by heather kampf, nuun elite and queen of the road mile
So I get these weekly emails from my coach about where and when Team USA Minnesota is meeting for workouts throughout the week. It seems silly, but I honestly just cried with joy when I received it today because for the first time in 10 weeks, I’m not just deleting it. I GET TO WORK OUT WITH MY TEAM TOMORROW ON THE TRACK!!
I should probably rewind a little bit though…on March 30th I went out for a normal run, I felt a little flat, and thought to myself, ‘I should replace these shoes’.The rest of that day I was a little achy in my right SI joint, an area that has acted up sporadically for as long as I’ve been running. This had been particularly true after a hard fall on that right side this past winter when I was out walking my dogs on an icy day. It was one of those things I didn’t worry much about though, because it always seemed to get better with a little treatment and never actually hurt when I ran.
The next day, I had a track workout I was really excited about (you might notice this is a theme, I love what I do, so I literally can’t think of a time that I am not looking forward to the track!). I remember telling my coach I was still feeling a little "jammed" on that side but I had wanted to warm up and see how it moves, and indeed, it felt better when I was running fast! I went on to run a killer workout- 4 x 150m accelerators, 10 x 300m at mile goal pace, and then 4 x 30m flies at the end. It felt effortless, I felt amazing, and visions of PR’s were dancing in my head.
By that evening, I couldn’t walk. After an MRI a couple days later, I learned that workout might possibly be the best 10 x 300m ever run with a sacral stress fracture?
Yep, the cursed S-F word. To even the most straight-laced of runners, the S-F word is more vulgar than the S-word or the F-word independently, amiright?
These things are hard. For anybody. However, I would argue in my case this was a particularly rough blow because up until then I’ve been blessed to be so healthy. It was something I took a lot of pride in, that as a 30-year-old professional middle distance runner for Asics, I had literally never missed a race, due to injury, illness, or any other reason. (Some might argue it was about dang time I stopped being so lucky, huh?)
Some might also argue that ‘luck’ has very little to do with it. That was what I thought about significant injuries too. You see, I’m not the prime candidate for a stress fracture. To the very day of my MRI, I was confident it couldn’t be, we were just getting imaging to “rule it out”. I hadn’t significantly upped my mileage or my training intensity, I had been placing an even higher emphasis on my recovery between workouts this year, getting good sleep, fueling like a boss, and getting regular body ‘maintenance’ as I always had. Certainly as I pro I was training hard,but I will go to my grave arguing that I was training in a way I believed was smart. I had no warning signs before the door to the magical outdoor track season I was preparing for, unceremoniously slammed in my face.
I could write a MUCH longer blog about the emotional turmoil of dealing with a serious injury like this, but this is probably already longer than most of your Nuuners want to read (I promise, it gets better, so stay with me, all you endurance athletes!!) To sum it up, I was grieving. Grieving the loss of my favorite part of each day, my social time with my teammates and my husband who also trains with me, not to mention the loss of opportunities, income (since this is my job!), and the joy of racing. I’m a person who LIVES for the goals I chase, so the biggest ache in my heart came from putting away the 2017 goal sheet I had kept visible on my desk, because at least for now, I was told they need to lie dormant.
To be perfectly honest, for awhile, that’s what I did too. I found myself on several occasions, just laying on the floor, staring into space for embarrassingly long periods of time because other than pounding the Calcium and Vitamin D, in those beginning phases of healing, all I was supposed to do was, nothing. Just rest.
I quickly learned, however, that a world without goals is a world I simply cannot function in. Thus, as any self-respecting type-A personality would do, I sat down, and made a to-do list, broken down into three categories: physical, mental, and distractions. I decided even when I can’t run, I can still get stronger, harness my mental skills, and enhance my life outside of running.
It wasn’t enough to have stuff to do, I needed stuff to shoot for, so I printed out a new calendar, gathered all the info I was given about timelines for sacral stress fracture healing, called a bunch of friends in the running world who have gone through this injury, and started plotting my course. Week by week, I wrote down a goal. I gave myself a week of rest before I expected to be walking pain-free without crutches. I decided when I could start PT exercises and core, when I’d begin cross training in the pool, on the ElliptiGo, on the AlterG, and finally, when I’d start running on land again. I knew it was silly to just "expect it to be so" because I wrote it down in ink, and admittedly, my timeline was very optimistic, but in any case, I felt better even just having it all down on paper in front of me. Instead of this insurmountable chasm of time floating in front of me before I’d be racing, I had incremental little carrots to "chase" again.
I wish I could say that I ended up following my self-imposed timeline to the T, but I didn’t. Not even close. But I still carried my ‘plan' with me almost everywhere I went, and when I did reach any one of those goals, I checked it off and celebrated it as progress just the same. One of my checked boxes that has gotten me an absurd amount of attention was my pull-up goal. I’m not even sure why, but I had written down:
Pull-ups: maybe ~15 at once?
I probably wanted to do it because in a former life, I was a gymnast, and could rock out a ton of pull-ups. Since I’ve invested all my eggs in the running basket, however, my skills have diminished greatly. I would bet it has been at least 12 years since I could do 15 pull-ups, but guess what?! I DID IT! It was one of those milestones in the middle of my progression back that felt so darn good because it was such a specific, measurable goal that I had indeed reached. I posted a video stating that even though you’re injured it doesn’t mean progress has to stop. And it was in completing that self-imposed challenge that all the progress I had made towards healing and getting stronger in other ways had become abundantly clearer.
As cool as it has been to rediscover my pull-up skills, there was one thing I really wanted. More than any other thing, this one, crazy thing I wrote down on my calendar, not as a goal, but a dream. It was this one thing that kept me going on those long, boring days in the pool and the particularly sad days when I’d watch races go by that I was supposed to be in. My doctors said there was no way, but I refused to let go of the possibility that I might still, somehow, get to race at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, taking place June 22nd-25th. And guess what? I bought my flights last week! Before you get all excited, let’s just say I’m perfectly aware of the lunacy of this plan. I only started running on the ground 12 days ago, and my first round of the 1500m at USA’s is 9 days from now. If you’re a betting kind of person, I wouldn’t suggest you put me down to win the thing, but let me tell you, it is going to feel like sweet, sweet victory just to be there. To toe the line. To see how much fitness I’ve maintained through all the hours of cross training, and to just try. You forget how special it is that you get to try until you spend the better part of three months watching from the sidelines. I can’t promise it will be a great performance for me, but I can promise you I will show up hungry, humbled, and the happiest I’ve ever been to run circles around a track.
Spracheron June 17, 2017
Go get em, Heather! Cheering for you!!