I have read many articles, and heard what feels like countless stories, about runners who overtrained and never recovered. Runners who never found their love for the sport again, who moved on from it completely. Let it be a part of their history.
I found myself wondering – did they just retire from competing, or really truly did they actually STOP running forever? And if they stopped, were they unable to do run anymore because the damage done was so severe, or was it more of a choice because it was so dang hard or it just didn’t feel good or it made them sad to not be able to do what they once were able to do? And if they didn’t stop, why don’t we hear much about it? What is their relationship to running like now?
What sets apart the people who DO recover from overtraining, from the ones who don’t? I really do want to know. I feel like it doesn’t get talked about much, not enough anyways. So I am going to talk about it more and more here, and share my experience and what I do know.
I will be honest. The thought of that happening to me was a devastating one. I was determined to give myself the best possible chances of not only healing, but of being better than I was before.
I pulled myself back from running when I was beginning to feel overtrained, but I still got hurt (plantar fasciitis reared its ugly head and then a cortisone shot to fix it actually partially tore my fascia…awesome) and then I discovered through blood and urine tests that I was in the early stages of adrenal fatigue. I needed to stop running altogether for what amounted to about 9 months. I got myself help, in the form of a cognitive behavioral therapist who I saw weekly for close to a year and a holistic wellness practitioner who helped me with lifestyle and nutritional healing (Tawnee Prazak Gibson). I saw my chiropractor and physical therapist regularly (at first twice a week, then once a week, and now that I am healthy I see him once a month just to stay on top of things – just as I had with Dr. Wong when I lived in Virginia). I stayed active and in tune with my body by taking up swimming, and returning to both Pilates and yoga while also being dedicated to a strength and muscle activation routine. And when my foot was healed after a Tenex procedure in March, and I had the green light to run again, I hired a good friend to be my coach (Mary Johnson) – who had experience in her own body and also as a running and strength coach with helping runners safely and conservatively build back after injury. I know without a doubt that all of this, and abiding by the guidance and doing the work given to me, was crucial to my recovery. Now that I am better I am flying solo – coaching myself again and applying what I learned as I move forward.
I decided long ago that I would be okay with never running as fast or even as far as I once did. This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on the possibility that I will improve my times – that is very much still in my heart. But it means that I have new standards. There are things that I am simply not willing to make sacrifices for to get there – my health, my authenticity, my happiness, my relationships – these all take priority over any time goal. Period. And it also means that I define my version of “better” with SO MUCH MORE than a number. My experience of myself as a runner is more EXPANSIVE now. And as such, it is so much more fulfilling. So much more joyful! And there is so much more gratitude and longevity to it than there was before I recognized my unhealthy patterns, before I overtrained and got hurt.
This past weekend I ran a half marathon. My first real endurance race in over two years. My time was 1:41:11, a 7:40 average pace, and right where I estimated I would be after months of careful progression and hard work. This is about 15 minutes slower than the fastest I have ever run that distance. But — MY GOSH. I don’t even really have words to describe accurately how much more amazing and BETTER this race was than the PR I ran in the half three years ago was. What I remember about that race in DC in 2014 is that while I was running fast and was crazy fit, I was racing the clock and checking my watch constantly, I felt depleted of joy in my personal life and in my health, and I was barely hanging on but trying to smile and run through it because that was less painful than actually dealing with it. My gut BLEW UP on me at mile 12 and I literally ducked into an alleyway to poop on a public street before that last mile. Sounds awesome, right?! But hey, I crossed the finish line with impressive stats – 1:26:25 and 11th overall female so I celebrated. This makes me sad now. But it’s okay. It was also an important part of my journey and I have compassion for that.
Looking back, I just want to hug that me from a few years ago. Tell her that yes, it all would get worse before it got better, but that she was SO STRONG and SO GOOD and so full of love and faith — and she would figure out how to heal, she would surround herself with the right people and she would do whatever it took, and it would all be SO much better than she could imagine. It really would.
This past weekend when I ran my 13.1 miles – they were a true celebration — and I was present and HAPPY. I was having fun! I was feeling good. Healthy body and healthy mind. I was doing what I LOVE again. I ran steady and even splits, across the board from start to finish, and when it was over I had happy tears in my eyes, a big smile on my face and gratitude and pride in my heart. And in no way did it feel “over” – it felt like the beginning of something beautiful. I feel like I can exhale here and say, I am over overtraining.
AND I AM SO THANKFUL!