Last Fall I ironed out my race season for 2016 and set a goal that was really going to challenge me. While it was going to be hard and it was going to hurt, I was mentally ready to do what it took to get me there. When my back threw a fit in November, I never thought it would carry over into this year or turn out to be anything serious.
After 2 spinal injections I slowly got back to training and started up with my new coach the first week of January. Right off the bat my body didn’t seem right. Physically I felt fine but my heart rate was way high and I was really tired. We didn’t do anything strenuous or out of the ordinary and yet my body just wasn’t responding well. My back started talking to me again and by mid-January I developed a really bad pain in my left glute (butt) and lost feeling to my left leg. My gastroc and glute muscle essentially went to sleep and my leg felt like it wasn’t attached. I went in for my third spinal injection hoping and praying it would give me relief but it did absolutely nothing. After talking with several doctors and surgeons, it was clear that I had 2 choices: live with the pain and hope it goes away and the feeling eventually comes back or have surgery.
The discussions of surgery got pretty real when I learned just how bad of shape my back was in. It wasn’t simply a herniated disc but I have degenerative disc disease in my lumbar spine and there’s very little disc left. We discussed having a fusion done now but I went with a more conservative approach and decided to just do a discectomy at this time. Not only was the thought of back surgery overwhelming, but I was told by one surgeon that I may never compete at the level I want to again and another told me the half marathon distance will not be an option in my future. Needless to say, I was devastated.
I went through every emotion possible through the next few weeks. For 2 weeks I was so depressed I didn’t even want to talk to anyone. If I talked about my back or even thought about not being able to run, I cried. For 2 straight weeks I cried…all…the…time. Then all the sadness turned into anger. I was pissed. I was so mad that my body was failing me and wouldn’t just get better. I was so mad I couldn’t workout. I was so mad that I was in constant pain and the pain just made me angrier. The anger then subsided and here I was grieving the loss of my 2016 races and all the goals I set. I was grieving that I wasn’t out there with my running buddies or riding on the crazy warm winter days. I totally felt like I lost a part of me and something that was so important to me.
Then one day I woke up and decided “it is what it is.” Like flipping a switch, I came to terms with everything and accepted it. I accepted that surgery was the best option and while the next few months might suck, there’s nothing saying I won’t get back to where I want to be. Sure, I have a ton of restrictions going forward and need to change my way of doing things, but I’m willing to make the changes because I want it bad enough. I’m not throwing in the towel on 2016 either. I know I won’t be all out racing anytime soon but it doesn’t mean I may not be out there working hard at my new post op fitness level. J
Today I’m 2 weeks and 2 days post-surgery and I’m already further along than they said I would be and the doctor is impressed with my progress. I could very easily ditch my little walks each day and not do my isometric ab exercises in lieu of resting like they instructed me. But I want to recover and I want to get my strength back. I want to get back to what makes me tick.
The point of this rambling…as athletes, a lot of us are going to have set backs. Some major, some easily overcome. If something happens that knocks you off track, let yourself feel; know it’s ok to be sad, angry, whatever and then move on with a positive attitude. It’s hard when things are out of our control and you have something you want so badly taken away from. But it’s that positive attitude that will get you back out there. Missing out on a race or a PR is not the end of the world, it’s just spilled milk. Don’t cry over it forever, clean that sh*t up and move on. And remember….Things could always be worse. Always.
And for those that like this stuff….here’s a picture of the disc they cut out. Enjoy!