Injuries hurt. Literally. But they also hurt in a non-literal sense. When I try to list all the positive effects that running has on my life, it becomes hard to believe that people exist who don't run at all. Put simply, running makes me happy. It makes me happy in a sort of unquantifiable, visceral way. But it also provides me the proper brain chemistry to actually be happy, in a very scientific, quantifiable way (i.e. dopamine and serotonin release).
I ran for the first time today in almost three weeks. It was a blissful, glorious release after 19 days of pure hell. My injury kept me from running, hiking, biking—essentially experiencing the mountains in any way possible. It even kept me from commuting to work via road bike. I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting behind the wheel of a car. Sitting inside. Breathing putrid, conditioned air. A lot of time spent just staring at the mountains longingly; an absurd amount of time spent foam rolling. Not writing. Barely reading. Languishing in my sorrow... Oh, and way too much beer. What can I say? I was depressed.
My excitement and joy up on the trail today was palpable. It felt so good to be outside, moving through the mountains, feeling the sun on my skin, letting the sweat pour off my body onto the dirt beneath my feet, testing my agency against the mountain. Basically just doing what I am supposed to be doing—what this endurance machine I call a body is designed for. To be outside, moving efficiently through the natural terrain, felt doubly amazing after such a long hiatus (relatively speaking).
Despite my elation, I wasn’t going to let this injury be forgotten without learning all that I possibly could from it. By nature, overuse injuries (as opposed to an acute injury) usually point to an imbalance somewhere in the body. Something isn’t working properly in relation to something else. In my case, a weakness in my right hip (namely glute medius and my TFL) was causing my left leg, which was already much stronger, to overcompensate, particularly coming downhill. I kept trying to run through my weakness issues that were beginning to manifest in the form of a knotted IT band after the Zion 100.
It was something of the perfect storm for me: A 100k (which was also loaded with super steep downhill sections) that I failed to fully recover from and Suunto partnering with Strava. Sure, Strava has its redeeming qualities, but promoting rest isn’t one of them. Suddenly all of my runs—complete with segment splits, pace information and vertical gain data—were being posted online and compared with all the other runners on Strava (which in Southern California seems to be a crapload). I was pushing the pace when it didn’t feel right. I was running when I should have been resting. It wasn’t just me anymore on my runs; it felt like I was dragging the whole Strava social media network along with me on my back. I needed to be faster! I needed more weekly volume! And I needed it now! So my body shut me down. As much as I hated to hear it, I need to rest and I really needed get my hips figured out.
Tony Krupicka was writing about being injured recently, “An unsolicited bit of advice: don't construct your coping-with-life mechanisms around something as capricious and physically abusive as running up and down mountains.” When I first read that line, I wasn’t hurt and I was getting up in the mountains everyday. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at the facetious nature of the comment. Obviously, Tony wouldn’t have it any other way. Then, thinking back on the quote a couple weeks into my own interruption from mountain running, I couldn’t help but completely agree. I went to a dark place. It wasn’t fun for me and I probably wasn’t any fun to be around.
Then today, grunting up the side of the mountain, a surprising amount of spring in my under-used legs, taking in the scenery and actually feeling like a runner again for the first time in almost three weeks, I had an epiphany. Life is all about balancing priorities. There comes a time when we all have to decide what’s important. Then we have to make sacrifices to support that decision.
To me, just being outside, moving efficiently and exerting myself is what matters. It doesn’t matter that someone might look at my Strava profile and see that I only ran 50 miles this week. Or that I took a day off. Worrying about these things puts my first priority in jeopardy. There needs to be a balance. Time needs to be sacrificed doing meticulous, boring exercises in an effort to balance things out. More speed work on flat terrain, more barefoot running. More activities that support my continued ability to run my choice of terrain, as much as I can.
I’m done taking my ability to run in the mountains for granted. Never again. Sure, it may be a capricious and physical abusive act, but I love it. I will sacrifice to keep it a reality. I will learn from my mistakes. Priority number one.