I have spent the last 5 weeks injured. For the first time in 42 years. FIRST TIME! When my doctor delivered the news, he looked at me and said, “42 years with 3 kids and no injuries? Liz – it’s been a good run.”
And just like that, I was booted.
The good news is that I have only one more day remaining until I can remove the boot. The bad news is that the boot became a symbol of everything that was wrong with me – my obsessiveness to be one of the best took away my ability to listen to myself, take care of myself and rest. Fortunately, before we really hurt ourselves, life has a way of throwing obstacles in our path that force change. Thank goodness the universe looks out for us like that.
And so the boot became a daily reminder to slow down. Take care of your body. Respect yourself. As easy it is for me to see and accept those lessons in retrospect, the first few days were a rough and drastic change of shattered expectations, decreasing endorphins and fears – about losing fitness, gaining weight, missing opportunities, disconnecting from friends …. I could go on but at some point you realize that life goes on and to keep longing for what you had or looking too far ahead is a waste of time. Instead, I looked at what I could do – read more, take classes, try new activities, day drink on the weekends, see the sport from an entirely new perspective. Obstacles as opportunities, problems as possibilities.
Life in a boot. How did it go?
First, let’s talk about the daily living obstacles – the stairs. Between the first and second floor in our house stands a steep and treacherous set of stairs that I began to look at as The Enemy. Each trip up and down the stairs required a sideways effort of trying to avoid pain while also trying to be as quiet as possible as to not wake the baby. My children, entertained by my lumbering misfortune, called out warnings: The Mommy Monster is coming! But the joke was on you children, by week two I had learned how to descend the stairs backwards and more delicately when you least expected.
Next, the unexpected – better than Tinder? If you are a single woman I suggest you get yourself a boot and walk around with it. The boot is a man magnet. A conversation starter! Though the average age of the men was around 60, I couldn’t believe how many random men talked to me. What happened? That’s no way to spend a summer. You must be an athlete. My favorite included the guy in Starbucks who looked at the boot, looked at me and said “skiing?” Another time in Target when a man looked at me and said, for a moment, I thought you were wearing cowboy boots with THOSE shorts (note to self: never wear cowboy boots with striped Athleta running shorts?).
Third, how to make the most of the self-induced pity party. How many times in life do we, as women, as mothers, get to demand TAKE CARE OF ME? The tables were turned – so when the husband suggested a trip to the Arboretum, I agreed upon one condition: rent and push me around in a wheel chair. I thoroughly enjoyed the light breeze on the 80 degree day as he huffed up the hills. If you can’t push me up this hill, how are you going to push your own ass up Barlow!? Those doing Ironman Wisconsin will appreciate that Coach Liz nugget of encouragement.
Mason’s expression accurately captures how I felt about the boot.
So how did this happen? Turns out, you shouldn’t keep running on something while saying to yourself maybe it will go away! It won’t. It doesn’t. It didn’t. It wasn’t one thing, it was a lot of things that led to a stress reaction (not a fracture, thank goodness!) in my right tibia. ‘Tis the mystery of injury, a complex intersection of bad choices, bad luck, bad timing. I’ve explored everything: training error, hormones, bone health, blood markers, equipment, age, nutrition. I’ve come up empty.
Not surprisingly there were activity restrictions. No running. This felt like a blessing – it had been so long since I had run pain-free or even enjoyed running that to be told stop running was relieving. Permission to swim as much as I’d like. Between outdoor pools and open water season this was exciting – long swims, double swims, I’ve been swimming as much as possible. Permission for cycling (but riding mostly easy, no being on the trainer and no cycling shoes so that meant using Hokas on top of flat pedals). I stayed mostly on the path enjoying the sights of summer – every ride has been pure freedom, invigorating! I’ve explored a new route or path every time I’m out riding. I’ve become the kind of athlete who slows down to take really bad selfies.
“Really bad selfie.”
And then I sent them to the husband. Who would reply:
But I can’t!
Let’s be real, though, putting the positive attitude aside – the hardest part has been the restrictions to my every day. I lead a very active life with 3 small children. Parenting from a chair is not easy (not to mention ineffective!). I had to lean on the good people in my life and lean on them hard. Gone were the walks to the park, walks around town, light housework, gardening – the little things. I let myself cycle through the range of emotions on that – and there were lots of emotions. Uncharacteristically, I let myself feel pain, physically and emotionally. As someone who has spent a lifetime ignoring and pushing past pain, knowing that my resistance to pain is what makes me a good endurance athlete – to finally say it’s ok to not be ok and then sit in that space and not rush it or run away from it? That was more freeing than the freedom I ever felt when running.
While there were a few tears, some wine, I’ve mostly stayed on the side of when one door closes another one opens. The obstacle as an opportunity. Or as Ryan Holiday would say “what if the obstacle is the way?” Being injured meant more down time to simply enjoy life. More time spent outside on my bike, unstructured. More time doing what I love – swimming, especially with friends. More time to study for a sports nutrition certification. More time just being me. Not sweaty, hard charging, goal driven, Liz. Just simply the Liz who signs up for a mosaics class (let’s just say I am NOT missing out on a career in mosaic artistry), Liz who goes to trivia night at the local bar (I’ve never felt less educated), Liz who now attends pilates (how can something that feels like nothing be so challenging?). There’s an entire world out there beyond racing. Of course, we all know that but it was actually refreshing to be forced into that world to prove it to myself.
Finally stopping to appreciate the beautiful late summer sunrise.
At some point, I’ll make a slow and gradual return to running, triathloning, racing. But I’m in no hurry. I’ve “comeback” three times from babies and know that if you want to comeback right – your heart needs to be into it. Not just your body. And not just your head. You can put yourself in motion and talk yourself into it but if you’re not “feeling” it – you exist in this uncomfortable space of dissonance and self-doubt. I’m pretty sure I just spent the last year in that space. My heart just wasn’t into chasing being the best. And I’ve realized that I can be at my best without obsessively chasing the need to be the best. As someone who has lived so attached to competitive goals for so long, it’s nice to just focus on existence day to day and to simply be enough just being myself.
But truth be told – if we both entered the grocery store at the same time on a Monday, no doubt I’d beat you out of that store in under 10 minutes. You can take the athlete out of the competition but you can’t take the competition out of the athlete …..