Simone Brick - September 2, 2019
So the time has finally come! After months of rehab, setbacks, and trial and error, I feel like I am in the clear injury wise and officially starting back on the long journey to running fitness. I have also been given the go ahead to run the race I have been aiming at this whole time, which happens to be in a mere 13 days. It is the National Mountain Running Championships though, and I can't control the date of that or how long my body needed in this return; what I can control is my mindset leading in, and the little daily things that will add up to get me to the finish line.
After winning the New Zealand Mountain Running Champs in April, I thought I was in for a ripper year and would be rocking up to Aus mountains fitter and stronger than ever; ready to defend my national title. Alas the world had other plans, but thankfully I have always been someone that likes racing my way back to fitness so am not a stranger to turning up to races unfit, but determined. With how scared and excited I am, I know the goal of getting to the finish line at Nationals is right in my sweet spot of a goal that's damn hard, but not impossible.
All up, I went 15 weeks without taking a step running. I swam, then cycled and water ran, pumping my legs harder than Jane Fonda in her prime every second day for 12 weeks straight. For the past 5 weeks I have slowly been adding in the levels of running my body has shown it is ready for, with the aid of an anti-gravity treadmill to help ease the load back onto my body.
Along with cycle commuting and gym sessions three times a week, the start of my return to running plan looked something like:
Week 1: 30 seconds run/90 seconds walk X 10, done every second day with water running between.
Week 2: 45 seconds run/45 seconds walk X 10 every second day with water running between (except I skipped a gym session and a water run due to pain)
Week 3: 90 seconds running/ 30 seconds walking X 10, progressed gym work, first Alter G Session 45mins @ 60% Bodyweight.
Week 4: 105 seconds running/15 seconds walking every second day, AlterG on days between for 60 minutes at 70% Bodyweight. Sunday completely off all activity.
Week 5: 30 minute continuous runs Monday/Wednesday, AlterG on Tues/Thurs for 70 minutes at 80% Bodyweight, then a 40 minute run on Friday, and 80 minutes at 90% bodyweight on saturday. Sunday completely off.
*Take this with a grain of salt as it is just my experience - it is tailored to my history/injury/body, everyone's return will look different
That brings me to today. Monday of week 6 back, and 13 days until national champs. Today I get to do my first track session in over 5 months, and geez am I scared of how much that might hurt and how slow I may be. But that is part and parcel of the process, so I am also keen as a bean to get back out and start a more normal training routine again.
For all intents and purposes, everything up until now has gone surprisingly well. The actual time off was longer than wanted/expected, but since actually starting running I have felt good. There were times something in my hip or back would start to ache and I would absolutely freak out that I had re-injured myself. These times I would skip a session or two and curl up in a ball hoping the pain went away. Along that tumultuous journey of emotions, I have been reassured by my body that as long as it give it the rest it asks for, it will adapt and get stronger. I am learning that no matter how normal or abnormal the journey back from injury is, it's a scary process.
It's scary because everything is new again, and so much advice is conflicting. At the start, every step running scared me because I wasn't sure if it would all be taken away again; but not starting wasn't going to help that. Then there is everyone saying 'listen to your body', but also my support team reminding me that in the return things are going to complain and ache. So really it becomes a matter of 'listen to your body, but not too much'. Thankfully with a major race coming up so soon, I have found it somewhat easy to go back into my usual routine and enter my hobbit mode of training. After months of not stoking my competitive fire I am more than happy to welcome my beast within back out. But the way my body feels on this journey has reminded me of all the other times I have started fresh and had to put up with the 'adjustment period'.
The way I see it, running is like the opposite of a relationship. When you start out with a new partner, you enter the honeymoon period filled with love and excitement and immediately get rose coloured glasses firmly planted over your eyes. It seems like everything is blissfully perfect, until somewhere along the path cracks start to show. With running on the other hand, there's no way around the fact that in many ways the start sucks. Not only is breathing scarily difficult, sweat more abundant, and heart rates sky high; but you get to become reacquainted with the pain of muscles micro-tearing and fixing themselves on a daily basis. For me, this has meant waking up being unable to walk without the pressure and pain in my calves forcing me into a robot shuffle for the first 5 minutes of the day. Navigating stairs has once again become a mission of sweet talking my quads and hamstrings into moving as they are designed to, and I am drop-dead tired most nights.
Yet in some sadistic way, I am so damn happy to be able to feel like this again. I know that what is coming once my body adjusts are those blissful, smooth runs that feel so damn special. In running, the honeymoon comes after breaking up with your old, non-running self, and it has the potential to last a lifetime.
I have done this process a few times, and it has always been different. The first was when running was merely a punishment I used to lose weight and torture my body. I dragged my overweight and asthmatic self along the local trails trying to break 30 minutes for 3km, only to collapse on the couch at the end and not know exactly where it hurt most. That 'adjustment period' never ended, because I wasn't allowing my body to recover and adapt, and I never once got to enjoy a run.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2015 and I had lost half my bodyweight then painfully regained enough to be healthy and stable. At this point, the adjustment period seemed easier, because I developed a beautiful and healthy relationship with running that started from a place of self love, not hate. I remember the aches and fatigue and effort, but I also remember seeing my times drop substantially from week to week until I was breaking 30 minutes, then 25 minutes for 5km. The thrill of setting PBs and running further than I ever had before made the pain of the adjustment period so much easier to withstand.
Then there was 2016, when after my first Marathon I had to take 4 months off for stomach surgery. The return from that was more painful, because not only did I now have a 'before' to compare my paces to, but my insides had been drastically rearranged and my core strength was shot. Still, I knew at this point that it would get easier if I just stuck at it. I worked to rebuild my running body despite the struggles and was rewarded with a marathon PB just 6 months after surgery. There is no way I would have stuck at it if I didn't know that damned adjustment period would end.
Since then, I haven't had much time off before this year. What I have experienced is watching many people start running and stop before they get to the blissful honeymoon period. I totally understand when people start to think it's not worth the effort, or it just seems sadistic to want to go through the pain and all around fatigue that can come with your body trying to get used to running. If you keep running from childhood, you get to skip a lot of it, but reteaching an unfit, adult body the natural movement of running is a mission and a half that can seem like an all too overwhelming shock to the system. Still, the amount of runners out there every day is testament to the fact that like many things in life, if you stick it out through the shitty part you get the gift of experiencing the best part in all its glory.
So yes, I know that right now everything hurts and I am tired as anything and not doing much other than training, studying and sleeping. I am slower than before, and it feels damn hard. But that's okay. I know that this stage is temporary, and that without it I wouldn't get to experience all the joy and adventures running has in store for me in the coming months and years. I am learning to once again love this adjustment period not for what it is, but what it promises to lead into. I just have to keep showing up through the process and let my body do what it needs to come out the other side stronger. For now, I will try to enjoy the slower, struggle lane. In my mind, it will just make the adrenaline and joy of the express lane so much more exciting when my body gets back there, in its own time.
Two weeks until Nationals. Bring on the pain and gain of adjusting.