As a runner, being sidelined with an injury is the worst. There’s no doubt that spectating a race is an amazing experience. Cheering on runners and seeing their strength and determination is a moving experience. I appreciate every time I have the chance to watch a race but watching when you are injured is dreadful. You want to be out there with your fellow racers. Although we work hard at training, a running injury is bound to happen. Our sport is hard on our bodies.
My running injury happened in 2014. I was about five miles into the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon at Grandma’s weekend in Duluth, Minnesota when I had sudden, severe right hip pain. Something was not right. It wasn’t the usual muscle tightness you might experience on a run. It wasn’t something I can step to the side and stretch out. It was different and it hurt. It’s in these moments we truly learn how strong we really are. I was determined to finish this race and it took everything I had.
It is often said that running is more a mental sport than a physical sport. Of course, running is physically challenging and requires some basic level of fitness even for us back of the pack runners. But so often it’s mental toughness that drives a runner from start to finish line. It takes discipline, drive, focus, confidence, and even a little bit (sometimes a lot) of humility.
That Saturday race day in Duluth when my hip pain started, the mental aspect of running was given the ultimate challenge – to stop out or push through. The saying “dig deep” is no joke. It seems daunting when you are up on London Road knowing your goal is Canal Park and you are miles away and in extreme pain. It literally took everything I had but the mental drive really did take over. I took the rest of the race in small increments. Get to the next street corner. Get to the next light post. Get to the top of Lemon Drop Hill. I remember counting orange street cones and telling myself don’t walk until you’ve run past five. Followed by, you can only walk for five orange cones and you must run again. The pain still hurt but the mental focus kept me going. One foot in front of the other, deep concentration, and pure grit got me to the finish line that day.
After the race, it took several weeks, many doctors’ visits, lots of PT, and an MRI to finally receive the diagnosis I had dreaded – a torn right labrum. The labrum is a ring of cartilage on the outside rim of the hip that cushions the joint and acts like a rubber seal to help hold the ball at the top of your thighbone securely within your hip socket. The timeframe from injury to diagnosis is just as mentally challenging. You want to be running but you can’t. The pain is still there. You start overthinking everything. I will never run again. I will have to start completely over. Why me.
I remember the day I had surgery. I got called back to the pre-op area and I was instantly in tears. I cried through my whole admission. I was so distraught they had to call my husband back to sit with me. I remember the nurse saying “you are just having hip surgery, this isn’t that bad”. In the grand scheme of medicine, she was right – this was a pretty routine surgery that would help me be in less pain. But at that moment I could only think that I would never run again. I was irritated she didn’t realize how important this was to me – does she not know this is a big deal to a runner? She was a good nurse doing her job, I was just mad about the whole thing. In the end, surgery went well and I was home the same day. The next mental struggle comes during the rehab and recovery phase. Somehow, I changed my attitude from “I will never run again and this is awful” to…. “I can and will do this”.
In the recovery period, I did everything the surgeon said. I followed my physical therapy exactly as prescribed. The only thing I did that they told me I shouldn’t do, was return to Grandma’s weekend the very next June in 2015. Yep, that is the runner in me. Determined. Focused. Driven. And maybe a little bit stubborn. I still have daily discomfort with my hip. Sitting is hard. I tighten pretty easily. Arthritis is around the corner. A hip replacement is in my future. But for some reason, running does not hurt. Running makes me feel strong. Running makes me feel like I took control of my injury.
Pushing through an injury, recovering and rehabbing through an injury, and returning to the sport we love is a humbling experience. As a Family Nurse Practitioner, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say that it’s not always the right decision to push through pain. Pain is a sign something is wrong and there are times that pushing through can make things worse. But the runner in me also knows limits can be pushed. The body is amazing. And even more importantly, the mind is amazing.
Carrie is one of our Offical Grambassadors for the 2022 Grandma’s Marathon Weekend. Meet the rest of the ambassadors here.
Favorite Grandma’s Marathon Memory: Crossing the finish line at the 2015 half marathon. The year prior, I was running the half marathon and at about five miles in I knew something was wrong with my hip. I was in so much pain and could barely run. I managed to finish the race but was sidelined from running for months. It took any doctor’s visits to finally figure out I tore my right hip labrum. I had surgery in October of 2014 and was told I might not be able to run again. I told my physical therapist, “no way am I stopping, I have Grandma’s to train for”. I worked hard and finished in 2015, my first race back after surgery!
What is your favorite quote that guides, inspires, or embodies your training/racing/life? You don’t have to be the best of the best, you just have to be your best.
Favorite Non-Grandma’s Marathon event: Whistlestop in Ashland, WI
2022 Running Goal: Set a 13.1 personal record