In Stride

Sometimes, an injury is just what you need to improve.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Upside of Injury

Maybe being injured isn’t such a bad thing after all.

It all started in August, when I was 12 miles into a 15-mile run on a rural Missouri highway. Shin splints and achy feet were realities I’d learned to live with. But with one decisive landing, my left foot cracked inside that lug-outfitted, cotton candy–pink Newton shell.

Fast-forward six months to a healed metatarsal stress fracture, a two-week trek through Europe, and a lot of reduced mileage—and you’d find me raring to go on some lovely spring runs. But I was pain-riddled. It was my tibia this time. Let’s put this lightly: I did not handle it well.

No runner ever does. Especially not Desiree Davila Linden, the hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone woman who went from running the race of her life at the 2011 Boston Marathon to suffering a stress fracture in her femoral shaft (yes, a stress fracture in the body’s strongest bone). “The injury was super-upsetting,” she says. “But you have to realize that it’s real, that you have to give up your race, and that you’ll get better.”

It’s a rebuilding process, explains Linden, and injuries are just a natural part of the sport. They’re going to happen, and they can be opportunities—if we take them—to learn about ourselves.

So it makes sense that my first reaction to the injury was denial. (Just keep running, and it’ll take care of itself, right?) The human body has to be that impressive—I mean, if a salamander can regrow its tail, I can whip up some bone mass, no problem. So I continued my routine of six miles here, nine miles there, and a few 13-milers tossed in for good measure. Every morning, getting out of bed got harder and harder.

My second reaction? Acceptance—and a new plan. My leg hurts, and it will keep hurting. It has a crack in it that’s slowly turning into a ravine. Not the best way to heal, clearly.

If an Olympian is telling me that some extra time spent in the pool, on the elliptical, or anywhere that isn’t the roads I run on is a good thing, then, by golly, I should listen. So I did.

“There’s this cool thing you can tap into while being injured—this mindset of ‘I’m tougher than I thought, and I know how to hurt a lot,’” laughs Linden. “It says a lot about you as a person if you break your bones from running.”

I’m on a new plan—less running and more of everything else—and I’m OK with that. It’s fun to take on the challenge of working out without tying on my trainers for a run. And I am sore, which I didn’t know was even possible at this point in my fitness “career.”

I may not be on the path I want to be on right now, but this one is offering some pretty nice alternative routes. Maybe being injured isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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