I took a year off from running; and was almost okay with it.
In 2019, I was training for the Chicago Marathon, which would’ve been my third marathon. I was a month in when I experienced a debilitating lower back injury. I had completed a long run without any problem and then two days later, I had just started out on a run when I felt an excruciating, electric shock in my lower back and knew something was terribly wrong. I hobbled home and got in bed thinking (and hoping) that ice and Advil would fix it. The following day, August 11, I woke up and couldn’t walk. My husband took me to urgent care where I received steroids, muscle relaxers, and OTC pain medication until I could book an appointment with a doctor.
I got x-rays and eventually an MRI that showed a bulging disc in my L5-S1 which was hitting the nerve root in my spine, explaining the fiery, burning sensation I constantly felt. I immediately started physical therapy and then received my first epidural injection in October. All of my doctors made sure I was aware that this might work, and it might not. I felt relief and hope during the first two weeks post-injection. Upon being cleared for physical activity, I went for a mile run and thought I was healed. Easiest comeback ever, right?! It was about a week later when I noticed things started to not feel right again. I got a second injection in November which further irritated my disc, an unfortunate possibility of steroid injections, and made things worse. I had a surgery consult where the doctor told me to just “be patient, it’ll heal on its own”. In December, I tried one final injection and then I finally surrendered to simply letting my body heal.
It took me a while to accept the concept of time and how long this would take. When I threw out any expectations I had, things got a bit easier to accept. 2020 helped too, with the cancellation of essentially, everything. In January of 2020, I started indoor cycling (shout out to Zwift) and continued my newfound journey of Pilates. I began a very conservative run-walk program, guided by my run coach in February and in August of 2020, one year to the day where I couldn’t walk – I ran seven miles. Hitting this milestone, I felt a sense of clarity, like “of course I could do this!”, but it wasn’t clear until I was able to reflect back on that year of hard work and perseverance. After celebrating this accomplishment, I continued to run for the rest of 2020 – completing my first half marathon post injury, and a [virtual] 25k. The timing of my 25k serendipitous as the year prior, I was getting ready for my third epidural injection.
While this would be a great place to end my comeback story, it’s not quite over yet. In May of 2021, I was approached by a doctor conducting a clinical trial on lower back pain. I met the qualifications and weighed the pros and cons of the trial. Ultimately, I decided to go through with the trial. I received the experimental injection on July 22. I wasn’t expecting to have the reaction that I did, nor were the doctors involved in the trial. Prior to receiving the injection, I was active and running. Post-injection, I was back in bed and spent the next month miserable and in so much pain. The self loathing was severe. I expected somewhat of a reaction but not the month of pain following it. I had frequent follow up appointments so the doctors could monitor my progress but it wasn’t until September, into October, that things started to feel normal and the pain finally subsided. I was cleared to run again in December, if not earlier, and each appointment I was reminded again and again of that.
It took me until July 2022 to even try. One year without running. Of course, in this year without running, I discovered so many other hobbies. I began cycling outdoors with my husband. I had Saturday mornings back to sleep in or go to a fitness class. I had TIME and I say that lovingly because while we’re all here on this page for the love of running, we all know how much time and dedication it takes. It’s fitting that I’m submitting this article in July, close to the anniversary of my first mile back. In November, I ran a half-marathon. I trained for it but was so scared before, during, and after each run. I was so scared to get hurt again – to lose running again. When I finished the half, in the following days I was waiting to feel something. When nothing happened, I started to let myself dream again. Stirring up some of those old goals I had. I sent my three goals to my old coach and we started working together again in January of 2023.
In this year back to running, I began to trust my body again and I started to dispel a lot of limiting beliefs I’ve been holding on to since 2019. I fell in love with trail running and finally got to run my third marathon, on the Wissahickon Trail in Philly. A month later, I ran my first 50k ultra-marathon. I would be lying if I said I have complete trust in myself again. We’re still working on that, but I have faith and I believe in myself to get through it.
To injured runners out there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s hard to see it and my closest friends will tell you I didn’t always believe them. On your best days, it’ll shine bright. On the painful days, it’s really dim. But if you work hard, you can get through it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, especially on the days when you don’t.