Outta’ Control

Ellie Greenwood struggles to give up control over her running in the face of injury.

By on June 3, 2013 | Comments

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?
Ellie Greenwood
Ellie Greenwood has IAU World 100k Championship, Western States, and Comrades victories to her credit. A Scot living in Canada, Ellie is supported by Salomon, Clif Bar, Udo's Oil, and Sundog Eyewear. You can read more about Ellie's running on her blog.