One year ago, after a winter that featured some of my most consistent training ever and culminated with a successful half marathon debut, I found myself at the bottom of a hole, struggling to find direction on both physical and emotional levels. First, my late winter training buildup was severely impacted, and then the opening races of the 2015 outdoor season had come and gone while I desperately attempted to salvage a track season that would somehow earn me a spot on the US Team for the World Championships in Beijing.
In the months between the onset of injury and my ultimate decision to forego the track season, I did everything within reason to return to full health and train at a level where I’d be ready to toe the line in late June. I had flown to San Diego to see doctors through the US Olympic Training Center; I went to Flagstaff to have access to an AlterG at altitude; I saw more doctors, had MRI’s and was diligently did all prescribed rehab; from Flagstaff, I moved on to Colorado Springs to consult with doctors at the Olympic Training Center there, and my time there included a biomechanics test.
Hindsight now indicates that in the midst of all the treatment and rehab I was probably simultaneously overreaching in my efforts to continue training, producing some workouts that still leave me a little incredulous. As a result, it took months of painful, frustrated training and recovering to reach rock bottom. Nevertheless, I eventually realized I not only wasn’t going to be ready for the US Championships, but I was potentially creating damage that could affect my long term preparation leading into the Olympic year.
After consulting with key people on my support team, I elected to stop preparing for a track season and began a long, slow comeback that involved running only when pain free, cross training, and investing in mental work that kept me focused on the big picture. I read Jim Afremow’s book, A Champion’s Mind, and spent time reflecting on the lessons there. Prompted by an article about healing through writing, I started a journal that documented the rollercoaster of the injury, from start to finish. I watched every major championship or Diamond League race I had run since 2012 and spent time analyzing how I could have approached the races differently if I were to run them again. My goal was to at least have my mind in a place where it didn’t feel like I had missed an entire track season, even if my body in fact was.
During the fall of 2015 and the 2016 indoor season, I gradually fought my way back into form, first training and then in the competitive arena. That process was neither easy nor entirely enjoyable, but when I reflect now upon those fifteen months, I am left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Thus far in 2016 I’ve run within seconds of my 5000m PR three times. While I’m ever eager for the next breakthrough, I now compete with a heightened sense of appreciation simply to be on the track healthy and prepared to compete. With the trials of 2015 behind me, I have emerged feeling like a more complete athlete, having been pushed outside my comfort zone and challenged in ways I never would have scripted. Happy to be fit and healthy, and with a wealth of new perspective, this July I will go to the Olympic Trials grateful for my place on the starting line and with a willingness to leave my heart out on the track