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Injury Changes Everything

From the middle of March until early June, every single running step I took was one of caution. Granted, there weren’t really all that many steps being run during that time. But the few times I did try to run weren’t peaceful, relaxing…or even good workouts.

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At first, each step was laced with anxiety. I was simply waiting for the all-too-familiar pain to appear. Even once I finally accepted how stupid and stubborn I was being about my knee injury and started walk/running my way back to health, my steps were still uncertain. Because in the process of learning to walk/run again, I realized that I needed to change my stride. That my awful form had contributed at least in part to the pain I was feeling. And that I would never be able to run without pain again unless I did something drastic.

RnR ProfessionalThis is not exactly what you would call “model running form”

So I switched to a pair of minimalist shoes (the Saucony Mirage 2′s for those that are interested), hoping the 4mm heel-to-toe offset and lack of cushioning (compared to a typical running shoe) would encourage me to land on my midfoot, instead of relying on my heel to take the brunt of my weight. {Note: this is against conventional wisdom for knee injuries but it has worked for me. More about that later}.

Along with my switch in footwear, I changed up my form. I found that with a shorter stride came less pain. Suddenly I realized that I could run pain-free as long as I kept my stride short and my pace slow. Times when I tried to speed up by stretching out my legs were always unsuccessful. I stood up straighter, pumped my arms more efficiently, and focused on giving each footfall a purpose. I gave up listening to music on any of my runs to improve my focus on what exactly I was doing.

In short, my running became mechanical. There was no more zoning out. No more easy, relaxed gliding along. No more feeling the miles tick by like nothing.

BUT – I was running. And if running like a machine was the only way I could successfully run, well then by gosh I was going to take it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the easy, relaxed way running used to feel. Don’t get me wrong – running was never easy all the time. In fact, running is often hard. But even during the hardest of my runs, I still felt like myself. Now I just felt weird and alien. A stranger in my own body. I was not the same girl who had run close to every day for over half of her life. I was a newcomer, trying to learn how to run all over again.

I began to think that I would never get the old me back. After all, the way I was running was different. I could no longer relax into my stride. So maybe running was just bound to be different from now on.

And then came the morning of June 9th. A day that dawned cool, crisp and sunny. A morning that came too early after a night of tossing and turning in my sleep. A day when I knew my whole life was going to change forever.

I woke up so early that morning – before the sun had even started peeking over the horizon. I lay in bed for awhile, finally dragging myself up a little before 6:00 am. Running was the one thing on my mind…but the last thing my body felt like doing. I was exhausted – sick with nerves and from having barely slept in the past week. My head was spinning, my legs felt like lead, and as soon as I started running I was sure I would throw up.

But it was my wedding day and I was determined to start the day off the best way I knew how. So I stumbled through the run, trying to quiet my screaming legs and my aching head, and ignore my queasy stomach. As I ran, I found myself getting lost in my thoughts. I was alone on a dirt road in my favorite place on earth on the most perfect morning. The solitude was amazing, and just what I needed to calm my nerves.

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I turned a corner. Ran up a long hill with screaming legs and burning lungs. And as I got to the top and saw the green mountain peaks through the morning mist I realized two things: 1.) I was incredibly, indescribably happy. and 2.) I WAS RUNNING. Really running. Not thinking about each stride. Not thinking about how straight I was standing up, or whether I was definitely landing on my midfoot, or if my arms were pumping correctly. I was just putting one foot in front of the other, in a way that felt as natural as breathing.

Somewhere along the way, all the thoughts about how tired I felt and how big this day was helped me forget to think about how to run. I just did it. I finished that run feeling better than I had in a very long time. Truly the perfect start to the most perfect day.

Lauren evan grafton inn vermont wedding 1648

I wish I could say that the run was a turning point for me. I would love it if every single run since that day had felt so amazing. Unfortunately, that feeling was fleeting. I don’t know if it was the magic of my wedding, or the fact that I truly was too exhausted to stress about how exactly I was running. But ever since that day I have been running in search of that feeling — the feeling of running free without worry.

I know that it hasn’t been that long since I’ve gotten back into training. That I’m very out of shape, and that I just drastically changed how I run. Any change of that magnitude isn’t going to come easy.

The other day while I was running, I caught a glimpse of my shadow. The girl I saw running looked great – technically speaking. Her back was straight, her stride was short and even, she wasn’t landing on her heels. The only problem was, she was someone I didn’t recognize.

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I know that each run is a blessing. I think back to the time between March and June when I couldn’t really run at all, and I’m thankful that things are finally looking up. I am excited about being able to train again, and really hope that this summer will be filled with many amazing runs.

But I feel like a stranger in my own body. A body that I don’t really trust anymore. As thankful as I am for every single run, I am still waiting for that day when I feel like runner Lauren…not injured, out-of-shape, nervous-runner Lauren.

In the meantime, I know I need to keep taking it one run at a time. I will try to be patient, waiting for the day when I can get lost in a run again.

Hopefully that day will come soon.

26 Responses to Injury Changes Everything

  1. I love that Health on the Run keeps popping up in my G Reader regularly these days! This is a great post. I have recently switched to a more minimal shoe as well and have found that shortening my stride helps a ton with IT tightness/pain that keeps nagging at me. But it definitely is a conscious effort to remind myself and feels very awkward. Hopefully after some amount of time, it will be natural and you will feel like Lauren the runner all over again…just with a new stride :)
    Corey´s last post ..Purposeful Running Series

    • I am trying! It’s hard to get back into the habit when I’ve been away from it for so long…

      And I really hope that after a little while the short stride will feel as natural as my longer one used to be. I guess we shall see.

  2. I know exactly how you feel! I developed insane foot tendonitis (at first it was misdiagnosed as a stress fracture – imagine how fun that was) in April, and I finally started taking my first runs back inthe end of june. Almost 3 months off killed my endurance (and I was pretty slow to begin with) and forced me to focus so much on my stride and form. It’s so uncomfortable to be running with the “straight ankles, proper footfall” mantra resonating constantly. But I think (or at least hope for me) that it will make better long-term changes, and hopefully we will both be faster and healthier runners in the future!
    Emily´s last post ..Racing Bucket List

  3. Pre-wedding run is a fantastic way to start the next part of your life’s journey… My wedding day started the same way and I wouldn’t change it…. Congrats

  4. The current issue of Runner’s World actually has a piece on just this very topic! The author had to change his running form in order to return to pain-free running and while the change brought what he sought (pain-free running) he lost the ability to run freely. To zone out and just let his body move, to just put one foot in front of the other without thinking about it. He, like you, was determined to keep at it though in hopes that carefree, zen-like state of running would one day be achieved through his new running form. Good luck.

    • Really?? I don’t get Runner’s World anymore, but I would love to read this! That’s encouraging to hear, except I have to ask…did it say how long he was at it for? I guess my greatest fear is that because I have to be so careful with every footfall these days, I will never be able to run completely carefree again….or at least that’s the way it feels at this moment.

  5. Yes! I relate to this so much — and ditto on the recommendation for the Runner’s World piece above. I spend more of my runs than I’d like to admit mentally cycling through a list of: “shoulders back! tight core! short stride! IS YOUR BUTT WORKING??” One of the reasons I’ve resisted my PT’s suggestion of downloading a metronome app for my phone is that I don’t want that getting into my head, too! But it does make me feel better to know this is something lots of runners, including those much speedier than I am, go through.
    Kimra´s last post ..Berlin Marathon Training: Week 4

    • I need to see if this article is online! I’d love to read it.

      I also have avoided using a metronome or actually counting my stride rate/steps-per-minute for the same reason! I figure I’ve shortened my stride enough to run without pain and yet still feel like I’m actually running. I don’t need yet another thing to stress over on my runs.

      Hope the change of form continues to work for you as you train this summer!

  6. I have been there, and I have to tell you that it gets better. I changed to the Mirage back in early 2011 and I remember feeling exhausted on my usual runs because I couldn’t just run all out and get them over with. After the Mirage I switched to Kinvara for the next year or so. Now I can run in any shoe without thinking about it and I still run on my midfoot without any hip pain (that was my issue).
    So hang in there sister — this new running style will feel second nature soon. And you will be able to log many more miles than you ever did before!

    • This is very encouraging, thank you! I switched to the Mirage in part because I had heard so many great things about the Kinvaras but was too nervous to give up all support/guidance. Glad to hear that someone else has had a great experience with them AND with changing their stride for good.

  7. One day at a time girl. Thank you for sharing this. You look absolutely beautiful in that wedding dress! :)

  8. Katie @ msfitrunner

    I love that you said you felt like a stranger in your own body – that’s exactly how I felt in the spring when I came back from a break due to shin splints after a good two months off. It is a VERY strange feeling, but you get through it and quickly get used to the new and hopefully improved running YOU:)
    I tried the mirages, but LOVED the kinvaras. I love the low heal/toe drop, but I ran too much in the kinvaras and needed a break! Glad the mirages are working for you.
    Katie @ msfitrunner´s last post ..Tempo Tuesday Talk

    • Glad to hear other’s can relate to that statement! I might try the Kinvaras someday but I was a little too nervous to give up all guidance…especially since I also struggled with ankle/foot pain earlier in the year. But I do keep hearing lots of great things about them!

  9. Oh I more than understand. I felt the same way on my run the other day. Only instead of being cautious due to injuries, I feel so different because of my post baby body. But I guess all we can do is keep running!

  10. Ah, I so feel you on this…I’ve only had maybe one or two runs since February where I haven’t been analyzing every step. Wondering if the pain is coming back, if that little twinge is a rock under my shoe or if it’s the pain coming back. It’s so hard to not be a worry free runner, especially when running is the best way I know how to escape it all. Hopefully it’ll come back to both of us soon!

    I am glad you got a pain free, thought free run on your wedding day…definitely the best way to start!
    Susan´s last post ..the running economy

  11. I’m so glad you got a fantastic run on the morning of your wedding! Of all the days…perfect!!
    Cathryn @ myheartscontentblog´s last post ..A week in my Nikes – July 13th

  12. I love this post, Lauren. So well written and you always capture the ups and downs of running so well. Your posts often remind me that there are ebbs and flows to running, but that staying the course is the most important and will lead to longevity in running.
    Meggie´s last post ..Short Stories

  13. Such a beautifully written post, not like that’s anything new for you. :) I know you’ll feel like runner Lauren again, fingers crossed that happens soon!
    Jen´s last post ..Working out with baby

  14. Glad you got your “in the zone” stride back! I’m resting on a hamstring injury right now (in the middle of 1/2 marathon training) and I’m going crazy! I know that I’m going to have that “cautious/nervous with every step” feeling once I start running again, but you’ve given me hope that I’ll be able to get back in the groove eventually. Great post! :)
    Katie (Hungry Runner)´s last post ..Here is a silly picture to help everyone understand what it…

  15. That’s just awesome! So glad to hear you still had the run before the wedding..you what you are doing.. :)

  16. I’m really happy to have found your blog (through Ali’s!) since I’ve been dealing with persistent knee pain (caused from patella maltracking & also inflammation) since January. (I apologize in advance if this comment ends up being really long by the way!!) I was committed to a spring marathon when I started having pain & the ortho docs I saw told me there was no way I could run a marathon in 4 months .. but I was determined and found a great physical therapist who helped me so much.

    Of course everyone is different .. but for me what worked best was switching to more minimal shoes (New Balance 1400′s) and shortening my stride like you mentioned .. but also increasing my cadence.. Doing strengthening exercises 3x a week .. Icing after every run & taking ibuprofen as needed .. taping my knee & wearing a band/brace for inflammation .. having my PT massage my IT band a few times a week .. But what helped me the most was stretching. I’m pretty positive all my knee issues come from having too tight muscles throughout my legs & hips .. so I made sure to stretch (and foam roll) for at least an hour every day. I also did Yin yoga 2x a week which provided some of the best stretching ever.

    Fully committing myself to all these things made me go from not being able to run a mile without pain to running an almost pain free marathon. It was pretty incredible and I didn’t think it could actually happen! I had also slowed down my goal pace (to about 9:30) once I knew I was injured, but on marathon day I was able to run at my original goal pace (8:45) with no problem.

    But .. It’s now about 8 weeks after the marathon and even though I haven’t been running as much as I was .. I still have knee pain. It’s so frustrating because I want it to just go away and have running be easy & fun like it was before all this started .. but I know that just can’t happen anymore. I haven’t been stretching like I need to (since I just needed a mental break after spending so much time thinking about my knee during training) and I’ve just been lazy about it, to be honest. I wish so much that pain free running could happen without having to spend SO much time stretching & icing & doing knee specific strengthening exercises. But maybe once I get back into the stretching/yoga routine and keep my weekly mileage relatively low, I’ll be able to get there. It just makes me so discouraged to think that I may never be a runner without knee pain and if that’s actually the case, is running even a good idea if I’m constantly in pain? Will I have to give it up all together?

    So, I guess my whole point here is that I feel you when you say that injury changes everything. And that I think about it pretty much all day every day, since I love running so much. And I truly hope that you can discover what will get you back to a state of pain free running. I’ll be reading along from here on out so I’m curious to see what works for you! Good luck & congratulations on your wedding! :)

    Alice´s last post ..Had a really nice active weekend. Started friday off with a 5 mile AM run (on super sore legs from…

  17. I’m also a heel striker, over strider. I was running in a stability shoe, PLUS orthotics to stay uninjured. I have been doing all my runs less than 10 miles in Kinvaras and I can honestly say it was a great decision. YES, I feel like my legs, feet, muscles are working harder but isn’t that the point of running? I may have been running on clouds with orthotics, but it was perpetuating my bad form. I’m still not quite there with the long run, though.

    Best of luck with the newer shoes and form. Your wedding pictures are stunning!

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    Margarita´s last post ..Margarita

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