When I initially started working out at 22, I thought “This is the hardest thing I have ever done”. My friend taught an indoor cycling class and I started attending on a regular basis. It was an hour-long class and I gave myself a big pat on the back for just going back every week. My reasons for going at first were to hang out with my new friend and try something different. But I soon became addicted to the rush of finishing a hard workout. I was becoming more social. And at the same time, getting healthier. This was great! I decided to start training for my first half marathon (with my friend’s persuasion!). Now I was confronted with the second “hardest thing I have ever done.”
Ignoring my ankle injury
Three weeks out from my first race, my ankle started bothering me. Now, I had experienced more than a few “growing pains” since I started working out on a regular basis. I expected to have small aches and pains. I was still learning proper form and getting into a routine with foam rolling and stretching. These little aches and pains always resolved with some adjustments to my form and proper time recovering. But this pain in my ankle was different. It didn’t hurt AFTER my run. It hurt DURING my run.
I took a week off from running. There was still a little bit of time before the big race and I thought taking one week off would be more than enough time to recover from whatever this problem was with my ankle. I followed the tried-and-true RICE formula during this week.
I believed that this was the ideal recovery method for most injuries. There was a small detail I had yet to learn. And it was the most important. TIME. It takes time to recover from an injury, and you have to give yourself permission (aka “force yourself” for most endurance athletes) to take as much time as necessary. I took a week and went back to running, even though I was still having pain.
On race day, I showed up with a positive mindset, wearing a soft ankle brace and carrying plenty of ibuprofen in my fuel belt. The first eight miles of the race were awesome. I felt good, I had other friends running in the race which made it more fun, and my time wasn’t half bad so far. But my ankle was hurting. A lot. I faced a huge decision. Quit my first race with less than five miles to go or tough it out and deal with the consequences later.
I chose the latter. My choice was completely personal. Obviously, I do not recommend for anyone to push through an injury if it doesn’t feel right. But at the end of the day, it was my body and my decision. I had worked so hard to train for this. My time wasn’t going to be great, but I wanted to finish, even if I had to crawl across the finish line.
I walked the entire ninth mile of the race psyching myself up to finish. Every step was painful. But I was determined. The rest of the race I switched between a slow jog and walking. Then I rounded a corner and the finish line came into view. I could hear the crowd shouting and the announcer calling out people’s names as the finished. I wanted to hear my name so I started running, as fast as I could across that finish line. It is such an emotional journey training for a race, especially your first one. As soon as I finished I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I had done it.
After celebrations and congratulations with my friends, I went straight to Urgent Care for my ankle. They confirmed what I had been fearing all along. I had sprained my ankle. Four to six weeks off from running. Even though I was devastated I was still so happy to have finished my race. I was going to take this recovery time seriously (so I could sign up for another race, of course!) and let my body heal. For me, and I’m sure most athletes, it is so mentally challenging to convince yourself you can take time off. That you NEED to take time off. But especially with a sprain or strain injury, going back into training too soon can come back to bite you.
What I learned from my injury
The best thing you can do is try your best to stay positive and listen to your body. I spent my time “on the bench” researching ways to prevent injury. Exercises I could do to prevent this particular injury from plaguing me again. In the end, it turned into a great thing! I started swimming and eventually decided to start participating in a triathlon. I still love running, but this injury introduced me to a sport that I would love just as much.
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