Last week I was at a family function and someone asked (innocently) how my marathon training has been going. I finally spoke the words I had been avoiding: “I’ve decided not to run this year.” People expressed shock and support and generally tried to be helpful. Have you tried this? Have you done that? I responded with tears. I had to leave the party. I just couldn’t stop crying.
Up until that point I thought I had come to terms with the decision, but realized there was one part left: grieving.
I started noticing the pain in June. At first it was uncomfortable, especially after a long run. I’m increasing my mileage, I thought — of course there is discomfort. That’s normal.
By July I was searching for answers. Between talking with other runners and self-diagnosing on the Internet I decided I had plantar fasciitis. I developed a laundry list of cures from creams, to braces, to foam rollers, to bottles of ice. I bought new shoes with expensive inserts. All of it helped a bit, but not enough.
And I kept running.
By August I tried “scaling back.” Running shorter distances. Keeping my mileage low. Taking more break days. But the pain was getting worse, and I wasn’t convinced it was plantar fasciitis andy more. My calves were killing me, even when at rest. Sometimes my legs would seize in my sleep, waking me up.
“You’re 50 years old,” I thought. “Of course recovery is harder.” And I kept running, but the doubts were creeping in and the marathon date was looming bigger and bigger.
At the end of August I did a 6 mile hill run. I felt fantastic on the run, but the minute I stopped I knew I had gone too far. For 3 days after I could barely walk. I stopped running for a week. It still hurt. After the second no-run week I made an appointment with a doctor.
This week he delivered the news: What started as a bone spur caused a number of problems, including plantar fasciitis, pulled tendons, strained muscles, etc. By running through the pain, I had most likely altered my stride and affected everything. The verdict: We can likely fix this with meds, PT, & no running for at least 6 weeks. No marathon in November, but no reason to think that we can’t get back to it at some point.
When I first had the pain, it didn’t even occur to me that not running the marathon was an option. Of course I would run. No matter what.
The first time it occurred to me that not running was a possibility was when I couldn’t complete one of my long runs because of pain. I had missed running goals due to fatigue, illness, and general weariness, but this was different. The thought came into my head that I might be doing more damage than good by continuing my run. It was upsetting.
“What if I’m not ready by November?” I thought, but I kept the thought to myself.
Over the next few weeks the thought came back a few more times. I tried sharing it with a few people. Most people’s responses could be summed up as “Of course you can! We have faith in you!” Others provided more advice, most of which I had already heard before. Their responses were genuinely meant as support, but I started to panic. What if I couldn’t run on faith and determination alone? What if I couldn’t will myself to finish? What if I hurt myself trying and couldn’t run again? What if….
Luckily for me, not everyone tried to blindly bolster me or fix me. My sister and my mother both heard what I was tentatively saying and actually listened. Care for your body, they told me. Don’t put one race above your love of running. They didn’t council quitting, but rather helped me look at the bigger picture. It was terrifying, heartbreaking, and necessary.
Yesterday I took the running magnets off the back of my car. BF didn’t understand. “But you earned them?” he protested. “Not running for a few weeks doesn’t take away what you have accomplished” Of course not, but right now it is too hard to look at them. I have to break up with running for a few weeks and looking at those bumper magnets just makes it more painful. Instead, I need to focus on healing, on finding new ways to stay fit and active and healthy.