re-evaluating my dietary habits, and spending time on my other hobbies, like writing and riding my motorcycle and connecting with friends and loved ones. Time will always be here, and it's up to you how you decide to fill it.
I wish there were a fast, easy way to cure my body. To make myself feel as strong and healthy as I did pre- injury and pre- motorcycle accident. But there's not, there's just time and patience and building strength and being kind. There is no simple answer to any injury because any given injury may have occurred for many reasons. That's not what anyone probably wants to hear, though. The internet can tell you things you might want to hear, like a topical CBD cream that will cure your torn muscle (it won't). But the internet will tell you things you might not want to hear as well, like a 4-6 week recovery time from a grade one hamstring strain. It's up to you to figure out what went wrong and pursue a path to recovery that makes the most sense. Personal accountability is not very sexy.
So, grieve the loss of your sport if you must but understand that you will likely return and be stronger for it. Rest. Try new things. Recognize that whatever season you're in, everything is temporary. See a physical therapist and do what you can with what we have. That's all anyone can do, ever.
P.S. Check out Dr. Rob Bells' strategies for coping with injuries here, read 7 Tips for Recovering Mentally After a Sports Injury here, or read ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager.