Enough with the injuries….switching gears (pun intended)

Since the release of Appetite for Addiction I’ve been in funk with writing, not feeling inclined to put pen to paper as much as I have in the past.  Perhaps it’s a hangover effect from AFA. However, I’ve recently met someone that inspired me to pick it back up and get writing again.  My friend Tracey, who keeps a blog of her own was also in a funk.  Interestingly, after we shared our funks together we both picked it back up.  So, here we go! Thanks Tracey 🙂

Several weeks ago, in February, the flu bug got to me which forced me to stay in bed, like everyone else who caught it around the country.  Luckily the bug passed on a Friday and I was able to get out and hit the trails over that weekend.  The runs were uneventful, easy, and relatively benign.  I felt no twinges or tweaks over the two easy efforts.  Then, the following Monday morning I woke up to my left foot being the size of a softball.  I have no idea what happened and I blew up with tumult. I had fucking had it with injuries.

Over the last two years, while I’ve keenly focused on training for ultra-marathons, I’ve had sixteen different injuries that forced me to sit out from training:  Left quad strain, right quad strain (twice), strained achilles, banged up right calf (twice), banged up left calf (twice), left hip strain, strained lower back, sprained left ankle, a dysfunctional thyroid, etc., etc., etc.  When I woke up that Monday with a swollen foot, after freaking out for a bit, I began to laugh and say out loud: “even when I’m not injured I get injured!”

Injuries are very common in our crazy sport.  The mileage we run in training for ultra- marathons from 50 kilometers to 100 milers and beyond tends to provoke certain common injuries.  Largely, I’ve been relatively patient in dealing with these injuries as I began to look at them as challenges to figure out what happened and how to fix it.  But with this new injury, one that I have no idea how it happened?  I’d had enough and threw my hands up in the air in disbelief.  My patience was lost, and I was no longer in the mood to find the silver lining with this latest episode.  Enough was enough.

After I calmed down, I took the next few days to reflect on what the sport of ultra-running means to me.  Look, I love it and will always have a passion for running long distances in the woods!  However, this time, the mysterious injury brought out another consideration for me to ponder:  my mental stability.  No longer was running helping me wade through the mental challenges I face from time to time.

Running is a way for me to express myself, to push myself, and to explore my mental and physical boundaries.  I’ve learned so much about myself by pushing the limits to states of mind that I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing in other ventures.  But, with the constant interruptions in my ability to run, my mental stability began to wane.  No longer was it about loving a sport that I’ve grown into over seven solid years.  Now, it was about strictly maintaining my sanity, the consistency of being healthy had become fleeting.

For me, fear is not necessarily an effective motivator for doing anything.  However, the few months leading up to the latest injury, I found myself in an utter state of fear, wondering when the next injury would occur.  It was awful, having fun while running was elusive.  One of my friends and mentors, Ian Torrence, gave me a simple formula to the fun factor in running.  His sentiment was that 90% of running should be fun; admittedly my fun factor was a tiny fraction of his 90% rule.

Given the personal issues that I’ve been through, especially with depression over the last couple of years, running was largely my way to cope, until it wasn’t.  What I hadn’t realized was that running, along with the accumulation of the incessant injuries, was adding to the depression simply because I couldn’t stay healthy.

Today, a couple of months removed, I’m really bummed that I let it get to this point.  I mean, it took about 6 weeks for me to not look up into the forest without a feeling of disdain for the trails.  Ridiculous right?  Maybe not.  Now I can safely admit that before the last injury I had once again become consumed with pace, Strava, and results, constantly comparing myself to other runners.  That formula had not worked in the past when I began training full time;  unfortunately I had let those external drivers take over again.

So, now what?  Well, fortunately my foot healed after taking a month off from running so I can start up again although this go-around will look a little different.  Enter a swim cap, a dusted off time trial bike and a pair of road shoes. I still want to be the best athlete I can be and compete at a high level.  I won’t stop the pursuit of a child dream just because I am putting aside the sole focus on ultra-marathons.  At this point in my life I believe that swimming and biking will help add to the sustainability of my athletic endeavors.  I’m willing to try it, for I absolutely love competing and training for endurance sports.  My first triathlon is in just a few weeks, the Blue Lake Olympic just outside of Portland.  I’m excited to see what happens!

Even just a few weeks ago I was in no frame of mind to even consider being around an ultra-marathon, even just as a spectator.  However, things have improved and today I find myself in a better place, having gone through the grieving process of not being able to compete this year like I had hoped. Plus, my buddy Andrew is heading back to Western States 100 this year for the follow-up to his victory in 2016.  There’s no way I’m going to miss out seeing him race in the Super Bowl of ultra-running next month.

My take-away from this bout of injuries:  listen to your body because when it speaks, it speaks for a reason.




5 thoughts on “Enough with the injuries….switching gears (pun intended)

  1. jimgalanes says:

    Spencer, I always appreciate your blogs when I get the chance to read them Thank You.

    As far as training goes, especially for ultras andante long distance racing, I would venture to suggest that like most athletes, you probably did your distance training to hard, which can lead to a host of physiological problems for high performance and of course injuries. Most athletes, myself included do not now and certainly did not in the past, understand how easy and probably slowly one must go in distance training to get the desired metabolic response. The person who recommended that 90% of your training should be fun was probably spot on especially if he meant easy….Of course to some having fun is banging your head against the wall…..I encourage athletes I meet and talk with to do 80% of their workout very easy, less than 65% of maximal heart rate and 20% of the workout hard or very hard. When the try it for a month or two, injuries slip away, recovery is optimized, health improves and yes even performance improves. Sometime harder is not better

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim – I remember being at one of your SMS camps back in 1995. During the first workout of the camp we all went way too hard. That evening, I remember the talk you gave to us about the idea of going too hard all of the time. 23 years later I still have that talk in the back of my head, and it’s helped me slow down on countless occasions. Thank you for that!


  2. Mark Frystak says:

    Maybe some other thing you can do besides running? Rock climbing? Over country hiking with/without forest camping? Seems nature/running is your passion and desire, and that there might be offshoots to enjoy that wouldn’t Tax your body with injuries….

    Liked by 1 person

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