A couple months ago, I dove in and indulged an ambitious notion that had been simmering just beneath the surface, nagging at my brain. I decided I was going to run three half marathons within three months—a manageable endeavor if approached correctly, but something that felt big for me personally. I knew I could do it, but it was hard to admit that to myself, to let that be true. Signing up for all three was like giving my self-confidence permission to surface. You’ve got this, it said. Let’s do this.
Unfortunately, I won’t be running all three. And, truth be told, I may have to bow out of another race or two this spring as well. I wish I could say that that reality didn’t knock back my self-confidence, but it did. I’ve been struggling for the last month. I don’t doubt for a second that I could have finished those halfs, but the absence of running, of getting out there and logging those miles, feeling my legs and breath carry me across the pavement—it’s been crushing. So what happened?
I ran my first race of the three, the NYC Half Marathon. It was freezing that morning, but I was feeling good. I was finally pain-free after coming off of what seemed to have been a groin strain. My goal was to finish. I was going to run comfortably, at a pace that I could maintain all day if I had to, enjoy the course, and cross the finish line of my very first half marathon.
The sun was up and shining as I made my way through Central Park. I kept telling myself, “You’ve got this. Run easy. You could do this all day.” Somehow I barely noticed the hills. I was going to take my gel at mile 5, but I decide to hold out until 6; I still can’t believe how quickly those miles passed. 7th Ave and Times Square were a blur of people and concrete and signs and energy. As I rounded the corner out of Times Square, I looked up to see my friend Shana. She seemed to rise out of the crowd, like a beacon, and I threw my arms up and yelled her name. Around the corner, a few feet later, I caught a glimpse of her partner Andy, too late to say hi. Seeing their faces sent a rush of excitement through me. I swear I grinned all the way to the West Side Highway.
As I hit the highway, I pressed play on the episode of the Rich Roll Podcast that I’d cued up for motivation. This stretch of the race was straight and steady. I kept repeating my mantra: I could do this all day. Somewhere between mile 11 and 12, realizing the race was nearing its end, the thought I had wasn’t: Oh thank god it’s almost over; instead it was an empowered realization: I could totally do a marathon.
I high-fived a couple of strangers just before entering the Battery Park Tunnel. As we ducked underground, a few other runners began whooping and I laughed as it echoed all around us. I killed the podcast and cruised through the dim yellow light, knowing and incredulous that daybreak at the end of the tunnel would mean the race was almost finished.
The exit of the tunnel was an uphill against a strong, freezing wind. I fought through it, and found myself once again on the streets of Manhattan. The markers along the streets were now showing meters remaining. I turned the corner onto Maiden Lane—the last full block of the race—and made the final left onto Water Street, my address for two years while in college. I crossed the finish line and thrust my fists into the air victoriously. First half marathon complete. Now where’s my medal?
I stopped moving for a moment to grab a finisher medal, a wave of emotion hitting me as I felt its weight. I did it. As I started to walk again, I felt pain shooting through my lower left leg. I made my way through the finisher area, mugging for a couple rough-looking post-race photos, grabbing my heat sheet and recovery bag, sucking down some Gatorade (I probably could have used a second gel during the race), and alternating between walking and limping. I wasn’t too worried in the moment, though. They were just post-race pains, right?
Long story short, I saw a sports doc a few days later and had an MRI about a week after that (which I walked out of feeling ridiculous because the pain was gone and I was certain that I was fine). The MRI showed a small stress fracture in my lateral tibial plateau, which you can google, but basically means the top of my shinbone on the outside of my left leg, just about an inch or two below my knee. This is a tricky area, because your tibia is a weight-bearing bone, the bone in that area is soft, and it doesn’t get great circulation, all of which make it challenging to heal. It’s also typically an injury associated with trauma, which made sense to me. I cracked my knee in that exact spot a few days before the half, so it’s totally possible that I did something to it then and exacerbated it during the race.
As it stands, I have a little over four weeks before I can start running again; it will have been 8 weeks total from the date of the half. Since the injury wasn’t too severe and I’m not in any pain, I’m walking with a cane instead of crutches. I was told I could swim and cycle with no resistance immediately, and I now have about a week and a half until I can resume yoga and take a spinning class. I’m also seeing a physical therapist and doing his recommended strength exercises at home.
I started swimming this week and I feel like my sanity is returning. I’ve had this undercurrent of anxiety since the injury that I wasn’t able to shake. No matter what I did or told myself or learned about my injury, I felt this constant, mind-scrambling, heart-racing shortness of breath, like I was always on the verge of a panic attack. The past couple days, however, I feel like I’m beginning to stabilize.
Half marathon two of three was supposed to happen this weekend. If I search really hard, I can find a small twinge of disappointment that I won’t be running. I’m pretty at peace about the races I’m going to miss, though. NYC felt like the big one and I’m just so immensely grateful that I got to run it. This weekend’s half is an all-women race, so I’m going to go cheer on some of my vegan lady friends, and next month I’ll go support my friends who are running the Brooklyn Half, what would have been my number three.
I feel optimistic looking forward. I’m now looking at this injury as an opportunity. I’m building a running toolkit. I have a physical therapist who can help me work out my kinks, identify my imbalances, and give me guidance on how to become stronger all around. I’m establishing cross training practices that can also help me remain balanced and give me options for maintaining my fitness if I ever need to back off of running for a bit. I’m also considering working with a coach, someone who can help me establish training programs that are challenging but responsible. I fully intend to come out of this stronger and smarter than I went in.
This injury has been humbling and heartbreaking, eye-opening and strangely inspiring. It’s been a struggle and a setback, but also an opportunity for growth. It’s been unfortunate, but in so many ways I’ve also been very lucky. I’m trying to take it in and know it for all of those things, making peace with the pieces that hurt and embracing those that embolden. It’s a process, but I’m getting there.
And as for that marathon—I’m running it this fall. Philly 2016. Let’s do this.