“Breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so things can fall together.” ~Unknown
The last 3 miles of the Lawrence, KS half-marathon route weaved us through an older area of town with beautiful houses, 100 year old oak trees and shaded brick streets. I remember the moment when I stepped down on an uneven brick and felt a pain radiate from my pinky toe to my left ankle. Adrenaline was running through me and although the pain slowed my pace slightly, I pressed on. As I saw the inflatable arch finish, I dug deep and picked up the pace as I crossed the finish line…and that is when the pain kicked in, I could no longer put any pressure on my foot and hobbled over to the grass.
I went to the hospital two hours after I tried to brush it off as a strain to find out I had broken my foot at mile 10, running that last 3 miles on a broken foot. No, this wasn’t an option! I can’t have a broken foot! I already had my next half-marathon on the calendar and my training for my first marathon was about to be underway and this was not in my plan, this was a HUGE set back!
Three weeks after the New York City Marathon this past November, I was feeling a bit more pain in my ankle than I should have been. My runs since the marathon have been very painful. My left calf all the way to the arch of my foot feels like tight guitar strings and there is a lot of swelling after my runs. I’m self admittedly a bit stubborn and have been telling myself I’ll just tape, massage, ice, stretch, it will be ok. Well, something inside a few weeks ago said I needed to take this a bit more serious because my body should not feel like this, and I was right.
Achilles tendonitis! Are you kidding me? UGH! I can’t stand having injuries that affect my exercise. Exercise, and specifically running, have been my saving grace these past few years. When I am stressed, overwhelmed, or hurting because life is full of setbacks, there is nothing like putting on my running shoes and clearing my head with a run. When I don’t have the choice to run [more on choices in my blog from last week] I tend to get upset because now I have a setback in my plan.
I came back after my broken foot in 2010 and I’m working on my tendonitis issue right now, knowing that by going to physical therapy and doing the work to fix this issue and allowing myself time to heal, I will overcome this, but it doesn’t mean it was, or is, easy. In addition to my setbacks in running, my life the past few years has been full of setbacks. We all experience setbacks in life and obstacles we have to overcome. It’s never fun [if you think setbacks are fun, I’d love to meet you] it can be a bit overwhelming and we sometimes feel defeated and stuck.
“What did this teach me?”
Everyone faces adversity in their lives at some point. We can choose to allow the temporary setback become a permanent fixture in our lives that keeps us in the place of sadness, failure, defeat, or we can ask ourselves, “What did this teach me?”, and do our best to move forward. With my Achilles tendonitis, it taught me that I was a bit lazy about my pre and post run stretches, I also was not doing the appropriate strength training exercises for my legs as my mileage increased. These are mistakes I won’t make again, and it’s taught me what I can do to not only hopefully prevent this injury from occurring again, but will help improve my overall running.
Shortly after I was experiencing the pain in my heel and ankle a few months ago, I did what anyone else would do, I turned to Dr. Google to see what was wrong with me. I came across an article written by David Lam where he is talking about overcoming running challenges. He wrote the following:
“By creating a habit of doing things that ‘suck’, you’ll be making deposits into a reserve tank to pull out of when you need it the most. I call this “Running to the fight;” that is, the more times you can do things which test your mettle, the more grit you develop to tackle any running endeavor. In those moments where everything is going wrong, a mental trick that “The Toughest Man Alive” David Goggins likes to ask himself is, “What if…?” Challenge yourself to ask, “What if I could pull this off?” Start a conversation from within you to find the answers that will keep you going when everything hurts.”
When I read this, I wasn’t thinking about running, I was actually thinking about life. How to keep going “when everything hurts”; not just muscles, but your heart hurting from a loss or your head hurting because of the swirling thoughts of your stressful week. Being a runner, you have to have resilience, but resiliency applies to life in general as well.
When you are faced with these setbacks, ask yourself, “How can you adapt to accommodate this setback I’m faced with?” For example, with my Achilles tendonitis issues, I currently can’t go on a long run without risking more damage, but I can get on an elliptical or stationary bike to keep my cardio up while doing something low impact. Setbacks are more like speed bumps, they don’t stop us, just slow us down. It doesn’t matter if you are rich and famous, you are Mr. Rogers, or even the Dali Lama, everyone experiences LIFE speed bumps.
What other steps can help us when we are faced with those speed bumps?
- Acknowledge it: Allow yourself to feel sad, worried, disappointed, upset, etc., but for a limited time; this is a dangerous place to stay for too long. Set a time limit for how long you will allow yourself to feel the sadness or disappointment.
- Eliminate Blame: We can’t keep blaming other people or the world in general. Yes, it’s true that someone else might be the reason you were presented with your setback but blaming them doesn’t change the fact it happened.
- Talk to someone: I’m not suggesting you need to seek counseling every time life presents you with a setback. However, talking can help. It can be your friend or a co-worker you respect and value. Keeping things bottled up inside isn’t healthy for any of us.
- Write down what you are thankful for: We can’t change the past right? What has happened has happened and you might be faced with this huge speed bump right now, but taking the time to not just think about it, but actually SEE the things in your life that you are grateful for can help. Try this one not on your tablet, computer or phone, actually get the pen and paper out and jot a few of those beauties down!
- Give yourself time: Achilles tendonitis doesn’t heal overnight and if you knew me, you would know I’m not the most patient person in the world [a goal I’m working on in 2020]. Just how tendonitis doesn’t heal overnight, neither do most setbacks you are faced with. Process what you have been presented and know it will take a bit of time to work through.
- Keep moving forward: Expect setbacks. If we expect them, we can accept them and move forward that much quicker. Obviously we don’t usually know when we are going to be presented with a setback, but this worksheet is a great exercise that allows you to visually see some of the setbacks that could occur in any situation in life, and has you think about how you could work through them as they happen.
So, are setbacks really setbacks? Perhaps they are just growth and learning opportunities? It sounds nice doesn’t it, “I just had a huge growth opportunity today” vs “well crap, that was a huge setback!” Easier said that done I know, but it’s just another way to look at it. We have all heard “when one door closes, another one opens”. To be able to see that door as a growth opportunity takes work, but I think we can all get there! If you are presented with a “growth opportunity” today, take a deep breath, and before you get to the steps listed above, ask yourself, “How can I adapt to accommodate this setback I’m faced with?”
Remember, You Got This!