On 6 Easy Miles, Almost Broken Toes, and Running Journeys

The scene from the SLC airport on Thursday.
The scene from the SLC airport on Thursday.

So as you may know, Sarah and I were in Salt Lake City midweek last week for the Outdoor Retailer show. Long story short: epic ice storm on Thursday; I (mistakenly) thought we were late for my (turned out to be very delayed) flight; the parking lot was an ice rink. Skating over to the rental car, I wiped out hard, turned around and saw Sarah fall down right after me.

We laughed at our simultaneous spills, but my left foot was crying. (Odd, because I'm pretty sure I fell on my bum.) Specifically, my left big toe, where it connects to my foot, was screaming. It was so swollen and achy when I landed in Denver, 7 hours after we hurried to arrive at the SLC airport, I've never been so thankful for the people movers so I could just stand still. I was pretty sure I hadn't broken the digit, but I was worried that I'd really done some serious damage.

That got me thinking about all the injuries and issues I've had in the past 10 years—coincidentally, about the same age as my oldest kid—that have knocked me out for months:

  • Bunionectomy in 2004 (most painful thing I've ever done, and the worst part was it didn't even freakin' work)
  • That whole pregnancy/birth thing: 2005-2006
  • Stress fracture in heel in 2007
  • General hip and glute problems resulting from carrying large children + stress fracture in 2008
  • Broken wrist in 2009 from fall during trail run
  • Two bulging discs in 2010, which have been helped significantly by Pilates
  • Stress fracture in metatarsal in 2010 where I wavered on wearing the clompy black boot
  • Fibroid craziness in 2012

I ran in Salt Lake on Thursday before the iciness rained down. It was an easy 6 miles. Not one to use adjectives casually, I can slap easy in front of run because this is what I said to Sarah when I got back to our hotel room: "I'm so glad my fitness is back to the point where I can run six miles and not have it be a total slog." I think she was surprised by that statement—I am, after all, supposed to be an Ironman in training—but it's the truth. Last year at this point, I was severely anemic and unable to do much of anything. So getting to six easy miles, a step I've climbed to again and again over the past decade, always feels like an achievement.

I don't deny a broken toe would've really sucked. I would've probably had to be back in the clomper, and all of my Ironman ambitions would've likely had to be abandoned. (They still may be, but that's another story, about another joint--my shoulder--for another time.)

A mile marker I know well.
A mile marker I know well.

But I also don't deny that a broken toe would've been just that: a broken toe, another chapter in my life as an athlete. Another few months off, multiple layers of fitness lost, then the opportunity to dust myself off and continue with my story.

Instead of thinking of it as setbacks and comebacks, or having to stop totally and then start again, I have come to think of it like this: Sometimes I get to have my foot on the gas, and sometimes I just have to be content to coast. Along the way, I've built resilience, some semblance of patience, and a binder full of good stories. (Here's the public service announcement if you're about to put your foot back on the gas: lots of great ideas here.)

I can waste my time drooling that the SBS' of the world never seem to get hurt badly enough to have to coast, or I can recognize that we all have our different running journeys. And since I don't have one extra ounce of energy to waste on being envious, I have to embrace the fact that my running map's topography is much more rutted out than most. Breaks and strains and blood and bones means that my valleys go lower than average, and my peaks soar up to the bluebirds when my body allows me to do exactly what I want to do.

Which is why those six easy miles on a dark, rainy Thursday morning meant so much to me; I had climbed to a summit yet again, and the view from there was endless and full of possibility.

And those six miles are also why, if I had broken my toe, I knew I'd find the strength and will to hike out of a valley once again. I simply can't get enough of that view.


33 responses to “On 6 Easy Miles, Almost Broken Toes, and Running Journeys

  1. I live in a suburb of SLC and was asked to lead a group run for Athleta that morning for the Outdoor Retailer convention. The ice storm hit while we were still on the freeway on our way to the store. I saw more than two dozen cars wrecked before we made our destination. I finally made it expecting the run to be canceled. Instead, they paired us up with the folks at Runner’s World and we ran circles around the block to get in our 3-miles. I tried to pretend like I was having fun, but inside all I could think about was how likely it was that I would fall and break my leg. I felt like I was the only one terrified of slipping and killing myself on the slick sidewalks. It was an epicly HORRIBLE weather day.

    Setbacks aren’t fun, but they make us the people we are. Our character becomes evident when it’s challenged, not when life is smooth. You’ve proven time and time again that your character is made of tough stuff. You are resilient. You are humble. You are determined. You care. Take the time to heal and know that the changes that happen during these training journeys are not usually the changes we expect.

  2. Thanks for these words Dimity. I feel exactly like this since I started running in 2009 after having my second kid – a glorious first year of running, topped with my first half-marathon, than a series of ups and downs related to hip/hamstring issues, punctuated by 2 miscarriages. I’m now “coasting” through the first semester of pregnancy, looking enviously at runners sometimes, dreaming of a healthy baby and a glorious return to running. I will definitely have to start from scratch. But I also appreciate the opportunity to ask myseful what I really want, and to be able to try again.

  3. Dim! NO BREAKING THINGS!!! Do not make me give you a bubble suit.

    Also: I didn’t realize you also stress fx’d your heel. I’m still getting phantom pains in mine (which was declared healed in Sept). I don’t like the phantom pains – it makes me VERY paranoid.

  4. Sooooo needed right now Dimity as I’ve hit a minor setback in my running with a minor injury (that could turn major if I don’t cool it a bit). It’s so frustrating as I just got into running about 5 months ago and I LOVE IT…it has “saved” me in so many ways…to be sidelined feels like it’s the end of the world. I’ll be thinking of your analogy with the gas pedal vs. coasting ALOT! Thanks so much (and I’m reposting a link to this on my Facebook page for others to benefit from!).

  5. I’d love an easy 6 miler at your side to compare notes on the bunionectomy thing. Mine was just a little more than 6 months ago, and I’ve still got the hardware it. Just made an appointment today to visit my crabby orthopaedic surgeon and get unscrewed. You’re absolutely right — injuries, sucky that they be, do give you an appreciation for what others may take for granted. I just ran a half marathon in memory of the kids and teachers so senselessly lost in CT (and in fundraising support of their families and their school)…and there’s not a single step that’s not meaningful to me. Even the last couple miles (which were TOUGH — I had decided somewhat spontaneously to train for this one — and trained up to the distance too quickly), while fittingly painful, felt so good because I *COULD* run. I think only other runners who have been through injury truly understand what a gift it is to be able to do something that so many others can’t.

    1. Hey Kristen–Good job on the 13.1 for the CT victims, and I hope your crabby surgeon unscrews you. I had no hardware, but still have a honkin’ bunion to show for all the pain. Lovely .:)

  6. Comparison is the thief of joy. A mantra I need to incorporate into my daily life. As a very competitive person, I have a hard time remembering to enjoy what I have accomplished rather than comparing myself to someone else’s accomplishments. 6 miles is always a good solid run! Feel better.

  7. I’m a flight nurse in SLC and we were stuck at the hangar last Thursday because of the airport closure. When I walked out to get in the airplane I turfed it epically. So embarrassing. Thank goodness for all that core work that protected my back,but I am still super sore. That was a crazy day. Last thing I needed was another injury to keep me from running. Glad you didn’t break your toe! That would totally bite.

  8. Thanks, Dimity. I needed this. After 8 (grateful) months of running with no pain or injuries, I am battling with an angry hamstring and feeling a little discouraged. You reminded me that I will work through this and get back to my own easy, carefree 6 miles.

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