Coach Will: One Step At A Time
My last marathon was filled with mixed emotions. I ran a big negative split (1:24/1:19) to finish in 2:43:45 for a bright and shiny PR. During the hours that followed, I was on cloud 9 and itching to start the recovery process so I could focus on the next one. There may have even been a celebratory stop at Krispy Kreme on the way home for a dozen assorted and calorie-free donuts. However, as the adrenaline wore off, the reality of my foot killing me sank in. I was experiencing severe pain on the outside of my left foot, which I later learned was peroneal tendonitis. After seeing physical therapists and an orthopedic surgeon, I realized that it was unlikely that I would run again for some time. Tendons take longer to heal vs muscles because they receive less blood flow. This was not what I wanted to hear, but I accepted my fate, stabilized the foot, and began rehabbing. It would be five months before I was able to run again.
My post-marathon injury taught me several valuable lessons, despite being incredibly frustrating. Prior to the foot injury, I had been injury-free for nearly 4 years. I had begun taking running for granted and forgetting about previous hiccups in past training. You’ve probably heard the saying “blessings in disguise” before and this was exactly that. I had taken for granted my good health and my ability to train consistently each day and every month. During the bad weather months of the summer or on cold dark days of winter, I had grumbled to myself about how I didn’t want to go run. But what’s funny is after every run rarely did I ever tell myself, gee I really regret doing that. When the ability to run, train with friends, and run races was not a possibility for me, I realized just how good I’d had it. I had not been appreciating my running or my life to the fullest.
Returning to training after my five months off was difficult. I was hyper-focused on my foot and fearful that every little this or that was the injury coming back. I think as runners, we tend to be really in tune with our bodies (and sometimes a bit paranoid). For about a month, I was paranoid that every run was going to lead to irritating my foot again. But in reality, I was steadily improving and the pain was dissipating. Another challenge during the first few months back to running was that I was in awful shape. I had not been cross-training like I should have been doing during my off months, and I felt as though I was starting from scratch. This was one of the best teaching moments for me as a coach.
This injury led to a new page and a new opportunity being presented. I got to learn what it was like to start all over again. I have coached and continue to coach new runners that range from run/ walk programs to trying to run their first 5k without walk breaks etc. But when I was constantly on top of the world, in great shape, crushing workouts and running PR’s, it was easy to forget that it wasn’t and isn’t always like that. This was my opportunity to experience the day-to-day struggle that new runners face. Running just a couple of miles during that period was tough for me and there were walk breaks thrown in to workouts. As an athlete, I hated this point in my running career, but from a coaching standpoint, I learned so much. I was able to relate to the new runner (as a coach) in a way that I wasn’t able to previously. The lessons I learned as I took one step at a time, and clawed my way back to fitness were invaluable. There are no certifications, no books, and no online courses that can prepare you for the psychological struggle of getting back into it. The blue print I needed wasn’t a magic coaching schedule or formula, as I knew what to do all along. The real light bulb moment for me was simply re-learning the struggle that every single one of us face at some point during our running careers and knowing how to communicate, motivate, and guide that individual through the process.
It sounds cliché and perhaps it is, but when you’re just starting out or coming back to running after a break, you must be patient. You really must take it one step at a time. If the journey were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing it. The last bit of advice: don’t be too hard on yourself. Patience is nobody’s friend, but it’s the friend that helps you achieve your goals.
If you enjoyed this read or have questions for Coach Will, let him know by sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org