In Her Own Words: Grace Iltis - It's About Time

Hey, cross country people! While I previously addressed some rather general tips on pacing yourself through the season, this post is going to be more about my own experiences with injury over the past year. I hope you're able to get something out of it, even though it looks at first glance like a Mount Everest of a story.

The week after New Englands, last November, I started noticing some increasing hip tightness. I figured that it would go away within a few days, but it did not. A big part of the reason for this, I soon realized, was overtraining. As soon as the season was over, my mindset of daily training would not shut off: I had it in my head that I could do double workouts, multiple times a week, no problem; I did not take that two weeks of total rest as was advised, but instead exhausted my body far more than I should have. Now, I have no idea if my back issues stemmed from this little bit of hip pain, but it was where my experience officially "started."

As I continued to ignore this increasingly noisy voice inside me that told me to "STOP!", my pain got progressively worse. I decided, a full month and a half later, that it might be time to visit a doctor. That visit to that one doctor turned into multiple impatiently-awaited visits with about five doctors. That's right, each one had a different opinion. My brain began to cloud with too much. I wondered, why is nothing getting done about this? All I want is for the pain to go away and move on; in other words, there is a certain amount of impatience that buildings when one hears diagnosis after diagnosis. It is certainly not that easy, as I have learned, to simply "heal."

A couple of months of physical therapy later, I believed I was ready to enter the track season. My physical therapist had me on a gradual running plan, and I figured that I would ease into it, and in a couple of weeks I would be good to go. As it turns out, the first day of practice became a rather memorable one. A shooting feeling up my back began to spread; this was something I had never felt before. I felt as though I could not bend anymore. My muscles tensed up until they felt as stiff as boards. That false voice of readiness had tricked me. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I was ready for this season. I told people that I was in great shape, and was all better to get back into the swing of things. I was lying to myself; my head was not there, and my body was certainly not there.

The months following this one practice were perhaps some of the most challenging moments of my life. My back pain did not just affect exercise, but it affected the quality of my schoolwork, my social life, my sleep. It affected everything. I was in a constant state of doubt and denial: I snapped at my friends all of the time; I squirmed trying to get comfortable every time I sat down to write a paper or take a test; I tossed and turned trying to sleep in a position that would not curve my back too much or too little. My head was all in my injury. Not having the stress reliever of running, the last couple of months of school were not at all easy. This was when I decided to give my summer to the healing process.

 The seventh specialist who I visited finally seemed to get something to click in my head. While my previous doctor mentioned some sort of injection to (surprise, surprise) "help diagnose the problem," this doctor said something that I had never heard any of them say before: "we're going to hold off on this injection, and we're going to send you to a chiropractor." Wow, I thought, a chiropractor of all things. What could he possibly do for me? I did not seem to care anymore, as long as something was allowing me to move somewhere in a direction. This experience, while intending to heal my back, healed my mind and my heart, instead. The first thing he told me was "this is treatable, if not fixable." My brain woke up right then; I realized that I was not going to be in this position forever. There was somewhere to go in the future; I felt motivated to do everything I could to heal in all aspects. I started going regularly to the chiropractor, and started to feel improvement. I believe now that about ten percent of that improvement was from what the chiropractor did to my back. Ninety percent was from my brain becoming fully aware that I could get somewhere. As the pain lessened over a month or so, the chiropractor believed that it was time for exercises. This led to me going to a new physical therapist, which led to more exercises (long story short), which led to where I am now: I went to my first cross country practice of the season yesterday. While I still have good days and bad days, remembering where I was three months ago versus where I am now has kept me moving in the right direction.


So if you've reached the end of this post, I am thoroughly impressed. You have stuck with the annoying rant that has been my life for the past year. However, I hope that what you get out of this is that time is always moving forward, and you just have to move with it. If you're stuck in time and dwelling on the past, you won't get anywhere.


Thanks, Grace

About the author - Grace Iltis is a junior at Camden Hills High School. She led the Windjammers to the Class A team title in 2017 as she placed 3rd overall.