Running and I have a complicated and intertwined relationship. In my post-college days, I came to focus on running as a source of stability in my life. It was my solitary pursuit, my attempt at self-definition, and it made me feel solid, self-confident in a very physical way. Sure, there were days when I hated it, but setting new distance goals made me feel accomplished, and soon I was totally obsessed to the point that I was overdoing it, running 7+ miles a day and increasing my speed without a cross-training regime.

Almost exactly a year ago, running and I had to “take a break” as I incurred a pretty severe stress fracture in my pubic bone. When I began to gradually feel the aches and pains, I ignored them, attributing them to self-diagnosed ITB problems (the proud mark of a “real runner,” I thought), and later, when the pain became debilitating, to a pulled groin. I guess the ones you love the most can also hurt you the most!

The unfortunate aspect of my injury was that it was fairly uncommon, and so I was left wholly underprepared for the emotional side effects. However, in dealing with the five months away from running, I slowly formed my own stress-fracture coping manual to help myself mentally, emotionally, and physically heal while being separated from an activity that had come to define me. While breaking your pubic bone is pretty unusual, this is advice that I would give to anybody with a stress fracture, including the more common metatarsal stress fractures.

• Get Proper Nutrition: My eating habits pre-stress fracture (PSF) had been erratic at best. I skipped meals at times at times or, on the other end of the spectrum, justified my fatty nutrition-deficient meals and drinks with my day’s calorie burn. Faced with the realization that my body actually could become vulnerable and needed a defense of strength and fortification, I forced myself to eat regularly, and upped my nutrition intake. I now incorporate much more dark leafy vegetables into my diet for the calcium benefits and make sure to eat yogurt and drink milk on a regular basis.
• Take Supplements: As with my PSF eating habits, my vitamin intake habits were inconsistent. I thought at age 27 I did not need to be bothered with taking pills every day. Sure, if it crossed my mind, I would pop a calcium pill, but I was not at all regimented about this. I remedied this by finding calcium supplements that are actually delicious. Adora Disks are some of my favorites. Chocolate AND calcium? Yes please! When I don’t want to spring for the expensive bag of Adora chocolates, I often buy a box of the Viactive calcium chews when they’re on sale.
• Be Prepared for Your Body to Change: It does NOT necessarily follow that an injury will yield a weight gain. In fact, I knew runners in college who actually lost weight post-season when they weren’t running as often. However, weight gain was a reality for my situation. Given my history of skinny-preoccupations, this was at times led to an almost unbearable sense of frustration. Ironically, I mourned my muscular man-ish calves and thighs the most! They were symbols of my running identity. Remind yourself that muscle can be rebuilt, and you need the proper healing time to even think about weight loss again.
• Adjust Your Fitness Regime: I was lucky enough to have an amazing sports-specific orthopedist who was also a runner and had had a stress fracture. He understood my compulsion for activity and gave me a suggested list of activities. A stress fracture does not necessarily put you on the sidelines. Key word: cross-train. Changed my life. His general rule for me was: if it hurts, DO NOT DO IT. Pretty simple. In the beginning of my pubic bone fracture, this limited me to biking and the elliptical. Swimming actually hurt my hip when I kicked, but can be very useful low-impact activity. Physical therapy armed me with a series of (hard!) muscle-building activities that invigorate my interest in weight and core training. *** This comes with the caveat that every person and injury is different. Make sure to clear any physical activity with your doctor.
• Be Good to Yourself: Gone were my days of walking 4 miles home after work, gone were my days of getting up at 5:30 to get in an 8 mile run before work. And you know what? I had way more time for myself. I focused on other extracurricular interests such as reading and writing, and just healing in general.
• Talk to Other Athletes: My friends, although sympathetic, did not quite grasp the severity of my emotional response. While I did get the, “Oh sh*t! You broke your hip!?!” response of incredulity, most of my friends did not understand the depths of my depression at mourning the loss of running in my life. Then, I talked to a close friend who had had her share of running injuries and who offered the pity and maternal coddling that, indulgent as it sounds, really helped me. I felt justified in my emotional breakdowns, and yet strengthened in knowing I had a support system of people who cared about my well-being. And that it would get better.

The bottom line with stress fractures, and injuries in general, is that they do get better. But, you have to be proactive in allowing your body to do its work in the amazing natural process of healing. I was able to take the positive out of my experiences: I developed an absolute love for spinning during my second stress fracture this year, and I became more aware of cross-training in general. My eating habits improved, and I am developing a new relationship with my body. We’re on pretty good speaking terms these days. And running? I know that running will come back to my life; however, we may have a really good relationship as “just friends.”

– Joanna