Susan Lacke learned a valuable lesson seven months after brushing off a sprained ankle.
My bib number for last weekend’s St. George Marathon was 5431.
But instead of picking up my race packet on Friday, I held a slip of paper with a bright red “829”—a ticket that would get me into an MRI scan.
I wish I had some dramatic backstory to share here, like the time I crashed my bike in spectacular fashion and took my first ambulance ride. But this injury story is quite simple: I was an idiot. That’s it. I was an idiot who made idiotic choices, and now I am an idiot who did not get to run her marathon.
Seven months ago, I was taking a day-long hike as part of a vacation with my husband. Halfway through the trek, I stepped down from a rock and rolled my ankle. It did what ankles are supposed to do in this circumstance—swell into a plump, purple sausage from my calf to my big toe.
Sadly, I didn’t become Florence Nightingale the second I laid eyes on my injury. Instead, I quieted my husband’s worries, affectionately named my left hoof “Cheddarwurst” and finished the hike. When I got home from the trip, I went about my daily routine, including my run workouts. Sprained ankles happen all the time, I reasoned, and they go away just as quickly as they come. Besides, if something were truly wrong with this injury, wouldn’t I be in a lot of pain?
Training for my marathon proceeded as planned. I was an idiot on a mission.
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Though my bratwurst-shaped leg eventually returned to a normal size and form, a stinging sensation in the joint remained every time I’d head out the door for a training run. From time to time, my ankle would give out from under me mid-stride, sending me tumbling. Still, I felt no pain, so I ran. I didn’t even tell my coach what was taking place. My ability to run through injury almost became a silent point of pride.
But pride, as the old adage reminds us, always comes before the fall. One day, I couldn’t run anymore. My ankle locked up and refused to even submit to a pair of running shoes, much less an easy three-miler in them. Seven months after rolling my ankle, I became an idiot with an MRI appointment. Today, I’m an idiot with a surgical consultation. In a few weeks, I’ll be an idiot with a scar on my left ankle.
Here’s the weird thing: I’m still not feeling any physical pain. My ego, though … well, that’s a different story.
October is the busiest month for marathon racing in the United States. It’s also the busiest month for people lamenting how they can’t race their marathons. Those ranks are filled with people just like me—once hubristic, now humbled. Most of our injury stories aren’t extraordinary accounts, but parables of everyday occurrences that went unchecked. You don’t have to tell us we’re idiots—trust us, we already know. But listen to our stories anyway. It could happen to you.
Not every runner is a good runner all of the time. In fact, a lot of us are bad runners most of the time. We forget to stretch. We tack on more mileage than we can handle. We toe the line at races for which we’re underprepared. We eat too much. We eat too little. We swear we don’t have time for strength work. We ignore the aches and pains until we simply can’t anymore. We visit Dr. Google instead of real doctors. We refuse to give up, even when giving up is the smart thing to do. We reap what we sow. And then we wish we weren’t such idiots.
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Instead of running my marathon, I’ve got a different race ahead of me. Letting my ankle heal is probably going to be the easiest part of the next few months. Recovering from idiocy, however, is already proving to be exhausting. I think of all the things I could have done differently. I think of the warning signs I ignored. I think about whether my pain tolerance is really that high, or if I’m just that stubborn. I think of all the running I’ve missed recently, and all the running I will miss in the next few months. I think of what it would have felt like to fly down the hills of St. George and across the finish line.
And I wish I wasn’t such an idiot.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she is a featured contributor to Triathlete and Women’s Running magazines. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with four animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, a pinscher and a freakishly tall triathlete named Neil. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke