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On Tuesday, I ran my first race since a stress fracture had sidelined me from running for 84 days. I’ve been running again for about a month, so I signed up to join a media challenge race as part of the running club of The New York Times.
It was a low-stakes race, which is exactly what I wanted: two laps on the lower loop of Central Park for a total of 3.5 miles. We didn’t have chips to track our times; we didn’t even have racing bibs. Our finish times were yelled out to us, as tracked by the stopwatch on a volunteer’s iPhone.
I hung toward the back of the pack at the start line, then held back my speed when the race started. I didn’t doubt I could cover the distance — I’d run further in my first few weeks back — but I didn’t want to get sucked into going out too fast.
Less than a mile in, though, as I dodged power walkers, kids on electronic skateboards and horse poop, I felt a competitive tug and started passing people, using the downhills to my advantage, making sure to hug the left curb because that meant I’d be running the most efficient path possible. My body remembered what to do, and what it could do, which is where I got into trouble.
Because as much as I’d like to think I didn’t lose any fitness in my 84 days off, of course I did. I had to buy new shorts because my old ones didn’t fit anymore. But still, I pressed on as if a chunk of my winter hadn’t been spent in a walking boot instead of a running shoe.
By the end of my first lap, my stomach was already burning; with about a mile to go, I was really reconsidering the decision to eat animal crackers and dried apricots before the race. I stopped to walk once; then I stopped again — just for about three seconds each time, but enough for my stomach to settle. I’d never vomited in a race, and I didn’t want to start.
After I finished, I felt both terrible and wonderful. I know that I am far from being in the shape I was pre-injury, but my leg didn’t hurt once in the entire race, and I was thankful to be back out there — and for the pizza and beer after.
If you want to know more about stress fractures, I wrote about what causes them for this week’s Ask Well column. If you’ve never had one, I do not recommend it. This article covers what you can do to avoid joining our club.