a dream deferred

yesterday’s run ended in tears. not tears of joy or even really serious pain, but tears because i knew what my “i’ll try to walk it off but it’s much worse now injury” means. it means game over.

over a month ago i knew my leg was feeling funny, i thought maybe side shin splints, maybe slight stress fracture, so i gave it a few days and it seemed to go away for the most part. and that seemed to be that. that is until after my 16 miles this past sunday, that same feeling came back post-run and was really making itself known. i was having trouble walking, pain when i landed too hard, pain walking stairs, pain to the touch — all tell tale signs of a stress fracture. all signs that can’t be good. but i was foolishly hoping it was just a little stiffness like the last time and thought maybe it would go away. i think i was trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a big deal. that it wasn’t a game changer.

i set out for four miles yesterday, nervous to take the first step, nervous to see how things would feel. and sure enough, it wasn’t good. my body felt disjointed, unsynchronized, every step was painful. but sometimes, that’s how my runs start off, a little jankety until i warm-up for a few miles. i kept at it, slow and easy, hoping things would improve, begging my body to cooperate. i forced myself, wincing, limping and telling myself it was mental and not to focus on it, until at mile 1.5 i just couldn’t take it. i had to stop. i had to face the facts. i’m injured and this is going to change things.

on the side of the road i stood there, strangely out of place in my village with my bright running clothes and spandex pants, i cursed a little bit and then began to cry (i can’t even begin to imagine just how strange the villagers really think i am). i was overwhelmed with disappointment — in myself for feeling like i was giving up, in the fact that i’ve come so far in my training, in the fact that i knew this was serious. i was hurting and a ways from home, but i was able to walk back, ever so slowly, which gave plenty of time for things to sort of sink-in.

one of the number one rules of running, or any other sport really, is “listen to your body”. and i know i’m not always good at that. especially when there’s a goal i want to reach, something i want to accomplish, and i don’t want to give up. but with each step, my body reminded me that health always comes first. and your spirit, however wounded, second.

thankfully there are friends to help your wounded spirit. when talking to my friend megan, she reminded me that i should be proud of what i’ve already accomplished and the dedication that i’ve put in training through ukrainian winter in a village. and she’s right, i’m in the best running shape of my life in one of the most challenging places to run. i am proud of that. that i pushed myself to get out the door, despite the crazy looks i received, being chased by dogs, running through mud, rain, snow, ice. but still, i feel ashamed in a weird way for having to “throw in the towel”. for having to make the call i don’t want to make. for not crossing the real finish line as i envisioned.

my fellow running friend catharine (and running injury expert), knew the pain i’m having wasn’t good news. having suffered from 3-4 stress fractures herself, she knows all too well what it means. we discussed my options, maybe wait it out a week, see how it feels. but with this option this late in the game i might risk overdoing it later trying to make up for missed miles and potentially injure myself further (and potentially leaving me unable to walk around when i visit southeast asia). or sit out for this race (and the other one at the end of may race in singapore), take time to recover, and hope i’m good for two other races i’m signed up for in america this fall.

i know, i’m crazy. but when i’m in, i’m all in. if i volunteer, i become a volunteer 24/7 for 27 months. if i pick a major, i attempt to pick three but then just stick with two majors and a minor. if i work for the summer, i work four jobs. if i want to run a half-marathon, i run two in one summer. if i want to run a marathon, i sign-up for four. if i want a boyfriend, i get three (just kidding). overdoing it you say? overdoing it is my game.

i’d like to say this is a lesson for me on overdoing it, but i made sure this time that i wouldn’t overdo it…or, at least i thought i did. i chose a 30-week training program that would allow my body to adjust slowly, trying to prevent the “too much too soon” rule of runner’s burn-out. sure, my training record wasn’t perfect per say, but i did my best to work with the conditions i was given. at least this experience will make training in america seem like a breeze now!

i don’t actually know for certain if it is in fact a stress fracture. i’m no doctor (as much as webMD would let me believe). it could be something else. either way, it’s been hurting for three days and now it’s to the point where i’m not even able to put all my weight on it, which isn’t good. while i really should see the doctor about this soon, i’m not sure when it could happen. it’s a 12 hour train ride to the capital (where the peace corps ukraine headquarters are). not to mention that it’s difficult to get an appointment, i pretty much have every day of my time here booked, and while i’m thankful that being a volunteer allows me medical services, they aren’t exactly the best/efficient/i’ll find out the diagnosis 7 months later. so i think for now, since i’m still able to at least hobble walk, i’m just going to wait and rest it out.

it might seem silly to make a big deal out of this for things could always be worse, i realize this. i could have been attacked by a pack of dogs (with the number of close calls, i really don’t know how that hasn’t happened yet), i could have not outrun that group of swooningly drunk village men that tired to chase me, or even worse i could have been hit by a lada. there are much more terrible fates. even so, a dream deferred is a dream deferred. and having to decide to stop what your doing, even though you want it so badly, even though you’re getting so close to your goal, even though you’ve already put so much into it — is not an easy thing.

before i left for peace corps while visiting my local running store, i found a brochure of prague’s acclaimed volkswagen marathon. the tagline of “most beautiful course in europe!” really sold me and i told myself “i’m going to run that!”. but as it turns out the kyiv marathon, however less renowned for it’s beautiful course, was close enough and also better timing. i’d be running my first maraton, 26.2 miles, just a few weeks after my 26th birthday, nearing the 26th month of my peace corps service. it was going to be the symbolic finish of my time here. i hoped to finish the race, proving to myself that, like the struggles and doubts i faced throughout service, i really can do anything.

my friend, probably quite rightly, told me that thinking i was a failure for this was “weird” and reminded me that somethings are out of my control. and he’s right. as much as i hate feeling not in control of a situation, this is one that i’m going to have to (ever so sorely) accept. as i write this i wonder “maybe, maybe i could…” but i shouldn’t. i can’t. i can’t risk injuring my leg forever for the sake of my ego. so, it looks like i won’t be crossing that marathon finish line while sworn-in as a volunteer or running the sundown race in singapore with my brother. it looks like i’m going to have to have to make the toughest call and sit it out.

it looks like i need a stiff drink, dark chocolate, and some ice (for my leg, not the drink). (okay maybe for the drink, too).


snapshots from my run this past sunday


it poured for the first 8 miles and cars washed me with tidal waves of water. no need to go to a water park for a few years!


this pup ran with me for a bit on sunday and then the village orthodox priest called out “good job!” to me. that certainly made me smile.


mud mud mud


still smiling after my 16 miler but before my leg decided to make me pay.

 a dream deferred…for now…

15 thoughts on “a dream deferred

  1. It seems like you are really kicking butt there. My suggestion, and I am not a runner, is to just let it go and not try to makeup for it. As you said you already overdo it. I would be willing to bet that you have more than overdid it previous times judging by what you have written. Just don’t let it get to your head, and don’t try to do it as you don’t want to risk greater injury. It is not worth it in the end. Just being ready to compete is a worthwhile accomplishment.

    I must confess I have read a few of your posts about living overseas and the Peace Corps experiences you have had. I am somewhat envious of you as it is an amazing opportunity. What are you going to do after your service is done? Are you going to graduate school?

    • thanks so much for reading and commenting jovan! i’m not exactly sure what i’ll be doing after…my time here is certainly quickly coming to an end! i have applied to grad school for MFA in book arts but i’m still waiting to hear back. if not grad school theeeeeen…i guess i’ll have to see!

  2. The real race you are running is a much bigger race. Your journey is beautiful with many accomplishments which you’ve championed. This is just a bump in the road that may be just as symbolic. As I read your blog I felt your pain and disappointment deeply. Take good care of that leg because some day it will allow you to run those marathons. A much greater story is to come.

  3. Oh,Kristen—–I feel so sorry for you. I hope you are able to walk some when your folks get there. But I think you need to see a Dr as soon as you can. You need to try to take it as easy as you can even though your folks will be there. I’m glad they are able to get over to see you and they’ll be some good medicine fo you. Please be careful and maybe you shouldn’t to run any until you find out what’s wrong.
    Have a nice time being with you folks. Hope your leg feels better soon.
    Love, Aunt Carolyn

    • aunt carolyn, thanks so much for the message. i really appreciate it! i’m so looking forward to seeing my mom and dad! it will be a good distraction. and i made an appointment with the doctor, though i won’t get in for a few weeks. hopefully they can figure it out!
      love, kristen

  4. Great post – yours is one of the only blogs I actually READ! haha

    Don’t take it too hard, you’re the total opposite of a failure and I love following your story – I started following because I missed Russia and wanted to see pictures, but I stayed because you’re a great writer who made me care about her story! Take care of your leg and you’ll get there someday if it’s right for you 🙂

  5. So sorry to read about your injury Kristen! You’ve been such a stud training out there in those harsh conditions and a huge inspiration for me to run during my upcoming 27 months in Ukraine! I wouldn’t have bought any of my cold weather running gear without finding your blog. Thank you for sharing your stories!

    • jayson, so good to hear from you! i’m glad i could at least inspire another runner! you’ll be on your way to ukraine soon! when do you leave?? wishing you the best few days in america! : )

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