Real Talk: It’s Not All Big Miles and Roses
I initially wrote this post back in January after a particularly bad bout of leg cramps. I deleted it twice, resurfaced it twice, and now, I’m hitting publish. It’s not my normal writing style, it’s a lot more personal and a lot less positive than I normally am on here. Why am I posting? I’m talking about it because I’ve talked to a lot of girls and women the past few weeks who are going through tough times, and I don’t want them to think that for some of us, it’s all just big miles and great training, and that there are never seriously down periods.
So, here it is:
As a rule, I don’t like to complain on the internet. It doesn’t serve much purpose, I don’t think, and it’s not really my preferred mode of communicating with anyone reading my stuff. But at the moment, I’m feeling, frankly, a little whiny. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was worth sharing what amounts to my most vulnerable moments in any given year.
So… I have legs cramp that start up once a year or so and stay cramped for a week or two. The reason why this happens is unclear (and please, no armchair diagnoses, I’ve been to a bunch of people over the years trying to crack this). Every year for a decade, it’s been part of my life and so have the emotions that go with it. There’s the relentlessly optimistic side of me that says ‘It won’t be so bad this time,’ or ‘Maybe it’ll only last a day.’ By day 3 or 4, the optimist in me starts struggling and the voice in the back of my head starts whispering, ‘What if this time, it doesn’t go away?’ (This voice is an asshole.)
For an extremely active person, suddenly finding oneself confined in one’s legs—like, unable to walk from room to room at certain points, forget going for a walk around the neighborhood or actually training—there comes a point where it feels absolutely crushing. There are tears. There is yelling. There’s immense levels of frustration, and it sits on top of a huge fear that this might be a permanent situation this time, or if not this time, the next time. I get sad. I get mad. It’s hard to be mad at your own body, especially when the only punishment you can give it is to make it hurt more by trying to push through training, thus delaying whatever healing mechanism eventually kicks in and gets rid of the vise-like feeling of cramping.
By day 7 or 8, my mood is completely tanked. It spreads from being upset about my legs to everything feeling wrong, and I start getting anxious about pretty much everything. It’s not a fun time to be in my head.
It’s hell feeling powerless against what’s happening in your body, and when you throw in that it often happens on the road, since we aren’t home most winters, it’s doubly powerless because I can’t reach out to my doctor or naturopath for immediate tests. I can research and think about next steps, but there simply aren’t any to take, not ones where I’ll know what worked.
Even things like my knee issue/injury from 2018 are easy compared to this: The knee injury still allowed me to ride pain free, walking wasn’t a problem, and it had a pretty clear ‘you’re going to get through this’ vibe. It was a classic runner injury. There were things I could do.
This? I have no clue. My legs hurt, and nothing really helps them, other than waiting it out. Sure, there are steps I’ve taken/am taking when it happens, but to date, none of them have been the magic bullet. And every time it happens, there’s a fear that comes with it that’s great than just having leg cramps that make walking difficult for a couple weeks. What if it doesn’t go away this time? I know logically, that’s not how it’s been and there’s no indication that this year is different, but that thought remains.
It’s not the same as dealing with something chronic that lasts all year, but it gives me a glimpse into what it must be like living with a chronic condition, especially an ‘invisible’ one, because from the outside, everything looks fine.
So why am I talking about this? Because if you’re going through something similar, whether it’s an invisible illness or some kind of undiagnosed issue that you just can’t seem to figure out, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Ask pretty much any athlete, honestly, and they will have some kind of problem that they just don’t typically talk about. It’s very nearly impossible to be an athlete and never have to deal with something going sideways on you, whether it’s an acute or chronic injury issue. It’s okay to feel like training isn’t going your way, and it’s okay to feel like a victim of circumstance.
That said, I wanted to write this because I knew as I thought it through, it would snap me back to a more optimistic place, remembering that most of the year, I’m in a great spot and feeling happy and healthy.
I was exactly right: As soon as my legs shifted back to normal, it was easy to forget those really scary moments and dark points where I wondered if this was the time that they wouldn’t go away. Now that I’m back though, I’m trying to remember the feeling, be grateful for what I do have and what I am capable of, and have empathy and understanding when other athletes are going through injuries, illnesses or other blocks to doing the training that they want to do.