Injuries interrupt training, and as we all know, continuous training leads to improvement and enables us to achieve our goals. By deduction, then, injuries are bad. Not necessarily.
Injuries provide an opportunity to reflect, step back, evaluate and re-assess our progress holistically, and adjust things that may not be working, and emphasize those that do work. On an emotional and mental level, injuries may motivate and re-energize us to heal and recover properly (which, in turn, should help us avoid re-injuries), and to come back stronger. And finally, the required timeout may open other opportunities to learn, grow and develop, that we may otherwise not have considered.
In the first week of November 2018, I completed a training block of about 500 miles over 22 weeks, with both volume and intensity ramping up. Probably too much and too quickly. One of the principles of distance running is not to increase both volume and intensity simultaneously and at a high rate. This can (and often does) lead to over-use injuries. I knew that. And yet being motivated to continue working through the pain and healing from divorce, I ignored this fundamental principle. At age 55, the body is not so forgiving anymore. I experienced the all-to-familiar signs of a stress reaction in the right metatarsals during a shake-out run following an intense week of workouts and a long run. The only smart move was to completely rest and allow the injury to heal. Based on experience, I had to interrupt my 22-week build-up with about 5 weeks of no running.
Initially I was devastated, and one of my goals to run the 800 meters at the December 13 Armory Indoor Track Open Meet was not happening. Concurrently, my inguinal hernia had been worsening, also affecting my running, as well as strength and mobility training, and I quickly made a decision for laparoscopic surgery. To re-integrate running as an important part of my life, and to successfully travel my journey and set and achieve goals, I had to look at myself holistically and realize that my physical, emotional and mental well-being was connected, and therefore requires an integrated approach. I scheduled my hernia surgery at Stamford Hospital on Tuesday, November 27. Two days before my uncontested divorce would be finalized in court on Thursday, November 29. And in the same week that my youngest son would celebrate his 17th birthday (November 26). What a week!
Tuesday morning rolled around, and I checked into the surgery department at Stamford Hospital. It was strange on two levels. My last surgery was 30 years ago, when at age 14, I suffered a broken ulna and radius, and torn UCL and RCL, from a freak Frisbee accident. And over an 18-year marriage, I spent more time in hospitals, including emergency rooms at mid-night, than I care to remember, but it was always for my then-wife or my son. Now I was traveling this part of my journey alone. Again, it was another opportunity to reflect, to work through pain, and to continue my healing process.
Tuesday afternoon, my surgeon checked on me in the recovery room, and confirmed my surgery was successful. I would be dismissed as soon as my then-wife would pick me up. It was a little awkward, but much appreciated by me, that she offered to pick me up and drive me home to my apartment. Two days until we would see each other for the last time as a married couple in court to finalize our divorce. I arrived home, ecstatic that my healing from hernia surgery would begin (while my recovery from the stress reaction continued), and I would count down the days until I could start light exercise again.
Because I had not had surgery for 30 years, and therefore no relevant experience or reference point, I didn’t know what to expect, or how to enhance my recovery. There was more swelling and pain than expected. My lower abdomen extended as if I was several months pregnant (and as a 55-year old male, it was not something that was familiar to me!). I refused to medicate with the prescribed Vicodin (hydrocodone, a powerful and addictive opioid), and the first 48 hours I took Tylenol as and when needed (in the morning, and at night to fall asleep). I iced the swollen area for 20 minutes every few hours. I elevated my bed at night so I could more easily sleep on my back (too painful to sleep on my side). And I stayed and worked from home for the remainder of the week, other than my aforementioned court visit on Thursday. My first day commuting from Connecticut to New York City to my office was on Monday, one week after surgery.
Today as I am writing about this important and necessary injury timeout, I am looking ahead to my post-op visit with the surgeon on Monday, who will hopefully clear me to resume light exercise on Tuesday. That day will mark 5 weeks and 2 weeks, respectively, of recovery from my stress reaction and my hernia surgery. I plan to celebrate with a 1-mile jog in Waveny Park.
I am reflecting on what I learned and did during my injury timeout. It was a reminder that while the human body and mind are wonderful things, both are also fragile things, and require continuous physical, emotional and mental care and love. Yes, it’s important to love oneself. And to take care of oneself. Too often in this fast-paced and stressful world of ours, we are just running to survive (metaphorically) and to take care of others. We ignore a very important person, “me”, until we suffer loss, injury, or some other adverse event. To help me heal, process everything that’s happening on my journey, and to stay grounded and never lose sight of me, I started this blog. Maybe it’s helpful and useful for others who are on a journey of healing, rediscovery, setting goals and achieving them.
There are other things I learned and did during my injury timeout, I will write more in my two-week recap (to come).