From the Brink of Collapse: Relentless Forward Motion

"Des! You're running!" said a friend as we crossed paths yesterday afternoon. "Sort of," I said. "No," she said. "Not 'sort of.' You're running."  

The last three and a half months have been emotional and scary. The year started with me experiencing what we now think was (and still may be) peroneal nerve entrapment, which led to foot drop, which led to severe tendonitis and soft tissue damage, and, later, resulted in a torn meniscus. For months I have been in constant pain with every step. For weeks I was not able to walk around my office let alone run. Getting up to refill my water bottle became a luxury. Once I tore my meniscus, I had to resign myself to the reality that there was nothing I could do, quite literally. For the first time, I could not even crosstrain for fear that doing so in any capacity would exacerbate my injuries and necessitate surgery. No, I would not even be able to maintain my fitness (no core work, no stairclimber, no bike, no elliptical, no walking, and no pool); all I could do was accept that I had to let it go. I pulled out of my spring races. As I traded my work heels for shoes that provided maximum stability, as I dragged my leg behind me, it was everything I could do to not cry out in jealously as I saw people who had the luxury of simply walking without pain. 

After several weeks of inactivity, I was finally able to wear flat dress shoes to work. It was a small victory, but this semblance of normalcy gave me hope. After a bit longer, I was able to use the elliptical and resume core work. I was still not allowed to train, but I could move my body again.

Finally, with the approval of a physical therapist, I tried jogging one day during lunch. As I laced my running shoes, my stomach filled with knots; not the knots of excitement, but balls of dread, sadness, and fear. For the first time, I was terrified to run. Given the precarious state in which the nerve entrapment had left my body, I feared that a single step might result in another injury, even more severe than the last. It didn't. I jogged half a mile. I was in pain, but I did it. I have never felt so defeated and so accomplished at the same time. A half a mile. 

Slowly, I built upon that half mile, jogging every few days, a half mile here and a half mile there. Eventually, I jogged two miles and then three and then five. Every step was slow and painful, but every step was one closer to turning the proverbial corner. Soon, I was able to run with Sarah D. “Running,” of course, for me, was not running by any stretch of the imagination; it was more like controlled hobbling. But Sarah, ever my rock, patiently slowed her pace, uttering words of encouragement when she could tell that my physical and emotional strength dwindled: "You know the first few runs are going to be the hardest, right? It's going to get easier," she said. Oh, Sarah, if you only knew the number of times I've repeated your words to myself over the last few weeks.

It’s now been three and a half months since all of this began. I’ve had my share of injuries, both minor and significant, but this has, without a doubt, been the scariest and has lasted the longest, and it's not over. I have seen doctors, an athletic trainer, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist. I have had my knees and hips contorted and my stability checked. I have had X-RAYS, ultrasounds, cupping, and Graston. I've been taped, stretched, and poked with needles. On mornings when I saw no point in getting up because I couldn't do what I love, I hobbled out of bed and did my physical therapy exercises. Every. Single. Day.  In the last few months I have learned that sometimes relentless forward motion, that will to go on that we draw upon during our darkest hours of races, is often needed to simply get out of bed. I have learned that we are not only what we have done, but are also what we have overcome. Every day I resolve to overcome pain and every day I get a little closer to turning the corner. So, am I running again? I am prepared now to say yes. I'm not as strong or as fast as I once was and I'm still in pain, but I'm moving forward. Relentlessly.