A battle with my brain

Last week my ankle prevented me from working out or running, minus one 45-minute low-intensity tour of the weight room. Since I started training for the NYC Marathon (now just a week from Sunday), I’ve logged a little over 105 miles, nothing compared to regular runners, but a lot for someone like me who only started running on August 29. That injury plus a week of being unable to relieve stress through exercise plus LIFE have really screwed with my head. Not unlike the safety seal a manufacturer glues over a lid of sour cream that ensures the container will spit all over your shirt when you peel it off.

Not that I’m eating sour cream. I mean, I used to. LOOK AT THAT GRUDGE.

As of right now, this minute, I don’t know if my ankle is going to be healthy enough to run the race. The anger that twists my stomach when I write that is just so unhealthy, but it’s not an emotion I can control. So I don’t try to. I hold it in my hands, stare at it, turn it around to see it from different angles.

I had a miscarriage in 2007, and in the weeks and months that followed I couldn’t look at a pregnant woman without my throat involuntarily closing up. The curve of a woman’s belly blurred my vision, not with jealousy or rage, but with the thought of my own failure. Intellectually I understood that this was an irrational response. I had not failed. Pregnancy is not a measurement of one’s ability to succeed or fail. But there it was, my tightened throat, and because I was still feeling so vulnerable the intellectual part of my brain cut me some slack.

What I’m going through now, while not nearly as devastating as what I went through with that miscarriage, is similar in that my intellect is laying off a bit. It knows that I am reacting irrationally when I see someone running and I want to turn around, go home and crawl under my bed. Because although I know it’s not my fault that I have all these injuries, it pretty much is all my fault.

While this is certainly not the most uplifting post I’ve ever written, I wanted to be honest with you guys. I sat down and tried to mine my life for a laugh, but this is what I’m feeling. I know there are hundreds of other marathons and races (and far worse things in life, YES, I KNOW THIS), and next time I’ll have more time to train, more time to build up to longer runs. I know in a few months I will look back at this anger and shake my head at the idea that it kept me awake at night, that it woke me up and tortured me until the alarm finally sounded hours later.

But then maybe I will run that race, and all of this worry and exasperation will have been a useless exercise. And even if I don’t, when it’s all over I’ll think, wait, did I make this so much harder than it had to be? And that would be different from everything else I do, how?

  • squirrelgirl22

    As a once often-injured runner, my advice is to still line up on race day in NY and walk it if doing so won’t injure you further.

    Last year my Chicago Marathon training was constantly derailed. (Sick in August! Major calf injury in September!) But I was healthy enough on race day to line up and run what I could and walked the rest. I’ve had better marathons than that day, but no worse, and I’m glad I still saw it through and crossed that finish line.

    The only reason not to go is if doing the 26 miles would hurt you further. Know when your body says to slow down or stop, and then walk. Trust your body. Listen to it. And if it says I can’t walk two miles, much less 26.2, then scrap it. Heal up and tackle another race when you can. Or better yet, go to NY and cheer on the other runners!

  • poptart66

    Oh Heather…I have been running most of my life. On and off at times, but running has been a part of who I am since I was fourteen or fifteen. In some ways, it has saved my life. Running is an outlet for me. I have also experienced what you are experiencing. I have had my highest highs and lowest lows because of running. You will heal and you will run that marathon. You will well up with tears when you run it and you will feel such pride in completing such a grueling event. Hang in there, let your body heal and then give yourself the right amount of time to train. Be well and we’ll see you out there on the road soon. Poptart.

  • honeydunce

    Heather, I completely understand and can relate to your frustration. Is there any way you can do the race without going full gusto and running? Can you find a creative way to still participate? I know that it’s hard when you’ve put all the work into it so far, and you’ve developed a new love and appreciation for running. It hurts and it’s frustrating as well. But please be easy with yourself, and easy with that injury. One of the easiest mistakes to make is getting back to something before being really healed, thus risking a more serious injury. Take the time to heal and appreciate your new relationship with running. You’re gonna be back to it in no time and I’m sure you will appreciate it even more. You’re doing great work for a great cause. Much much love to you and your recovery.

  • cocosmom

    Heather, you are seriously hard on yourself. I totally sympathize with the frustration and anger you feel, but you are awesome just the way you are. Use the down time to plan the next big thing.

  • Chloe Jeffreys

    Hi Heather, my name is Chloe and I’m new to commenting here.

    I read your statement of intent to run this marathon back in–what was it? August? September?–and thought, “This woman sounds like me.” and then I thought, “This won’t end well.”

    Like you, I live in my head and delude myself into thinking that my body bends to my will.

    But sometimes the body protests.

    After overtraining last winter I ended up with a knee injury that has taken nearly 8 mos (8 LONG MONTHS!!) to heal.

    When I finally went to the physical therapist (after continuing to train hard for two months despite the pain) he told me rehab would take at least 6 months. I laughed at him. Six months for a pussy maybe, but not for me. I tell MY body what to do, not the other way around.

    After spending 8 long months getting schooled by my body, I have a bit more humility and an acute awareness as to who exactly is in charge here.

    Heather, you don’t know me. You have no reason to listen to me. But I hope you do because I’m going to give you some very, very good advice. Do not run on your injury out of your pride. This is a marathon we’re talking about, not orphans 26 miles away with Diphtheria who need a vaccine.

    Rest and heal completely and then embark on a sensible training program and try again next year.

  • tracy211

    Hang in there, doo-chay. We are rooting for you and your ankle, this marathon or the next. :)

  • bullseyejack

    Two words: Dont. Run.

    Forcing yourself into something as severe as the New York Marathon when you’re not healthy puts you at risk of a severe injury.

    Instead of missing a race, you may miss five . . . or 10 . . . or all of them for the rest of your life.

    Heal yourself, train, and wait for the right time.

    Please.

  • lauriek

    Heather, this marathon was not meant to be. As a first-time marathoner, you just didn’t have enough time to train for it. You can certainly feel sad but please don’t feel guilty. Pick out a marathon for 2012 and increase your mileage more slowly. You can do it!!

  • Lily Hydrangea

    definitely go to NY in either case! Watching the NYC marathon in person is amazing-the atmosphere is electrifying & supporting your fellow teammates may really help the agony you are feeling. The awareness you are raising is the most important thing & you still have the girl power to do this. I would love it if you would tweet your experiences from NYC the day of the event.
    A friend of mine knew she wasn’t able to run the complete marathon so she jumped on towards the end & ran the last few miles in honor of her brother. Not sure if that was entirely legit but maybe you could find out ( if you are healed enough by then to run a few miles) if there is a way to join your teammates at the end.
    Good luck Heather & may the force be with you!

  • insanelyme

    And most of those safety seals, you require a jack- hammer to get into.
    Somedays I’d like to be able to remove my brain, stomp on it, wash it off, and put it back in. Probably wouldn’t make a difference though.

    You must let it heal … but either way, I wish you the best!!

  • zpetals

    I completely understand how you are feeling. As a marathon coach for Team to End AIDS, and a marathon runner and fundraiser myself, I understand the frustration when you can’t finish what you started.

    Last Sunday, I finished my 6th marathon. You can read more about my horrible experience with it here: http://zpetals.com/?p=369

    You know what the thing that I’m carrying with me after that awfulness is, though? Not the anger for almost giving up (and almost not even starting). I’m holding onto two things: gratitude for all of the people who donated to a cause they might not have donated to if I hadn’t been fundraising, and, to be honest, the strength that not giving up in the face of such painful shit, literally. It makes me feel all tough.

    If you don’t even get to the start line (and that’s actually a thing determined more by your doctors than yourself), you’ve GOT to hold onto the fact that you have MADE A DIFFERENCE in these women’s lives with the money that you’ve raised and you’ve personally INSPIRED others to maybe take on something similar for causes that are important to them.

    I know I know I know it’s going to be terribly hard to do that, to recognize that, because right now you are staring that frustration in the face. I get that.

    But you rock, regardless of whether you get to the finish line (or the start line) of next week’s marathon. You absolutely rock.

  • PIPERR

    I understand completely how you feel. I wrote this blog entry as I was training for a 1/2 marathon.

    http://raisingmeandme.blogspot.com/2011/05/for-those-who-suffer.html

    3 days before the actual race, I got sick again and couldn’t compete in the 1/2. At first I was devastated, but after I thought about it, it gave me more incentive to try AGAIN. And if you can’t do this marathon, there will be another one that you WILL complete. BEST of luck to you!!

  • Tatstar

    Although I’m sure everyone has said something similar, I would like to just tell you that everything you are feeling is very familiar to anyone that has ever trained for a tough race. I’ve been running for 7 years and while the feelings don’t come on as strongly now when I have an injury or get sidelined, there are still feelings of anger and hopelessness that come with those situations. I’ve learned to just be honest about it – I used to be like, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine – and that helps take the sting out. It’s hard to be disappointed, but like you said – there are more races. Sometimes it just takes time for what we know in our HEAD to reach our hearts. You’ll be back on the road soon enough, whether it’s for the marathon next week or another race down the road. The streets aren’t going anywhere.

  • artmeetslife

    The thing is…you will find relief only where and when you begin to reconcile with the concept of being the person that tortures herself over failures perceived and real. It will happen again over the next thing you choose to do with vigor, major or minor. You will change over time, but it is highly probable that you will remain the kooky, intense lady forever. No one really knows the half of your intensity, your suffering or the real contents of your self-flagellating inner diatribe but damn, its the thing that makes you connected, vulnerable and so imperfectly flawed and lovely.

  • ellapritch

    One thing immediately came to mind after reading this:

    “Yep, she’s officially a runner.”

    Seeing as how the race is so close, you’re best off resting your ankle until then. Your base is there, it’s not like the next week’s worth of runs is going to make or break you. Good luck!

  • bwsf

    I know it’s not exactly the point you were making, but thanks for that paragraph about the miscarriage. I just had one in April of this year, and I haven’t been able to put into words why I avoid being around pregnant women. Everyone around me, my husband included, thinks it’s about jealousy or anger, and it really isn’t. It’s about me and my struggle. So hard to explain, but you did so beautifully. Good luck with future races. My husband is a bigtime runner and I know how hard it is for him when he’s injured.

  • CMac

    There have been some comments made over the past few weeks about how running through pain and injury has made you a runner. However, by listening to your body and taking time off even when you don’t want to, you will be able to continue running for many, many years. To me, that makes you even more of a runner.

    I have been running for 37 of my 47 years on this planet. For the first 12, I was a competitive runner, but now I just run for my health and sanity. I know that if I don’t listen to my body, I may lose the one thing that keeps me grounded.

    I’m an overachiever too, so I get it. But if you truly love running, you will listen to your body, not your mind. I had to pull out of a team relay earlier this year because I injured my back. I probably could have suffered through the run, but it didn’t seem worth it. If it was the Olympics, and I was the favourite in the 1500m to win gold, maybe, just maybe…but even that is probably insanity speaking!

  • Bunklelife

    OK this has nothing to do with running, but it does have to do with depression and beating yourself up – one of the best Hyperbole and a Half posts I’ve read, and something tells me you will relate http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

  • NicoleC

    $20.00 says you’ll run the race. That’s what I think.

  • becaru

    dang, girl. 2 months is not enough to train for a marathon. listen to your body

  • carepackagegirl

    Feelings, by definition, are not rational. There are times when you make me laugh so long and hard that I get cramps. And there are times when I just want to bundle you into a giant hug.

    So one giant hug from me to you.

  • CarrieR

    Had you planned to remain a distance runner after this marathon? If so, ask the doctor what sort of effects walking or running this distance is likely to have on your recovery. Sometimes, it’s not so bad. Others…

    If you can’t run, the thing that might help your mind is not just to watch and cheer, but to volunteer. You can email and ask if there’s anywhere you can be of help – an aid station, a start or finish line assistant, a bag check person, whatever. Trust me, it’s way better than feeling bummed on race day. I’ve been there; having a purpose is better than feeling all at loose ends, and races just can’t exist without volunteers. I make a habit of volunteering at at least one race a year.

    Here’s the form. (But I do hope you can run, anyway. :-) )

  • sherylwx4

    Do you ever see any old runners ? No, why? Because running is bad for your body. Your ankle is giving you a hint…
    You could beat yourself up, or you could try to focus your feelings to something productive like helping or gaining more funds for the charity.
    Everything happens for a reason, sometimes we just have to FIND those reasons.