Recovery

Fifty miles is a long way to run. Even a marathon can be really hard on the body. But I’ve always been amazed at how well we can adapt to these types of stresses. I could barely walk after my first 50-mile race and spent the next several days limping around. But most of the ultras I have run since then (save Hardrock, maybe) have not injured me so badly. Usually I’m tired and achy, but I can walk just fine, and the next day I can usually go for a jog. Which is why I was so perplexed last April to find that I couldn’t run or even hardly walk for several days after the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Every muscle in my legs ached, and any movement was a struggle. Like a true professional, I decided to stretch a little and just sort of hope everything would work out. Bodies heal, right? Sure enough, the aches and pains slowly receded and I regained my normal range of movement. But though the soreness dissipated generally, my right hamstring did not get better. And with something as simple as soreness in my right leg, my 2017 running season was over.

I can hardly explain how frustrating that was. But obviously I’m going to try. In fact, it was very frustrating. I might even go so far as to say it was extremely frustrating. I had spent most of 2015 and part of 2016 with a stress fracture in my foot, but eventually I had healed. I was determined to use 2017 for the wild adventures and spectacular results that the public has come to expect of me. (Right? The public is clamoring for more Dakota, right?) But then, less than a year after getting over the foot issue, I was injured again. And not even with anything cool like a stress fracture, which is not exactly obvious but at least you can explain it as a broken bone. My new injury was even more elusive. Generally my conversations went something like this:

Friend: “Hey Dakota, how’s the running?”

Me: “Not good, man. I’m hurt. My hamstring.”

F: “Your hamstring? What happened?”

M: “I don’t know. It’s just tight.”

F: “Have you tried stretching?”

M (sighing audibly): “Yes, I’ve tried stretching. Apparently stretching might actually be doing it harm.”

F: “Well, those hamstring injuries can last a long time.”

M: “I’m noticing that.”

F: “But hey–you’re young. You’ll get over it soon.”

But the thing about being young is that it’s fleeting. Our whole freaking culture seems to hinge on this idea that you’re only young once. And there I was, being young and not doing anything about it. I was just sitting around because my stupid hamstring would tighten up every time I’d run longer than 10 minutes. After my foot injury I was told to stretch, and during this hamstring injury I was told not to stretch so much. Furthermore, how many people get to be all sponsored and ‘pro’ for their sport, like I was for running? What a cool opportunity that I was just wasting on the couch. Trying to maintain these sponsorships through my injury, I engaged in several ridiculous attempts at self-promotion that made me feel like I was completely full of it. Because it just feels wrong to make videos about running when you can’t run. I don’t make videos about playing guitar because I can’t play the guitar. Same deal.

These comprised some of the self-imposed stresses that I wallowed in while watching the summer sun slowly sink to the south and the season come to a close. I just felt bad a lot. And that sucks, because there’s really not much for me to complain about. I may not have been able to run, but I was otherwise quite healthy. I’ve never had to go hungry. I have a home and clothes and good friends and just about everything that comprises a happy life. But I wasn’t happy. And realizing this made me even less happy because I then felt ungrateful. Clearly something had to change.

So the point of this whole story is this: I decided that my hamstring injury must be a symptom of some kind of deeper problem that I was not addressing. And when I finally got fed up with being unhappy and decided to do something about it, I concluded that I was taking the wrong direction in life. Those stresses I talked about above–about savoring youth and stretching an amount and being sponsored–were examples of me using the problem to fight the problem. I got injured because I ran too much or too hard in pursuit of goals that only enriched one part of my life. But I’m interested in other things too, like the environment and working with kids, which is to say that I’m interested in… you know, not being selfish all the time. Being an athlete is supremely selfish. It doesn’t have to be too selfish, necessarily; there’s a spectrum of most to least selfish that I had weighted far too much in the wrong direction. I decided that I was spending too much time trying to make myself a little bit faster and not enough time trying to give back. How could I be unhappy about not running when millions of people around the world–even in this country!–don’t have the daily comforts and amusements that I enjoy almost without thought?

I decided that my body was rebelling against me spending all my time and energy on self-aggrandizement. And this was a decision, because I never had some kind of epiphany about it. There was no moment of enlightenment. I simply decided I didn’t want to be unhappy any more and I needed to change something. To that end I have lately taken steps to become more involved with my community, to create projects for kids, and to repeatedly berate iRunFar readers about environmental stewardship. This doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice being a competitive runner. In fact, quite the opposite: I find that I can have a unique impact as a runner that isn’t available to everyone. The more I have reached out in these ways, the more I’ve realized how much I don’t know. I spend a lot of time trying to learn things lately.

In August I saw a doctor who recommended a cortisone shot in my hamstring. He told me that these shots have mixed results, but it was worth a shot (LOL) anyway. After that I did something almost completely novel to me. I waited. I came back slowly from the shot: no activity for a week, and very little for two to three weeks afterward. Slowly I started running again, but only for 20 minutes at a time, with walk breaks every other minute. Simultaneously I stayed consistent with a revised routine of more physical-therapy exercises mixed in with light stretching. By October I could run five or six miles without tightness, but I was unwilling to go much farther. Only around Thanksgiving did I finally feel that I was becoming a runner again, and not until now–early January–am I finally considering training again. I consider the recovery process to be the time between the cortisone shot and now. The time before that was the time for enough frustration to build that it forced me to reconsider my life as a whole. I’m such a physical person that it’s easy to forget the power of the mind.

I’m not smart enough to know whether my hamstring healed because of the science of recovery or because of my pseudo-spiritual life shift. But it doesn’t matter much anyway. I feel grateful that I was able to channel the anger and frustration I felt into something that feels productive. I certainly am not able to do that with every frustration in my life. But all my problems really aren’t anything more than frustrations anyway. I don’t have real problems.

So now that I’ve re-evaluated my life’s direction and healed my body, I’m happily running again. You should be glad for me. I’m certainly glad, especially now that I don’t have to do all that selfless stuff anymore. Helping other people was a great way for me to heal, but now that I’m back to running I’m excited to put all that behind me and pursue running full time again. I’m going to be super fast this year. So next time you get injured, I suggest you pay lip service to something greater than yourself while you heal. It worked for me!

Seriously though, running can be a powerful tool for good.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How connected do you think your mind and your body are?
  • Have you ever experienced a physical injury that you thought was connected to your mind somehow as well?

There are 22 comments

  1. Sam Bosworth

    long bouts of uphill plays hell on the hamstring origin if your pelvis/core tilts forward-makes the hamstring act as a hip extensor rather than a knee flexor and it takes on the strain of dragging the leg. The better your fitness/higher willpower (and I assume both of yours are up there) the more damage you the hamstring misusing it. Pelvis probably learned faulty movement patterns and you were moving through your days like that for months after the race. Glad its feeling better!

    1. Ellie Greenwood

      Me too. The World can never have enough Dakota. As ever, however amazing a runner Dakota is – he’s an even better human. Heal well, friend!

  2. Ric Moxley

    Dakota: i encourage you to check out https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Back-Pain-Mind-Body-Connection/dp/0446557684 — don’t let the book title fool you though – “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection” – the author himself frequently mentions in it that an understanding of the mind-body connection positively affects pains ANYWHERE in the body. As a runner, i can attest that what i got from the book has helped me many times with run-related pains. Your writing style, by the way, is always a pleasure to read. :)

  3. Mariana

    Love your irony.
    I´m an amateur runner (from Bariloche, do you remember the race 4 Refugios? was it 2014?) and I´ve been injured twice in 2017 what kept me from running almost half of the year and I´m glad to know I´m not the only one that feels so much anger and frustration just because your body doesn´t allow you to do what you want. I guess I, too, need to find a way to go through my injuries and not feel so unhappy.

    1. Scott

      Hey Marianna! I’m actually heading to Bariloche for a few days in the coming weeks – any recommended trail runs/hikes (10-20k)? Excited to explore your hometown!

  4. Nick

    Hey man I’m right there with ya–been dealing with a strained ham and glute for almost 6 months now. I’m still learning how to slow the f down and let my body heal before I start running again. For a while I’ve been angry at myself and my body (for failing me, maybe? I don’t know…) but I’ve just recently started to realize hey, there’s a reason I fell in love with running and it didn’t have anything to do with training and racing. I kind of got away from that when I got into racing, and I would stress about meeting training goals, racing goals. etc. Maybe that contributed to how I got hurt, maybe not. One thing injury has taught me, like you, is that there are plenty of other areas of my life that I have found (and can continue to find) happiness and fulfillment in that don’t have to do with running. I’ve liked to fancy myself a musician and sound engineer for a few years since college, and now that I’m taking time to strengthen and recover rather than stress and train I’ve been able to play “indie musician that writes/records his own crappy music”. I can tell you that it has been more than satisfying engaging myself in this. Do I miss my regular running schedule? You bet I do. Running brings me fulfillment in ways other things cannot, but being hurt has given me the opportunity to be able to reflect on that fulfillment; I appreciate it that much more. I’m also learning to appreciate the experience of being injured in and of itself (odd I know…). Taking the time to strengthen my body in order to make myself a better runner is something I neglected for years..

    Anyways, good luck to you my friend and I hope the running health continues to improve for 2018!

  5. Pixie Ninja

    Dakota, your story couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I am in the mist of recovering from an injury. I have only been out for 11 weeks, not nearly as long as you. However, I too have found that it is a must to find another avenue to fill the void of running. Doing other non-selfless acts has been a saving grace for me as well. It didn’t take me long to figure out that being sad and sulking in the fact that I can’t run was not where I wanted to be. That road is dark and treacherous…I wanted a more peaceful and easy road to follow. Hence, finding joy doing other non-running related activities. I am hopeful that you are going to be back stronger and wiser after this bout of injury. Even though it seems like eternity at the time, always remember ‘this too shall pass’. I hope you enjoy your return to running. I know I am looking forward to my first run back. All the best and keep up being an awesome ambassador!! Cheers to a great 2018!!

  6. Albert

    I’ve been around ultras and have run one or two per year for 18 years. When runners get injured and recover, they’re strong and feel great, and what tends to happen soon after? Another injury. What’s the likely issue that led to that? Too much adrenal stress caused by too much anaerobic interval training and not enough building of a strong aerobic base. I’ve seen it over and over and over and over. Good luck on your recovery, Dakota. Look into the Maffetone Method as a prescription for a long and healthy running career. It’s worth it.

    1. Chris

      Albert, what you say is true for many people, but not all: I’ve noticed consistently that long slow running makes me feel worse, whereas shorter fast intervals make my legs feel healthier, stronger, and less injury prone. There are different types of runners.

      1. Emerson Thoreau

        I agree with Chris. However, speed-work is like shots — some may be good and fun, but too many and you have a sit show. Many runners perceive that “more” is “better.” Usually not. Finding that Aristotelian Mean where there is fitness AND health is a bugger.

  7. Emerson Thoreau

    Love the funny ending. Just as “there are no atheists in foxholes,” certain runners find amazing powers of “introspection” and and Buddha-like selflessness during injury periods. Or not. Many injured runners shit the bed and go right back to being injured after periods of being “healthy” because they do not get it.

  8. A-a-ron

    I had a hip/glute injury for a year after running a hard 10k in prep for longer summer races in 2016. I tried everything….everything! And then I went to a Christian camp with my church and a friend prayed over me for healing after I finally decided that I would receive prayer for it. After he prayed I walked away and was pain free. No pain since. No clue how to explain it expect for a divine intervention. Seriously crazy.

  9. WeiDe

    Hi guys,

    i just came across book from Dr Sarno about how the brain hides real anxiety and anger from then conscious mind and creates pain in muscles and tendons by restricting the oxygen flow to those areas, It is called TMS. I was extremely sceptical, but after reading the book, reviews etc it sounds very logical. I follow the sport quite a bit, and often ultrarunners that gained success seem to be sidelined with injuries no one can really pinpoint the cause of that just drag along. The cure would be, according to the book, to acknowledge that the brain can create pain as a barrier, and reflect on what is emotionally disturbing to oneself. This then at some point gets back to the subconscious, which leads to the brain giving up the pain as there is no longer the need for the barrier. One also has to stop with all therapy and medical attention as thats a self fulfilling prophecy. Maybe it is helpful to some, i found it pretty interesting and logical.

    All the best!

    1. Melanie Sakowski

      Hi Weide,

      This is awesome info, thank you for sharing it. This is pretty much my perspective on most of life’s ailments, as well as how I base my practice of Holistic Nutrition (moreso holistic wellness in an all-encompassing modality for health-care). I especially resonate with your comment on letting go of the need for medical attention as it exacerbates the self-fulfilling prophecy of staying in an ill-ness-based-state.

      I will certainly be looking into Dr. Sarno’s teachings and TMS.

      Warmly,
      Melanie

Post Your Thoughts