Five Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Coping with Injury as a Professional Athlete (a diary)

This post originally appeared on Neely's blog here.

Five solid months of training, with really no glitches or bumps, is actually rather miraculous when you're coming back from an injury. A steady upswing of improvement had me feeling strong, fast, and ready for competition. So what the heck went wrong during a recent 5k (The CVS 5k)!?

If only I had an answer for you… In my entire racing career (since 8th grade) I have really only tanked two races before, so I guess I should be counting my blessings, but we all know how difficult that can be when we just want things to finally go right. I hit 2 miles and needed the race to be over soon, the last 600m wasn’t pretty, but what was way more concerning was an ugly bruise on the top of my foot. Set back #1.

I spent the two days post race with my Ship U teammates Lara Crofford and Katie Spratford who train with the New England Distance Project in Rhode Island. It was a blast catching up with these ladies, meeting their friends, going to their middle school XC practice, and reminiscing about our college days. The runs were decent, but the top of my foot was still swollen and sore.

I traveled to Houston from there to spend a week with my husband in his new location, and after a fantastic 15 mile long run, I opted to see a professional. Not that it was hurting terribly, but with it not improving after three days, I have a rule that I stop and heal. Disaster struck, the doc (a very nice and knowledgeable woman) put me in a boot with crutches, ordered x-rays, blood work, and an MRI immediately.

I was absolutely panicked... Trying to remain composed while my emotions were screaming, The 24hr wait was a killer, but everything came back clean... just an irritated and bruised tendon. Whew. HUGE sigh of relief. Two days off and I felt fine, ready to move ahead and forget it all.

During recovery, nailed a great workout; 6 miles alternating 600 hard, 1,000 moderate for an average of 5:30-5:40 per mile. It was exactly the workout I needed to remind myself that I am fit. I had the privilege of joining the U of Houston XC teams during this workout and really appreciated their support and presence as it helped me stay focused and on pace. They have a great group of athletes and coaches who hold an obvious respect for each other and the sport, thus creating a very positive environment for success.

Post workout, set back #2 happened. The bottom of my foot started cramping. It felt locked and uncomfortable as I walked around that afternoon.

I had felt nothing during the workout. I ran a few days, but again, my three day limit passed and I had to shut down. Darn foot. This time, I had a knot the size of a quarter on the inside of my arch. Perhaps a result of knotted muscles from dehydration after the workout? We may never know.

Acupuncture and Osteopuncture by my go-to-guy did the trick, and two days of rest was all it took. I feel very blessed to have the support of my teammates, coaches, medical folks, and family during these not-so-fun times. They all checked up on me, and encouraged me by reconfirming my decisions to be conservative. I am back to running, yet giving myself another day before I do a workout.

So five months of steps in the right direction, and two-two day hiccups.. OK, perspective is a very important thing. Also, keeping the vision alive and on fire within during these moments of obstacle is something that can only be controlled by the keeper… Cheers to steps, strides, and miles


About the Author: Neely Gracey is a US based distance runner, who has represented Team USA in 5 International competitions, including twice at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Neely ended 2016 with a win at the Rock & Roll Chicago Half & finished 8th at the New York City Marathon, and is now looking ahead to qualification to Tokyo 2020. Follow Neely on Twitter, Instagram & keep-up to date on her own blog here