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Monday morning, approximately 8:15 am.
After an incredible weekend at Hell Hole Hundred with my Eagle Endurance friends and family, I’m reluctantly back at work. Honestly, I do feel like an asshole using the term “reluctantly”: I have a kickass job in a gym that I absolutely love. I’m really, really lucky to be able to do what I do. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s always a bit of a culture shock to leave a race weekend. I’ve just spent 60 hours virtually disconnected from society, surrounded by like minded friends achieving absolutely incredible feats. Coming back into the “real world” is tough. Having to explain why I just ran 50 miles “for fun – and don’t worry, it was just a training run” is tough.
First world problems, I know. But my fellow runners probably get it.
I’m substituting a group fitness class that I haven’t taught in a while, but I’m excited to teach. I love to get up in front of a room full of new faces, and this room is packed to the brim. We’re beyond our warm up, and finishing up our second round of strength training (squats and shoulder press combo, for those interested) I finish counting off the last set of reps, and enthusiastically yell “water break!” to the deserving class. I take a casual step backwards, when all of a sudden it feels like something hits my left calf with quite a bit of force. My thought process goes like this:
“Did I drop my weights on myself? How on earth would I have done that?” (turn around and look – no rogue dumbbells that I may have dropped on myself).
“Did my clumsy ass back into something and knock it over? “ (turn around and look AGAIN, still, nothing.)
“Did that electrical outlet behind me surge and shock me?”
I’m not in any pain, I’m just really confused. And so is my class, as they are likely wondering why I’m standing up on the stage continuously looking over my shoulder like I’ve lost something. I ask the class “Did you guys see anything hit me? Did you see anything fall?” A few people nod “no”, still confused.
And that’s when the exercise physiologist brain calmly kicked in to inform me of the bad news: “Heather. Your calf muscle just let go. You’ve read about this happening: people feel a pop and think something hit them” followed quickly by the ultra runner brain “…and now you’re fucked.”
I suddenly realize I can’t put any weight on my left leg. Yet still, nothing hurts…likely an adrenaline response. I start to calmly panic, with at least 30 eyes on me still wondering what the hell is going on. I yell “Time Out! I think I really just injured myself…” and I sit down. I ask one of the guys up front to go get the gym manager, and he does. Still, dozens of confused eyes are looking at me, probably wondering how on earth I could be hurt – I didn’t fall, nothing out of the ordinary happened. And so in a moment of panic…
I keep teaching the class. Mostly from a seated position, but damnit, we finished out that hour. Complete with an interruption from the manager AND my husband – twice – who came in to yell at me for continuing.
When it was all said and done, he came in, piggy backed me to the car, where I finally let the tears fall.
Diagnosis: partial tear (strain) of the gastrocnemius (calf muscle). Thankfully NOT a full tear (I probably would have passed out had I looked down and seen my calf bulging behind my knee or at my ankle…) and NOT the Achilles. My calf muscles were likely compromised from the 50 miler this weekend, and I just had the bad freaking luck of stepping the wrong way, causing them to give up.
I’m completely off the leg for the rest of this week, and then likely looking at another 4-6 weeks of healing, stretching, massage, making sure the scar tissue heals properly as to not reinjure, and…deep breath: no running.
Incase you’re keeping score: Vermont 100 is in 6 weeks.
Another hilarious twist of irony: the last date for a partial refund for the race was June 1st. I hurt myself on June 3rd.
And no, no deferrals are allowed, even for medical reasons.
I’ve yet to actually say out loud what this means regarding my Vermont 100 status. Perhaps because I’m still in denial and hoping for a recovery miracle (ha). Perhaps because it’s been 3 days since the injury and I’ve yet to freak out about it, and saying the words out loud will make me spiral into a pity party.
But, the important thing to note here is that I’ve yet to have a pity party.
Yeah, the thought of losing nearly $300 entry fee (ugh the number alone makes me want to vomit, Chad and his $30 club have spoiled me rotten) sucks. The fact that this was a lottery race, and I got lucky enough to get picked on my first try, but now I probably can’t go – sucks. I was hoping to start my Western States lottery journey with this race as a qualifier, and now that whole process will be delayed, and that sucks.
But here’s what I’m holding on to:
– This year I got my 100 mile redemption. And it was sweet. I ran a strong, smart, and smooth 100 miler, taking over TEN HOURS off of my previous 100 mile time. Sure, I want to do even better next time, but I have absolutely zero complaints about Frozen Hell Hole. In fact, I’m damn PROUD of my performance. I’m still basking in that glow.
– I’ve felt stronger over the last month than I have in a very, very long time. I’ve proven to myself that my body is capable of regular 60 -70 mile weeks, combined with 5 days a week of strength training, and additional cross training. And so, I know that after this is all said and done, and I’m healed – I will get back to this. And then some.
– It’s been well over a decade since my last serious running injury (remember that fateful log at the Warrior Dash?)
I don’t count my umbilical hernia surgery two years ago in this category (even though my guts came spilling out mid 100 miler). Yeah, that took me out of running, but it wasn’t a running injury (it was a childbirth injury…ten years later.) I consider myself very fortunate that in over ten years of endurance sports – including about three years of ridiculous obstacle course racing where everything is a broken bone waiting to happen, and now 4 years of ultramarathon distances – I’ve only had minor aches and pains, no serious injuries. I know so many runners who are chronically sidelines with stress fractures, or tendonitis, or other issues. I’m so grateful that my body hasn’t had those issues.
– I CAN STILL LIFT! It’s no secret that I’m a gym rat. I love lifting weights. Not as much as I love running, but I definitely enjoy my time in the weight room. And unlike the aforementioned umbilical hernia surgery, I’m not totally incapacitated. I just can’t put any weight on my left leg. I can still sit my happy ass down on the plethora of machines at the gym and work on my upper body strength.
– It wouldn’t hurt me to sit still for a while, and focus on family time, blog time, and coaching time. I’m constantly on the go, squeezing every last minute out of every day. And while I definitely don’t mind this lifestyle – it does get overwhelming from time to time. Adding 15-20 hours a week to my life, where I previously would have been running, might help me catch up.
– 4 to 6 weeks is not a lifetime, no matter what any runner will tell you. I have no doubt that by this time next year I’ll have accomplished a handful of NEW running goals, and this will all be a “hey, remember that one time when…” story I tell people around a campfire while discussing random running injuries. Missing the Barkley Fall Classic because of hurricane evacuation didn’t ruin my life, and neither will this.
So incase you’ve been wondering, that’s my current status update. Everything’s going to be alright.