Well it’s a new year! So new year means new goals, new perspectives and a fresh outlook for the future. Right? Right!
From a personal standpoint, I have to say that 2016 was, without a doubt, the BEST for me. I became a mother and got to experience all the joys and emotions that used to just seem like cliches for how people described motherhood. Now, I actually get to FEEL these emotions (not just hear about them) and let me tell you, they are totally amazing. Yes, love IS blind and yes, I do believe that Abigail is the cutest, greatest, most talented little human ever.
All that being said, from an athletic/running standpoint, 2016 definitely fell short for me, but not because I didn’t “make the team”. Between pregnancy and injury, I just didn’t feel like the same person. But, I worked hard and got in good shape after the birth of my daughter, which was the goal. My husband and I knew there were issues that could go wrong (and likely would), but after a very successful pregnancy of training, I ran into a postpartum issue that I didn’t even know existed (postpartum low bone density). Still, I felt like I worked through it and got myself into very good shape leading into the Trials. That I’m still proud of – especially considering the things I had to overcome. However, I never feel like I truly got to show that fitness, and that’s disappointing. After fighting extremely hard to be on the starting line at the
Olympic Trials, I had a mishap with my achilles that left me barely able to walk off the track after the first round. From that standpoint, it’s safe to say that my running career has seen better days than 2016. So, my goal towards the second half of the year was to get back to healthy running. As long as I obtained that then “choosing” my 2017 goals would be easy (accomplishing is another story, but that’s why they’re goals, right? They are meant to stretch you to new levels):
1. Run 4:01 in the 1500m
2. Make the US World Championship Team
3. Make the finals at the World Championships
Yes, pretty clear cut goals. And let me just take a quick minute to say that I am not usually one to broadcast my goals. It’s not my nature. I am more of the “silent hunter” type (which ironically enough is written on the inside of New Balance spikes). BUT for the purpose of this blog, I am being as open and honest as possible. So there they are…my 3 original goals for 2017, written in black and white.
I say ‘original’ goals because, like most of 2016, I’ve already had to adjust, adapt and simply be flexible. As it turns out, my road to ‘healthy running’ is going to take a little longer than I had ever anticipated. 6 weeks ago, I had surgery on my left achilles and peroneal tendon. Surgery … that word alone carries with it a certain shock value. So much so that at one time I never would have considered the possibility of me getting surgery. Then what led me down this path?
Well, in the spirit of being 100% honest, I have to say that what I felt in my achilles during the race at
the Olympic Trials was worse then I let on even to myself. At 500m to go in the race, I remember my mind going from race mode to ‘ouch, I can barely push off my left foot’. It took every ounce of power and fight in me to simply finish that final lap and then not limp off the track. After everything I had been through to get to the starting line that day, I was ashamed to have yet another thing go wrong. I wasn’t able to show the fitness that I had worked so hard to achieve. Even when I sat down for the final interview for the ESPN documentary, I tried to avoid having to talk about my achilles and I cringed every time I saw the closing scene of me pathetically limping down the sidewalk. I didn’t want my achilles to be the ending of my journey. I had worked too hard. So I just boxed up all the emotions of it and stored it away to deal with another day.
It was a simple case of avoidance. Avoidance and stubbornness.
After an ultrasound in the medical tent a day after the race revealed that my achilles was still in-tact, I chalked up the swelling to a bad case of bursitis/tendonitis, which I’ve dealt with in the past. I had come back from that issue before and had successful 2013-2015 seasons, so I knew that I would get through it again. I just needed to rest, recover, rehab and then gradually return.
For the sake of shortening the story, I returned to running mid-fall and had some solid workouts. However, as I began pushing the training paces for workouts, I noticed my achilles declining again instead of continuing to improve as it had before. I knew it had never quite been this bad, but no matter how much strength, rehab and care I gave it, it just wasn’t responding. After some prompting from my mom and Darren, I decided to ‘start over’ in a sense and go to my family doctor to get a fresh opinion on my next steps (yes, this is the same doctor who diagnosed my pregnancy!). It was this doctor who referred me to a specialist down at UVA Medical Center – a place I was quite familiar with after my osteoporosis and tumor diagnoses earlier this year. My doctor pulled some strings in order to get me an appointment a week later.
Well let me tell you, that appointment couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It ended up being 2 days after I had just completed a workout that, although successful from a time and pace standpoint, landed me unable to walk properly for the next 24 hours. I was frustrated. All the emotions that I had “boxed up” to deal with later came flooding out. It was the exact mindset that I needed going into the appointment. I was finally ready to accept that there might be something more serious going on. I was ready to face the music…
An MRI of my left ankle revealed that as a result of my bone density issues at the time of the Olympic Trials, I had suffered an evulsion of a portion of my achilles, whereby it had pulled off the bone and the bone had cracked. This explains the pain with 500m to go, immediate loss of “push” and immense swelling. Since that time, a chunk of scar tissue had formed between my achilles and bone due to the injury. In essence, my achilles wasn’t fully attached, so the demand of higher quality workouts was simply too much in this state. The MRI also revealed Haglund’s deformity on my heel and hyper-flexion of my peroneal tendon, causing it to flip back and forth over my fibula head and making my left ankle unstable. So this is where I insert the daunting word “surgery”. In order to get back to the level of elite running that I want to achieve, I needed to have surgery. It was my only option, and maybe a long overdue one.
Flash to present day and I sit here, 6 weeks post-op and finally cleared to put weight down on my left foot. Yep … I’ve just gone 6 weeks non weight-bearing AND I have a baby; A baby who decided to start walking at 9 months old. That’s right folks, the day I stopped walking, my daughter started. Talk about impeccable timing. For 6 long weeks, I have scootered, crutched, hopped and crawled my way around the house after her. As terrible as this irony sounds, I have to admit something. It was actually just what I needed to get through this time. As crazy as it sounds (stay with me a minute), if you think about it, when a baby learns to walk, they fall. They fall A LOT. But they don’t stop trying (see where this is going???). In the early days of her walking, Abigail would fall a few feet shy of her destination. However, instead of crawling the extra inches, she would push herself back up and continue her walk, no matter how long it took her to get where she was going.
I remember saying at the end of episode 4 of the “Run Mama Run” documentary that I wanted to show my daughter that sometimes in life you are going to fall but you have to get back up and keep going. Well watching Abigail learn to walk showed me that she’s got a pretty good handle on how to persevere. She is one determined little human being. She never took the easy way out. And it’s definitely inspired me to not take the easy way out either. So this year my 2017 goal is to do exactly that: pick myself up, persevere and move forward because I know that at the end of it, I will take a look at my journey back to elite-level running, take a deep breath and smile. You did it.