I had been digging myself into a hole. As I lay on the examination table at the MacIntosh Clinic for the second time in only a few months, I had a vaguely familiar premonition of bad news. A few days prior to that visit, I had gone out for an easy run and made it about 10 steps before having to limp back home. I felt a tingling pain in my heel that made it almost unbearable to walk, and since I had plans to temporarily re-invent myself into some middle-distance turbo machine by training for and racing in several meets, I decided to see a doctor immediately.
Not new to injury, I went through the drill in auto-pilot: lie on the bed; push, pull, flex, relax; talk about training, diet, shoes. Usually my injuries have been medial-tibially located; this one in the heel was new. Turns out, new is not always better; sometimes new is just relocated and more of the same. After the initial examination, the doctor suspected a calcaneal stress fracture, for which I would be sent off for a late-night, mid-bachelorette party MRI; the results of the MRI would not be known for a few weeks, but in the meantime, it was suggested that I treat it as a stress fracture and not to run for at least six weeks.
(It would be determined following the results of the MRI, that it was in fact a stress reaction and not a fracture, but it was all same-same to me since I had my foot in a boot for most of the time as a result of the pain.)
Earlier in the year, I had another visit to the MacIntosh Clinic because of sharp focal pain in the medial-tibial region, again nothing new, and again, suspected of being a stress fracture. This was becoming a recurring theme, like Brad Pitt stuffing his pie hole in movies; unlike this delicious theme, my recurring injuries and time taken off from training left a bad taste in my mouth.
So, after the second suspected stress fracture in a few months, I sat down with the doctor, defeated, to discuss why my body was crapping out on me. Questions of menstruation, caloric intake, energy levels, and mood were asked, and once enough of a picture had been painted, I was told that my profile fit into what is called RED-S, or what could also be referred to as Female Athlete Triad 2.0.
That was five months ago.
Since then, I’ve been regularly meeting with a really kick-ass sports nutritionist, who has been emphasizing the need to fuel properly by eating more than I have been comfortable with, in a very hilarious and practical way that I am comfortable with. I also had to dial back my training considerably. For the first few weeks after the initial injury assessment, I couldn’t run at all, partly because I was told not to, but also because it just hurt too damn much. Afterwards, when I could run, I ran a lot less and I ran alone; being competitive, hard-headed, and an occasional jerk, I knew I wouldn’t have the discipline to run within myself among my all-star teammates.
Throughout this time, I was lonely and upset and I felt fat and slow; it wasn’t easy. But what I felt more than that was sick of being injured and at odds with my body –and I still do. I was able to train for and race fairly successfully in Chicago, but my abbreviated season and lack of optimal fitness act as reminders that I can likely become stronger. Recovery will be an on-going, long-term process of re-wiring my thoughts about food and training, of exposing vanities and insecurities, and of re-evaluating what is important to me.
My advice would be not to get into this deficit in the first place. Have you ever seen someone trying to climb out of a hole? It looks awkward, and, well, hilarious. But if you do end up in a hole, whether it’s through deliberate choices or through sheer neglect, surround yourself with knowledgeable professionals and supportive people to help you dig your way up. And out.