CHAPTER 2- SLAYING THE DRAGON

Nolene Conrad Inspiration, Uncategorized

I used the metaphor SLAYING THE DRAGON as it depicts the emphasise with the frustration I had of working passionately for months on end, only to walk away with little to show for myself because my body broke down. If you’re losing hope because you’re afraid of getting up and trying again, please don’t quit on yourself!

The day that I realised I’d have to withdraw from Two Oceans, I was distraught, however I knew that in the long run it was the best decision. By trying to force my body through training would just cause more damage. I had some swelling on the outside of my left knee accompanied by intense pain when walking up and down stairs. The next day, I decided to make an appointment to see Dr Derman at Tygerberg Hospital. He could only see me the following week, but in the meantime I would give my injury some time to settle, as it was still inflamed and painful. On arrival at the Isem clinic (Tygerberg), a team of doctors assessed me. The diagnosis- Clinical ITB injury (based on findings of a physical examination). The treatment involved a cortisone injection right into the lateral side of my knee. I have never had a cortisone injection into my knee and boy did this hurt! especially after the injection was administered.

The injection was done under the guidance of ultra sound to ensure that the cortisone is injected into the correct area. Along I went walking like Captain Hook, I was unable to bend my knee, I could but I had severe pain doing it. Three days after the injection the pain subsided and I was able to walk around like a normal person. I gave it a week to settle before I attempted running again. First run went well, there was limited pain, victory at last I thought YAY!! I did another 20 minute run during that week and it was on the third run that I felt excruciating pain in my knee and I decided to stop after 10 minutes in. Back to the physio I went, she did the acupuncture treatment on my gluteus as it seemed to be in spasm. We then tried cupping treatment for the ITB- ouch! Cupping is an ancient form of alternative treatment in which a local suction is created on the skin. When the small silicone/glass cup is placed on the skin it creates a vacuum that draws the skin and the muscle upwards. This treatment facilitates healing with blood flow and promote cell repair . I find the ITB to be the most frustrating and weirdest injury because everyone has a different experience. Some runners tell me they are able to manage it, others push through the pain and the problem goes away- this left me very confused and feeling as if I was weak. Why can’t I work through this pain, am I just being overly sensitive? My gut feeling just told me that this pain just did not feel like the type of pain i could push through.

Out of an act of desperation, I decided to take up the doctor’s advice for a second cortisone injection. I wish I could have taken back that decision- I did not feel confident about my choice and I certainly regretted it afterward. The injection itself was not bad, it was when the anaesthetic wore off that the pain shot through the roof, I was in so much agony so much so that I could barely eat, I had headaches and I could barely walk!! It took me two courses (2 weeks) of cataflams (anti-inflamatories) for the pain to subside. What felt like a very slow death of the dragon, thoughts started running through my head, fuelled by fears of losing fitness, missing out on my scheduled races and the upcoming World Championships, which I already qualified for, preparation timeline moved closer and closer, I started to panic. I was struggling with a compulsion to exercise until I got to a point where it was just frustrating me because nothing I tried was working and no one seemed to have the answers for my pain. The last 6 months I have really struggled to mentally, to pick myself up again after each setback and find the motivation to still work out and do my rehab. The physical pain that I have experienced drained me and I felt incredibly sad. I started thinking about what I would do if I can never run again? What if this is the end of my running career – These thoughts frightened me, because I could not imagine my life without running.

It was all getting too much for me, I broke down so many times. I was tired of fighting this and bearing this load on my own, it took an intervention from a friend that I made the decision to draw back from forcing to have my health back. When I looked at my body, I was shocked to discover the damages done, scars and bruises everywhere. No more needles and treatments! I had to be kind to my body and give it time it needed to heal. My team referred me to a reiki master for energy healing and that really helped me cope mentally and physically. It was a relaxing treatment, helping me calm my mind and bring energy healing to my body . The psychological aspect of being injured can be significant, as running itself has a therapeutic effect. Running releases endorphins. Being unable to run means that the benefit of those “feel good” hormones have been taken away.

And then there was light, the slaying was over.

Eight weeks after I was diagnosed with clinical ITB , there was still no change to my pain. I went back to my physio, where I asked her to take full control of the treatment of my injury, as I felt overwhelmed. She assessed me and referred me to a hip specialist as  the symptoms made her suspect that I might have a problem in my hip causing referring pain in my knee. After the hip specialist, assessed me he felt the same and sent me for scans- one of the lumbar spine and one of the hip. I Was so nervous about the hip arthroscopy. I had previously undergone this procedure and it is not for the faint hearted. Having a long 17 g needle stuck into the front of your hip is quite gut-wrenching. When the initial report from the radiologist came back clear, I didn’t really know how to take the news. On the one hand I was relieved that I had no serious damage especially none that required surgery. On the other hand I wanted them to find something, just so that I can have an explanation for this mystery. Without a diagnosis I did not know what exactly what was being treated, which made this very difficult as I could cause more damage if I continue my rehab program.

At the time I had also tried to return to running, having run every second day for a week, with my knee pain still existent. I knew it was not normal but all the athlete I had spoken to , whom had recovered from ITB, said there will be some pain at first but it will subside. It was during this time that I was contacted by the race organiser of the New York Marathon. They loved my story and wanted me to be part of their elite field. OMG WOW I thought , this has always been part of my dream to compete in the largest and most popular marathon in the WORLD. Since my fascination with marathon running started, I would watch the race in admiration and tell myself one day I will race the New York Marathon. The atmosphere always looks so incredible and there are just so many special things to see in the city! I have always been a sucker for beautiful places. The excitement and motivation was short lived as just after 6 runs my knee pain was still there, no progress. Now I thought I was really losing my mind, I’m delusional- well in that case, ill just run until something breaks! Fortunately before I could continue with this mindset, almost in miracle fashion, I received a message from my physio saying that the hip specialist found something on my scans- HALLELUJAH! My prayers have been answered. The doctor discovered some inflammation over my iliac crest bone (top section of the hip bone), right by the insertion of the glute medius and the TFL. So bone stress in my hip was causing the referring pain on the outside of my knee. I knew it ! I’m not crazy , I know my body and it just did not feel right to me. Treatment involved, a serious of radical and focus shockwave, once again -more agony! And TOTAL REST and Goodbye New York marathon :(. It was hard pill to swallow but I had to accept that’s what I had to do to allow my injury to heal.

So what now? How would I spend my time so as to occupy myself to not think about running? How will I move forward?

*Step 1: Think about what I want to achieve outside of sport and in that set new life goals for myself.
*Step 2: Focus on self-love
*Step 3: Put myself out there, do some research, grow my brand, network and build relationships with my sponsors and friends.
*Step 4: Use the time to do good in my community by reaching out. Mentor and Inspire young athletes- helping others would help bring purpose.
*Step 5: Focus on my job as athletes manager at Endurocad.

Self-love involved spending time on things you never have time for and that are therapeutic. So I made a list of all the things that made me happy which included some of the following: spend quality time with my friends that I don’t get to see often. A trip to the Kruger National Park with my friends, was exactly what I needed. Over the last 3 years I’ve never had enough time to finish reading a book, shocking I know right! Relaxing massages,  I always had sport massages that causes me to squirm with pain; press that snooze button – might as well take advantage of the extra time to sleep in. House hunting – I’m in the process of buying my own place, which is a big deal but also super exciting. I believe that maintaining health in sport is a result of the right blend of support, your surrounding environment and nurturing yourself. It’s about getting proper direction and body care and having a support system of people who love you and who are there for you when the going gets rough, because it is going to get tough. It is through this tough time that I got to see who my real friends are, the ones who really care about and support me. The friends that check in on you, make sure you’re okay, and know that even though you act strong on the outside, you are suffering on the inside. A friend sent me this message “If you saw the size of your blessings , the battle would make sense. I was grateful for this awareness as I was so caught up in my own pain I did not see how truly blessed I was. The support of my team, friends, family, club and sponsors has carried me through, they were there for me when I needed them and have gone out of their way for me. Their commitment to assist and support me through this has helped me stay positive and motivated. They provided encouragement as I picked myself up after endless attempts to run again.

More than just a runner

Through all this I discovered that what you do is not who you are!!! My worth is not based on how well I perform. If running were to be taken away from me today I would still be ME. I believe that we all have something rare and powerful to offer society. Running does not define me, I can still serve others, work hard at something else and that is an important message I want to bring across to other athletes. Viewing myself in this light made me gain perspective on my life. It opened my eyes to many possibilities outside of sport, there was so much I still wanted to do and learn, so I gave myself little assignments and things to achieve.

Developing new skills, building my own brand and giving back

I wanted to use this time to build new skills- so I signed up for the Athletics South Africa Level 1 Coaching Course. I am now a certified coach and have already helped a few individuals with a training program for Cape Town Marathon. This challenge of helping someone else achieve their goals really excited me and it is something I am very passionate about. Two years ago I started the sacanrun shoe project in partnership with Cape Town Marathon and although we have collected around 810 pairs of running shoes , I was not able to give the project the full attention it deserved. It was a project I am very passionate about and with that always wanted to get involved with community projects and help those in need. I guess I have found a new Superpower feeling -Being able to contribute to my community and inspiring change fulfils me.

Athletes wanting to know how to get sponsors , listen up. It is very important that you understand this, you need to develop yourself as a brand and not just rely on your sporting talents to obtain a sponsor. The industry has evolved, so much so that sponsors now are looking for influencers whom are able to promote the brand on social media platforms. You will benefit so much, if you just invest some time in building your career outside of running. Grow and develop yourself by acquiring new skills. You will find it comes quite handy when you are forced to take time off. You are more valuable if your develop yourself holistically!

Injuries are road signs for self-improvement

What I have learnt from my own experience and what should give hope to anyone struggling with sports related injuries is that there can also be a bright side to injuries. If you make the most of your recovery you can come out stronger both physically and emotionally. With time away from running, I felt as if I had lost my identity, running mostly consumed my life and now I’m having to figure out who I am without running. I realised that running is not my life- running is a big part of it yes but my life does not solely revolve around running. By changing my mindset I realized, my life is not that bad! I have a lot going for me, I have a job and I am still physically able to do other things. During my normal training regime, I rarely have time to pursue hobbies and interests- now I am free to do that and to live a little! I have always been a student-athlete and a working-athlete, which has taught me discipline, time management and the importance of having a balanced life. I don’t believe that it is healthy for an athlete to rely only on running, you have to build a career for life after sport.

In life, you can’t avoid failure , it is real and relative to everyone. I am no exception! We are changed by a challenge whether physically or emotionally. Adversity helped me grow, it forced me to take a long hard look at myself and decide if it is really what I want to do. It also exposed me to people who showed me my own strength. As Winston Churchill says “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. When the whole world seems to be turned on its head and it seems like your dreams are evaporating , that’s when you should hold on, keep hoping, trust in your creator/God, see the beauty and remain curious.

Pain is part of growing

Through the difficult times I have used the following affirmation to gain perspective. If you are reading this blog and you are going through a difficult time, consider this: When times are tough, remind yourself that no pain comes without a purpose. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean your failing! Right now I am in a good space, although I am not running yet and unable to do any form of activity that involves my glute/hip region, this experienced has helped me grow both mentally and spiritually. My mind is not wrapped so tightly around my struggles anymore, I have surrendered to a greater power and that has allowed me to relax and enjoy life. I took comfort in this scripture in Proverbs 16:9 “ We make our own plans but the lord decides where we will go”. I have put my trust in God and allowed him take control. It took me a while to get here, but I finally feel like I have a purpose and direction outside of my own running. Here are some of the coping strategies, I used:

1. Deal with the matter at hand. The sooner you accept what happened the better off you are. We tend to get stuck in the past and/or  what could have been. Just keep in mind you cannot change what happened, so focus on making the best of the present.
2. Set new goals for yourself. These can be goals for other areas of your life. Like I did by getting my ASA coaching level 1 certificate or working on my brand. It’s an opportunity to empower yourself with knowledge and skills.
3. Keep a positive attitude- negativity slows down the healing process.
4. Do not cut corners. Listen to your doctor or physio. Be smart about when you are ready to get back into running. Don’t try to rush things.
5. Embrace the journey- You have to take the good with the bad, sometimes things don’t always happen the way you want them to- just go with the flow.

I WILL RISE AGAIN, I HAVE SLAYED THE DRAGON!