Outta’ Control

Chick's CornerAnyone who knows me knows how I like to be able to run where I want, how I want, and when I want. The constraints of my day job aside, I pretty much have free rein over my running schedule. I don’t have a coach, so it’s my call if and when I chose to do speed workouts. I often run solo, so it’s my choice whether on a given day I run tarmac or trail. As I have very flexible sponsors, it’s pretty much my decision which races I compete in and when I take my downtime during the year. Basically, when it comes to my running, I call the shots and, I’m prepared to admit, I like it that way. But recently I’ve had that control rather abruptly taken away.

Having not had a major running injury for several years, I’d forgotten what it was like to have freedom of choice about my running taken away. Due to the nature of my injury, it wasn’t as if I was fully off my feet right away, but I was suddenly forced to heed the advice of my physio and other professionals. On my first physio visit, for a painful ankle, my physio put forward the idea that maybe I should skip my long run that weekend. Immediately, I felt that uncomfortable feeling creeping over me that I was no longer in charge. Now, I would have to listen to and follow the advice of others. And, ultimately, I would have to listen to what my ankle demanded rather than what my head wanted to do.

Whilst I am desperate to get back on the trails, my ankle kept telling me that it preferred the even and soft surface of the treadmill better, so the treadmill it was. Whilst I wanted to join friends on a long, weekend trail run, my ankle said it wanted the day off so I went to a spin class instead. Whilst I really wanted to make it to the finish line of the Vancouver Marathon, my ankle said that 30k was more than enough, thank you. Of course, in some ways, I was still making the decisions, but very much within the confines of rehabbing my ankle rather than with pure running enjoyment or training goals in mind.

It has been an interesting (read ‘challenging’) feeling to adjust to. I would see my physio and ask what I might be able to try running that week and I had to have an open mind on what he might suggest. I could hope he might suggest trying a trail run, but I also had to go in with the mindset that he might suggest a week of total rest, which is, of course, the exact opposite of what I wanted.

Fortunately, the adjustment to not having control over my running is something that, due to the nature of my injury, I have had time to accept. It was not as if I suddenly broke my leg, so at first when I felt a niggling pain in my ankle I thought I might have to skip a day or two of training. The following week, I began to realise that I might have to take a total running break for a little longer. But I still had race goals in mind, and the next week the full focus became recovery and getting to the bottom of the damn, annoying pain, however long that might take.

Two weeks ago, I found out that the ‘annoying pain’ that just wouldn’t shift is, in fact, a stress fracture to my fibula. Not a step of running for the next six-to-eight weeks, and after that it’s going to be very short runs and a very gradual build-up back to my normal training volume. Before the stress-fracture diagnosis, I was initially concerned that my training for Comrades might not be perfect. I adjusted to the hope I could maybe still make top ten, but a few weeks ago I realised there was no way I would even run 89k and, well, any future race plans were ‘we’ll see.’

The lack of control is, of course, frustrating, but I came to accept that there was not much I could do about it (other than try find the problem and fix it) so there was little point in getting worked up about it. That helped somewhat. It was still a bitter pill to swallow when I had to accept that Western States was off the cards. I’d gone to see my doctor pretty sure that that was going to be the case but as soon as I saw the huge white dot on the screen of my bone scan, I knew my Western States dreams were well and truly nixed. A feeling of panic and disappointment set in.

Definitely one way I have managed to feel vaguely in control is to focus my efforts on how I can get over this injury as soon as possible. I am having regular visits with my physio to reassess the course of action. I have had massage to work out ongoing kinks that I had before. And I’ve sought advice of what activities I can do in the meantime to, if nothing else, fill my time that would normally be spent running. It is worth noting that activities such as swimming or cycling have been met with much more enthusiasm than knitting or learning a new language! I’m also investigating why I developed this stress fracture in the first place in the hopes that I can learn from this and not get one again. It has helped me feel that I am using this non-running period constructively to make me a better and healthier runner in the future.

Before I was diagnosed with the stress fracture, I tried to enjoy every little bit of running I could do. For a while, each step on the treadmill was in my mind one more step toward Comrades. When I knew that my Vancouver Marathon was likely to become a custom 30k-run instead, I took in the scenery, smiled at the spectators, and enjoyed each and every step as I knew that I likely wouldn’t be running outside again for the next few days at the very least. (Little did I know that it was going to be a few months.)

Yes, I’m a control freak. No, I don’t feel overly in control. But I’m making every effort to enjoy this forced rest and get back on the trails and in the driver’s seat absolutely as soon as my body will allow.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • When have you had to give up control over your running?
  • In what ways did you struggle when giving up such control? Any suggestions for dealing with that loss of control?

There are 36 comments

  1. olga

    Ellie, my heart aches for you. Whatever level runners we are, what we feel when we do run and when it suddenly gets taken away – not that we take a break, but when the forces just interfere and stop us rudely – is similar for all of us. I had a stress fracture in 2011, and while not first, this one managed to take me from one injury to another, rolling while I was impatient and producing new compensatory injuries, for 8 straight months. But that's nothing comparing to Gary's foot, oh, boy – and his journey taught me to never give up. You, too, will be back. Cheers. Deep breath.

  2. just me

    "To meet with Triumph and Disaster and meet these two imposters just the same"

    ~Rudyard Kipling "If".

    Pretty much says it all. good luck.

  3. George Harris

    Ellie, I know what it is like to "lose control" of your running. I had a stress fracture on my right heel (no running for 4-6 weeks). I thought I was going to go crazy. But it all worked out and I am back to running more than I was at that time. It did teach me some lessons which I am still trying to apply to this day. My heart goes out to you for I know what it is like to have something you love taken away from you and when you come back, and you will, the appreciation of every run will be better than before.

  4. Dave

    As a person of Scottish/Canadian heritage, and one with ties to both North Vancouver and the suburbs of Banff (i.e. Calgary), I have followed your career with special interest. I am disheartened as both a fan and a fellow runner that you have hit this obstacle, but am optimistic that you'll get through it just fine. Get through this, get to the bottom of why it happened, adjust, and move on.

    Good luck Ellie!

  5. Kelly

    Ellie that really sucks, I'm so sorry. I picked up a stress fracture in my metatarsal last September and I'm only just getting back my longer runs. The thing is, I'm incredibly stubborn and a control freak and so when I couldn't initially see the SF on my check up X-ray I jumped straight back into my training. It was such a bad decision-I ended up in a boot for ages. Listen to your physio/dr and don't run on it, even a little, until they say its ok. Good luck :)

  6. Jess

    I pool ran due to a foot injury for more than a month during a marathon I was training for. It was reaaaalllly boring (I did 2 hours once), but it helped me feel like I was still "running", and it's actually quite hard so a good workout. I have gone back to pool running a few times when injuries have come up and it has always helped me mentally in the interim.

  7. Katioucha

    Hi Ellie, I am not a big runner yet! Now I am training for my first marathon, but still it is frustrating when your body doesn’t go were your mind set for. I don’t have any injury but I feel sometime I do not have control and my body goes to sleep crying for rest when I have to get some mileage in it. Having a medical background as a nurse, I have to say that sometime it’s better to take a break allowing the body to do its nursing job , repear itself and be able to do more after. Good luck with your recovery!

    Kat!

  8. Sabrina Little

    Heal up, Ellie! I find that every time I'm out for injury, it's all the more glorious of a return because I realize how rich a gift it is to be able to take each step. Happy recovery.

  9. Cory Kohm

    Hi Ellie,

    Embedded in the tone of your writing is a remarkable shift in the way that you are choosing to "reframe" your out-of-control-ness. Certainly, waking up each morning under the oppressive empty – that "empty" flailing we feel when no place seems to exist for us to direct our striving, heartfelt ambition – can cause us to lose perspective. Losing the option to run when your striving is to run – particularly when it is a huge part of your personal and professional identity – infects your whole world. Losses do that. Central vision blurred by the black void, you felt "panic and disappointment" and saw, at least temporarily, all that isn't: holes, lack, deficiency. Many many get sucked into this void permanently, the pulse of ruptured hopes forever in their veins, weariness, bitterness, yes even selfishness. Physically feeling it in the veins, trembling, driving the mind to the place where choice ceases to exist.

    But you discovered that even when we find ourselves appallingly empty, we can still chose. It is possible, wildly. In fact, perhaps only from the empty do we gain the option of living more fully. The empty slows us down, refocuses our vision and resets our goals. For you, you chose to seek understanding (investigating what lead to your injury), to add to your life through new activities, and to become more aware of your deep capacity to take whatever life gives ("… I came to accept").

    From the empty, we more clearly see all that is gift in our lives. Family, health (mental or physical), a beautiful and diverse world (which at this point, even if you were to never run again, you have had the gift to travel and run all over it while actualizing wonderful goals), the feeling of joy, a secure job, sufficient food, warm and caring touch from loved ones, the ability to see and believe the best. Not everyone enjoys all these luxuries, unfortunately. But you seem to have them and account for them, and your decision to embrace them just might help others see that they, in fact, have such luxury as well.

    All the best as you recover and gain strength.

  10. Ken

    Two tibial stress fractures sidelined me for three and a half months in 2011. The forced cross training and PT resulted in me returning to running in the best shape of my short career. The body knows best, and will force the issue if necessary!

    Enjoy the pool running Ellie! Soon enough it will be a distant memory :)

  11. Charlie M.

    Drink lots of wine, eat lots of cheese trays, walk the dog, read some great books. It'll pass before you know it.

    1. Ellie

      Cheese eating – no problem! Book reading – already on it! Wine drinking – beginner but aim to improve ;) Dog walking – no dog and not sure walking long distances is great idea anyway :(

  12. AT

    Hi Ellie,

    I'm sidelined with a metatarsal stress fracture right now. I'm almost 6 weeks out and unfortunately it's going to be another 2 weeks for me most likely. Ive done a lot of cross-training and biking with the mind set that I will be a stronger, healthier runner when this is over. Some days are better than others for sure. Your article reminded me that even the best get injured and it takes all of us the one thing that we hate to heal – time. Good luck and I completely understand how you are feeling.

  13. Jim

    Serious injuries always occur at the peak of our performance level. Having suffered a meniscectomy and micro-fracture operation to the medial section of my knees, I know your pain. It has been three years since then and I am just starting to increase the mileage and speed. The fatal thought for all of us is loosing the high performance we worked so hard to achieve pre-injury. That is why we experienced marathoners/ultra marathoners first attempt to run through our physical problems. In reality there is no other way then to take the time off, cross-train, get some physical therapy and start all over. Best of luck to you.

  14. Kevin

    Ellie. It's certainly frustrating to have an injury and be sidelined. However, I have no doubt that with your will, your talent, your determination, your hard work, you will come back stronger. You will get back to your fun competitive state. You will get to run free again. I wish you a speedy recovery. Eat well, drink well, rest well!

  15. Justin Grady

    Ellie,

    I feel your frustration and pain. My injury timing is almost exactly the same as yours. Different injury though. But, might take as long to heal. Mine came along after running Boston and getting a PR. But, really wore the wrong shoes (rookie mistake, and I'm def not a rookie). So, biking/cycling, core classes, physio, lots of ice, all other recovery efforts are going as best they can. I am doing my best to keep my confidence up and going. Overall I know in my head I'll be fine and kick A again, but have to be patient. It's the emotional part I gotta watch, and am coaching myself through the waiting.

    I ran Comrades last year, and had to watch my friends run it this year, as well as local races in the US. I am hoping I'll be ready for the Salomon Grizzly 50k in Canmore in October.

    I just want to hit the trails again! And, yes 'reframing', indeed.

    I wish you best, full, and quickest recovery possible.

    Take care,

    — Justin

  16. Jason C

    Thanks for making this experience public, Ellie. It is glamorous to read the reports and articles things go right for top level athletes in our sport like the accomplishments of Olsen, Morton, Jornet, Sage, etc. over the past few years. However, injury/recovery are far more common for most ultra enthusiasts than winning a race, thanking a sponsor, setting a record, FKT etc. It shows great character to share this type of stuff. Recover well so we may once again share in your victory reports!

  17. David Horton

    Ellie,

    You will be back. It just takes time and patience and I am sure you are just like me on the patience area. You are young and if bones heal properly, they are stronger after breaking. The real key is to try to determine WHAT casused the stress fracture. I look forward to seeing you in Squaw Valley. Maybe we can go for a bike ride together. See you soon.

    1. Ellie

      Dr. Horton, my bones were created in the '70s – but yep, I guess they are not THAT old :) Definitely figuring out why this happened as don't want a reoccurrence. Will be FANTASTIC to see you in Squaw!

  18. Melissa

    Kudos on your candor, your attitude and your actions. Each of us knows how hard such things are for us, and can sympathize – it's kind of you to share the view from inside your head and heart so that we can all remember how fortunate we are any day we can run, and how carefully we need to guard and spend that precious gift.

    I wish you the very quickest of recoveries as well as renewed strength, speed, focus and learning lots of new and interesting things about yourself, your body and your training!

  19. annette bednosky

    Ellie,

    I feel for you and am routing for your smart, quick recovery and that you find sanity and happiness during this non-running time.

    To speak to what Byron wondered:

    I have not run since 12/26/2012. I am in the midst of rehabbing a nervous system condition-In theory, I could be running, yet I am making the choice to reset brain patterns with all good habits and when I can find and stay in neutral, I can start running again and maintain healthy biomechanics. I have a great physical therapist who assures me I am simply on sabbatical. I want to run and feel quite lost many days without it. Running and competing has been a huge influence on my identity for the last 10 years that sometimes I feel very directionless and lonley without training partners and races to prepare for.

    To maintain sanity and seek happiness in the present I am working with a personal trainer for the 1st time ever and am liking the results of being strong all over, rather than just a strong runner. For fitness, I am thankful my condition allows me 2 hours a day on the elliptical trainer. I am also re-visting performing and am currently in rehearsal for the musical Annie which opens 6/27.

    It's tough as you say, not to be in control of a part of life that is so important…yet I honestly have been living this temporary non-running lifestyle enough that I am not anxious or scared each day I don't run.

    I hope when I do get back to running I can do it with more perspective, appreciation and balance.

    I wish you all the best,

    Annette

  20. Karen T

    Ellie,

    Wishing you a lasting recovery, rather than just a speedy recovery. I know it is tough. I'm a back of a pack runner but a dedicated one nevertheless. I haven't been running much for the past several months myself due to a consistently sore ankle that was finally and recently diagnosed as a tear. I'm waiting to see the specialist to find out what it will take to heal properly and prevent it from happening again. I'm impatient but willing to do the time for a long-term fix.

  21. Greg

    Hi Ellie,

    Being injured sucks. Those annoying stress injuries! We have all been there. After you listen to your doctors, then get back at it – take back your control. Your first run: flat grass field of one minute run, then 30 seconds walk for total of 10 minutes of effort. For personal control, you decide if you should go clockwise or counterclockwise around the field!!! Thats it! Walk away from the field and go have a brew! If no pain, move on to the next day! Success! Ahhhh…..

    And as the old saying goes….listen to your body as you move forward….even those small whispers sometimes have meaning!

    Ps, try pool running with an ipod!

  22. Curtis

    Ellie,

    I really appreciated your article. I recently tore a ligament in my knee while training, so the timing of your article was perfect. But more importantly, I appreciated your perspective and attitude. Many times we only read the incredible race reports, achievements and records from inspirational athletes like yourself. And then when injury sets an athlete back, they virtually disappear until they are 100% and racing again. So your article was quite encouraging as I deal with the frustration and discouragement of a setback like this. I hope you keep writing regularly as you recover and I can't wait to see what's next for you.

    Wishing you health and happiness…

  23. Max

    Ellie,

    I too am currently dealing with an injury. although mine is not runnining related. I broke middle toe of my left foot while working around my home. The thing that really sucks! It happened four days before the first annual 10k trail/road run in my home town here in Montana. I thought "maybe" but.. Race day has come and gone and I figure it is what it is. plantar fasciitis got the best of me a few years back I rehabed for over a year. Take the time too recover and get back out there.

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