One crisp, sunny morning last September I stood on a bridge, in a foreign town, absolutely s***ing myself. I'd just watched the last of the 36th PZU Warsaw Marathon runners set off from my vantage point in the High Five 5k race pen.
An injury during my own marathon last spring meant a summer void of running, filled instead with physiotherapy, rehabilitation and perpetual bitchy-resting-face. Pouting on the gym floor, watching my teammates gleefully dead-lifting while I sat on a cricket ball. Sulking behind my monitor when ELLE's editors skipped out of the offices for Run Club, week after week.
Being hurt isn't just a setback, it's unsettling. It's (seemingly) unpredictable; if you'd had a niggle and took a risk, okay, that's calculated. Do everything right, and something goes wildly, unexpectedly wrong? It can be a massive blow to a runner's confidence. Here, my first outing in months, I was about to sprint a hairpin course complete with epic stadium finish. After months of endless split-squats, even though I felt better, stronger, more together… the fear of breaking again was so palpable, I contemplated faking a seizure to get out of it.
Before I could get enough signal to google 'symptoms of epilepsy', the crowd set off taking me with it, ready or not. My first paces were cautious, my tendons stiff and reluctant. I warmed up, sped up, weaving through the crowd, paying paranoiacally close attention to my form, watching my footing as I skipped over the uneven streetcar tracks. When I finally looked up— temporarily blinded, either from the sunlight bouncing off the Vistula river or the flash of a fairly idiotic epiphany, considering I was in Warsaw for the expressed purpose of participating in this event— I realised I was running. In a race. On a bridge. In Poland. Really fast.
And... I felt nothing; no pain or disappointment, only the sensation of my feet making fleeting contact with the road as I hit the slingshot back across the bridge. Legs singing, heart pounding: like an anthem my body had forgotten and patriotically recalled when I sent it to the frontline. Narodowy Stadium suddenly appeared, signalling the near-end of the race. Inside, when I crossed the finish line, after the last push and the final bang of the drum; I let the sweat run into my eyes, using it as an excuse to let a few tears of joy go, too.
My post-race tweet: 'Look who's back, b*tches'.
Those speedy 5k in Warsaw— a city ravaged, now rebuilt, renewed— reminded me I was capable of doing the same. We all are. Confidently coming back from injury isn't easy. It takes time and patience, a willingness to go slow, and perhaps most importantly, the courage to push ourselves once again. Trust your instincts. Do what feels comfortable. Just don't let little steps keep you from breaking into a sprint when the time is right.
Tips for the Injured Runner
1. Admit defeat. Buy a load of ice cream, go on a Netflix bender, then get over it.
2. Accept that recovery is an integral part of training. You're no one's hero if you break yourself trying to appear unbreakable.
3. Train smart. Your body's muscle chain is complex, so chances are, the root of your injury is not where the symptoms are. Invest in professional advice and trust them.
4. Pay a physiotherapist. It may seem like all they do is prod, but they've trained for years to understand how to fix you.
5. Don't get frustrated. Every day is a day further away from your injury. Remember the progress you've made.