Nobody wants to get an injury—especially when you’re an OCR athlete who has big goals for the upcoming race season. But earlier this year, while in the middle of an endurance event, an injury completely turned my life around. I went from running 30-40 miles per week, putting in early morning and late night high-intensity workouts, to being barely able to walk. But honestly? It wasn't all bad.
Here’s what happened: I started the year with the goal of improving my running endurance (I wanted to earn that 50-miler bib at the 2019 World’s Toughest Mudder!). So in January, I ran my first 50K. But early in the race, around mile 6, I fell. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and rather than stop, stretch, and give myself a minute to recover, I popped back up and kept going. With 26 more miles to go on some uneven trail terrain, my IT band ended up being extremely unhappy with me by the end of the day.
The following day, rather than rest, I went climbing at my local indoor climbing facility, and then stuck to my regular workout routine for the rest of the week, all the while thinking that the twinge I felt was just a bit of soreness that would resolve itself.
A week later, I felt like a butcher knife was being driven right into my kneecap.
For three weeks I didn’t know what, exactly, was going on. My doctor put me on crutches because of my drastic limping, and said that I should back off from my workouts a bit. All sorts of questions ran through my head: “Is this a season ending injury?”, “When will I be able to head back into the gym?”, “Can I still run World’s Toughest Mudder?!?!” As a lifelong athlete, to see your friends crushing their races while you have to just sit and watch from the sidelines can become debilitating.
When I described my symptoms to my mom, who had experienced the exact same injury in the past, her (non-professional) diagnosis made sense: iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. Finally knowing what was wrong was a relief, and I was able to start properly treating my injury and get back on track to achieve my 2019 season goals.
Injuries stink, no doubt, but they also give us an opportunity to evaluate how we fuel our journeys to reach our athletic potential. My time with an injury, as difficult as it was, taught me some useful lessons that I may have never learned otherwise.
1. Getting injured is lonely
As an athlete, the onset of any injury is probably one of the loneliest things you can experience. My life revolves around going to the gym before and/or after work, so to suddenly have this daily outing removed from my lifestyle took a lot out of me. I’d go home after work, seeing my friends crushing PR’s at the gym all over social media, while wishing I could be there with them. I was suddenly sidelined to simply ice, rest, stretch, and elevate my leg.
But not being in the gym gave me plenty of time to evaluate my life outside of athletics. I got around to doing some housework I’d been procrastinating, I took some time to do yoga, I worked on my blog, I started reading more. While none of this gave me the “runner’s high” I’d experience on a long run, it did provide stress relief and gave me a sense of accomplishment by checking off other to-do list items.
2. Stretching is life changing
I’m going to be honest: I don’t really like yoga. I’m such a Type-A personality that the slower pace and mindfulness focus of some yoga classes leaves me thinking of a million other things I should be doing with my time. But, with no other option than to slow down, I discovered the rejuvenating qualities of yoga, allowing myself to focus on breath work and lengthening my muscles. Doing yoga helped alleviate not only my IT band, but also that nagging shoulder pain I'd been ignoring for months. Taking time to stretch and relax ended up helping not only my IT band, but also my entire body, allowing me to become more physically prepared to get back to crushing PR’s once I was ready to head back to the gym.
3. Feel a twinge? Take a break
Listen to your body. My IT band injury likely occurred because my race mentality took over: Rather than stop and stretch after my fall, I simply got up and kept running. Maybe if I had been humble enough to stop, stretch, and walk a bit, I wouldn’t have experienced a nearly month-long process of recovery. Or...maybe not. Either way, it’s important to listen to your body at the first signs of an injury to help prevent further damage.
4. Getting a diagnosis was a relief
I spent three long weeks not knowing exactly what was wrong, and contemplating my race season future, wondering if I’d still be able to achieve my goals. I can’t tell you how many highs and lows I felt that first week of rest. I went from always being around people at the gym and always working out to basically nothing. I had moments where I started to feel some relief when I walked, thinking maayybeee that would be my day to try to run, to minutes later being crippled with that “knife into my knee” feeling. Learning what was wrong quite literally felt like a ton of bricks being lifted from my shoulders. Finally an answer! And I was able to craft a game plan to properly treat my injury and fuel my path toward recovery and getting back to doing what I loved.
5. It’s not the end of the world
Getting an injury helped me explore new passions, and it could for you, too. With time away from the gym, maybe you go explore that paddle boarding group you’ve been meaning to check out? Or try that new yoga studio that just opened up? Keep yourself busy during your off-time to explore your community. This time of rest allows you to get outside your comfort zone and make new friends. Everyone will still be there, eagerly awaiting your return once you head back to the gym or the race. But for now, take some time for yourself. Relax. Breathe in, breathe out, and know that you don’t have to be, and most definitely are not, alone in your journey to recovery.
Danielle Kissel is the owner and web designer of the Muddy Warrior Chick blog, which covers racing and training-related topics. Having run varsity cross country and track at The University of Tampa, Danielle now focuses on ultra-related OCR events, specifically Toughest and World’s Toughest Mudders. When not racing, Danielle works as a graphic designer at UT, and is also earning her Master’s in Cybersecurity at the university.