Running Injuries

On the Fly

I dream about running. Does anyone else do this?

On the plane to a business meeting, I close my eyes and in minutes, the thing I hear is the thing I’m craving most: gravel under foot. Just imagining that steady crunching sound, I start to feel my shallow, frenzied breath even out.

In the cramped, recycled-air cabin that smells like human- I could not be farther away. In a place that smells instead like dirt, pine needles, and cold. My head is running me down one of my favorite trails, a lonely dirt road through forest and farmland and fresh, freezing air.

The hum of the engine rumbles, fading away underneath the new sounds of morning, quick, deep drinks of mountain air, the birds on the breeze. I am waking up somewhere else, but it’s not the place my plane is headed. By the time we land, I’m grinning, calm. I’ve been out of the game for a little over a week, benched by another cold that wouldn’t let go.

But I’m coming for that run.

Maybe it knows I’ll be back, and it’s working into waking dreams now too, to keep me sane, to keep me ready. I like to think so. Blink anymore these days and I’m there, sweat on my temples and thundering heart in my chest. It feels good to feel better, but feeling tired after a good, long run is probably the best medicine I could give myself. Until then, I’ll be self-medicating in shut eye.

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Words of Wisdom From the Waterfront Trail

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty slick at fixing issues with my contacts while running over the years. But, just as this presumptive thought was crossing my brain, I started having a helluva time with it. I stabbed my eye – imagine that- trying to relieve the burning and stinging without success. Just the one eye. Righty and I were doing just fine, but this left one, this left one had to go.

I finally rubbed it so much it tore, and I lost the damn thing somewhere on the trail trying to assess the damage. While this is by no means my first encounter with a variety of outdoor running hazards, this was the first ever time I’ve been reduced to monocular vision.

Blind to a point that my eyes are pretty much ornamental, I figured tossing the other one to even out would not end especially well for me, or the integrity of my skeleton.

I had my cell phone with me but didn’t consider this an option, because in my head at the time that was defeat, and I can be stubborn like that. Instead, I finished the last few miles periodically squinting, closing the left eye, or just looking real hard out the good one when my eyelids got tired. A little worse for the wear of vertigo, and headachy from the off-kilter sensation of it all, I arrived back home with very tired eyes and, of course, a profound new sympathy for pirates.

This was the first time I half-saw this graffiti.

graffiti on a run, "the truth is inside you"

I’ve run past it frequently since, in a less squinty condition, and it never fails to make me think about what prompted someone to leave this message.

Besides the annoying truth that I would have to finish my run half blind, it reminded me that most of the time I spend running is time spent trying to hear my own voice.

Maybe the truth is that this is time well spent. Maybe its some cosmic, coincidental confirmation that listening is always worth it. So I keep showing up to listen- sometimes I even like what I hear.

Going off to put my ear, and my feet, to the ground.

Bonus points if you can tell me where this graffiti is…. 🙂

Lesson Learned… I SWEAR

I committed one of the most mortal sins in running.  It’s why I’ve been away from my writing, and my running.

I can’t believe I did it.  I know better.  I especially, with a laundry list of running-related injuries and PT sessions in my past, should know better.

I…wait for it…doubled my mileage in one run.

If I could undo it, I would, in a heartbeat. Everything felt great the entire run. It was just too easy to do.  A  gorgeous spring day, I met up with an old friend and we were off.  And before I knew it, I had more than doubled my average run mileage. I didn’t think much of it, I felt fine.  Until the next morning, when my left foot let me know what I had done was most definitely not.ok.

This is one of the things I love about running even still- despite the drag of being grounded for recovery – it teaches  (and re-teaches) me about intention.  In everything I do.  Shocking, but normally you can’t just go run 13 miles without preparation.  The work to get there is as crucial as getting there.  It’s an important, and painful, takeaway: pay attention! Be mindful, be present (even if the present is too beautiful to pay much attention to things like your legs and feet).

So, distance runners, promise me this one thing: run with intention.  Do it. Right now. Promise me in your head. So you spare yourselves the momentum-killing, soul-sucking, start over… again.   Running modestly ALWAYS trumps not running at all.

The plan had been to redeem my running self (after a dismal half marathon performance in my last attempt) in mid-May.  So I benched myself for 2 weeks, loaded up on arnica and Advil, wrapped my foot periodically, and waited.  I kept feeling better, day by day. Maybe I hadn’t done anything major!? I waited a few more days.  By the time the 3rd run-free weekend came around, I was out of the ace bandage, walking normally and weight bearing with no pain.

You know what comes next.  I put my shoes on last night, and headed out.  To my credit, I knew I wasn’t going long, or far.  I made it about a quarter mile when I realized I had no business attempting a run, no matter how small.

I’m not sure where I go from here.  With race day is in 5 weeks, I’ve got a  pretty short window to go from nada to 13.1. More like less than nada since walking this morning is a challenge. If the pain gets any worse, I’ll be off to an actual doctor to tell me the sad truth I already know: no running for a while.

Meantime, more arnica and Advil, and desperate pleas to all runners to be smarter than  yours truly.

Now go run.  Run smart and make it count, because you can. And because there are people like me who’d give a whole lot to be in your shoes, especially when they see you tearing up the sidewalks.

 

Sweet Forgetting

I ran a half marathon on Sunday.  A lot like this blog, I’d been away from running for longer than I’d care to admit.  As it turns out, going from 5ish miles to 13ish miles is a big step (or many of them, I guess).  I didn’t expect it would be easy, I think I just expected it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad. The razor straight incision at the bottom of my sports bra re-opened making it so I felt every movement from about  mile 10 or so onward.   This particularly gruesome war wound from my marathon that I thought had healed was only, as it turns out, hiding.  There are fewer things more painful than sweat dripping into an open wound that is simultaneously being rubbed by tight elastic (note to self: body glide, body glide, body glide).

Post marathon, I spoke of how much I enjoyed the experience.  This is true.  I even went so far as to hint I may attempt another, maybe even an ultra? I would think in the rose colored glasses of remembrance   It’s uncanny to me how our brains block out the bad.  Bloody, my feet blistered almost beyond recognition, with physical scars that could only hint at the deeper exhaustion and trial my body had endured over 26.2 miles, I still would do it again, without question or hesitation.  Only here I was, mile 11 of 13.1 cursing the entire idea of running.  Up a mile-long hill in shoes that will here forward be retired from distance running, I could feel the familiar heat of blistering and the tear-inducing strain on knees.  “Screw it,” I thought, I was done.  fin.  I would retire from running.  Of course I would.  This was not the first bad run I’d had.

My two sisters and I had decided to race this half together.  Our mission: to run my oldest sister to her half marathon PR.  With her trusty pacers and pit crew by her side she would shatter her old time, and we ran out of the gates in formation like  TIE Fighters out to destroy the Death Star.  About the time I started to feel very resentful about the very idea of running, my other sister had started noticing foot pain.  Keen that she was the only sister not to have sustained a running-induced stress fracture, she feared it might be her turn.  My mind unwilling to go the distance, and my sister’s foot forbidding her, we slowed up the hill, and pushed my sister forward in our thoughts as we fell further behind.

I urged my sister to stop and walk, and periodically, we would.  But this is what running does to you- she would not be stopped.  Blazing pain burning through her foot, she paced me the last few miles into the finish.  I wanted nothing more than to stop and be done, but she pushed, she ran, she sprinted through the finish line with a determination I know only she is capable of.  I wanted to cry for her as we finally crossed the line, my other sister and family cheering madly on the side lines.  This is what running does- no matter the pain, no matter the physical or mental obstacle before you, it channels through you the will to put foot before foot, against the odds, and finish. (And in some cases, to get yourself to the doctor for x-rays and serious pain killers.)

We will run again,  all of us.  My sister will heal, and will relish recovery runs.  I will find a shoe store to sell me the Asics I’m used to and I will train for another marathon.  The forgetting will come, willfully or subconsciously, as we fail to recall the acuteness of the pain we have sustained.  We will be borne out onto the trails with complete, convenient amnesia and renewed hope.  I’m not sure how, or why, but we will keep running.  We will break our own records, as my sister did that day.  We will discover new reserves of strength and quiet power.  We will run towards big victories, and many, many small ones.   The run must break you sometimes, before it can rebuild you, better than before.  And I have a hunch it’s the imperfection of our memories that allows us to lace up again, to lace up and trust the run.    We will heal ourselves in the very thing that has broken us, and we will run stronger and faster than ever.

**This post gratefully dedicated to my sisters:  heal fast, run   faster,        and  may we never run alone. **

Week 4ish

The surest, quickest way to not feel like myself is not running.  It has been tougher than I recall.  In the time it took for me to recover a bit from tendonitis, I naturally contracted a plague that drained all sense of motivation from my bones and left me couch-bound (not to mention depression-riddled) for several days. These events, individually, would be surmountable, manageable.  As I anxiously adjust back into a running routine, I’m more aware than ever, and with Marathon looming, that I’ve been almost 3 weeks away from it.

The blow to my immune system and my resolve has been significant.

The dog resents me for keeping him housebound, and my thoughts seem scrambled and distant.  Focus is fleeting at best with muscles lethargic and twitchy from too much nothing.  The original training plan would have me running 13 miles this weekend, and its all but debilitating to acknowledge that it is probably out of the question.

Training may be compromised, but I am not.  I must remind myself of this.

The balance is precarious, I realize.  Among many, many other things, running has taught me this:  sometimes compromise is necessary.

Necessary in order to save your knees, your feet, your tendons.  Save them to run another day so that mind and body can remain whole.  It’s not the pain I’m worried about, but rather the prospect that that pain might ground me indefinitely.  I must come to terms with compromise, however unpleasant, if running and I are to remain life-long partners.

With focus on regaining old strength and testing the will of aggravated tendons, I’ve promised myself to wait a while before making any decisions about whether I will realistically be in a position to  run the full in 2 months.

The part of me that fractured my metatarsal wants to pursue it any cost.  The new part of me that values things like bones, acknowledges it might be time for a new plan.

Time and tendons will tell.

Promises to Keep

Thanks to Mr. Robert Frost  for today’s inspiration.

It’s a good news Thursday on my end, and I hope your days are looking good too!

After a few physical therapy sessions and logging my first mile (under supervision on the treadmill) in 2 weeks, I’ve been given the green light to lace up again.  I can put away 2 miles tomorrow, and provided I’m brutally honest with myself and any symptoms, I can attempt up to 5 this weekend.  I’ll need keep up anti-inflammatories religiously and ice and ankle exercises. It’s a lot of good news which will hopefully make for a very good weekend that just might get me back on track for training.

A girl running at night

As you can see from the above image, I’ve had some free time on my hands without running in the regular routine.

Also, see if you can spot which leg is longer! (Hint: or just keep reading.)

Fun fact:

My left leg, turns out, is about ½ inch longer than my right.  Good ‘ol lefty probably accounts for a lot of the running injuries I’ve accumulated over the years.  I can’t fault it.  Its strong, determined, and quite a bit wonky which is pretty characteristic of yours truly, so I think we make a good team.  Now that I know, I’ve got a slick little lift for my right shoe to compensate.

Its hard not to feel, just a bit, like a pirate though.

“Yaaar.”

Running trails, paths or streets, or just enjoying the forecasted sun, I hope the weekend is a rejuvenating one filled with lots of good things, maybe even a chance to watch someone’s woods fill up with snow.

Week 3

Thought for the day comes courtesy of Born to Run (again):

Suffering is humbling. It pays to know how to get your butt kicked.

I hardly know where to start.  Best to go with the butt kicking part  I guess. The third week of training brought with it some very unwelcome tidings:

Lefty (affectionate moniker for my oft-injured left foot)  started giving me grief during my long run on Saturday.  I didn’t think much of it, but continued to monitor the discomfort, just in case. I finished 9 miles wondering what on earth could be the matter with it.  Just a dull ache.  Nothing cataclysmic, I hoped.  Luckily, I happened to be in my hometown for the weekend where my physical therapist sister was on hand to take a look and offer an initial prognosis.  With 2 rest days to follow, I thought for sure it would be a fleeting hiccup in the training process.

As I ventured out the next day,  I instantly knew it was more than that. The pain radiated up the back of my leg, every step delivering a cringe inducing soreness.  I didn’t make it a half mile before I had to stop myself.  This wouldn’t be so upsetting were it not for the vivid deja vu washing over me.

The context for the deja vu is this:  several years ago I broke my third meta-tarsal, mid-run.  Not knowing it at the time, and figuring I would only be able to deal with it once home, I pressed on for the 2 miles it took to get back to the house, where my then roommate was luckily on hand to take my broken self to the ER.

I’ve had to actively fight the hysteria that potentially being in a boot brings back.  Not to mention the inopportune timing of it.  If there weren’t a small non-refundable fortune registering me for a marathon I might be able to take it in more stride (Pun intended?).  Really convince myself to look forward to biking, or swimming or something.  I spent an uncomfortable few days constantly keeping at bay the waves of hyperventilation that want to overcome me at the prospect of not running again.   I was able to get in on very short notice to see the doctor.

The news is good.  Unbelievably good.  X-rays are clean, and the bullet I’ve dodged feels immense (and maybe that it grazed me just a bit).  Peroneal tendonitis means no running for at least 2 weeks a lot of physical therapy.

Exhale.

It will put me behind in training a few more weeks but at least the marathon is still a possibility, and those are chances I’m more than ecstatic to take.

It makes me much more nervous about the race than I have been to this point, but nervous trumps broken every time.

Fireflies and Foot Cramps

The path is light and then suddenly dark, then light again in the briefest of seconds. This goes on for about a mile.  I try to memorize the details of the street in the split second of illumination before:

Flick.

Darkness. Unbelievable darkness. The stark contrast is dramatically worse than the sustained dim. My headlamp must be having a wonderful time amusing itself with me.  I toggle the button and get a few longer bursts of light before it starts up again.

Light. Dark. Light. Dark.

The final joke is the dimmest of lights, grayish,  flickering, wavering.  I sigh, click it off for good, and try to settle in for a darker run than I had planned. Running hurts.  I feel like this is something I don’t hear very often. Its painful, bizarre, embarrassing even.  It hurts, sometimes worse than others, and in lots of ways that always seem to be reinventing themselves.  I think we get used to it, and we dwell on the things that are great about jogging instead, and for good reason. Who in their right mind would keep doing something so painful? Who wants to deal with blisters and rashes and all kinds of other lovely afflictions that befall runners? I mention this not to distract from the joys of running, but because I think it illustrates something curious about human nature and our deeper seated motivations.

There are plenty of things we do on a regular basis that cause us pain, emotional, physical or otherwise, and the reasons  we continue to do them I think may be found in the answer to what keeps us running.  I’ve developed pretty wicked foot cramps over the years, whether as a result of running or something altogether unrelated, I don’t usually get through a day where I don’t feel that familiar and debilitating twinge where my toes seem to be contorting around themselves.  Often an early evening occurrence, I’ve come to regard them as the nice reminder that I’ve been out on a run that day.  Conveniently when I’m ready to  relax from the day, either as I’m sitting down to dinner, or curling up in bed, the pain will sneak from out of nowhere to take my breath away with its intensity.  I’ve been woken out of a sound sleep to the sensation that quite literally feels like my feet are breaking themselves in two. Believe me, it’s a rude awakening.

I hop up and down for a while, stretching my feet and toes nearly to the breaking as I press them as close to in half as I can against the wall or the floor. Anything to stop it.  I’ve developed a few good tricks to help me deal (a frozen can of juice, if you can stand it, helps relive mine sometimes) , but it still happens with  alarming frequency and  regularity. Sometimes  sparking pretty intense self-reflection, as I find myself standing in the kitchen in the middle of the night, rolling my contorting foot over a tube of frozen orange juice.   I shiver, hop, roll til frostbite must be ready to set in, and hop some more, stretch, wince,  and repeat.   I find myself asking why? Why suffer through this? In the grand scheme, its a minor inconvenience at best, but I still have to wonder why?

Don’t I?

Is it something as noble as persistence, determination, or, dare I entertain the notion, stupidity?  Do I keep expecting different results from the same behavior as the essence of insanity attests? I don’t think I’m crazy just yet, but it may be a matter of perspective.  Like so many other things we pursue that reward us with pain, I wonder if it must be a weird strain of loyalty.  It may be an aggravating, unrelenting, tear-jerking foot cramp, but its my aggravating, unrelenting, tear-jerking foot cramp.

I do know that it makes me appreciate when things are not so painful,  the beauty of the freedom from pain when we have it.   I guess with a better answer still outstanding, I can be satisfied with that.  I kept running, that night the headlamp batteries died, and it was scary initially.  Not knowing when the sidewalk might try to sweep my legs out from under me,  no longer a firefly, unable to determine what other obstacles awaited in the road ahead.  But after my eyes adjusted to what I thought was utter darkness, only then did I notice the silver moonlight that seemed to appear everywhere.  What I got in return was the clarity of  an Orion above so resplendent and a winter night sky so close, I could no longer feel afraid.

And just for fun, here’s a great New Balance ad:

A Surprise Solstice Smackdown Story

Last night should have been any other unremarkable run.  I set out after work cheerily, making my way down the street I chose for its festive lights. This street is dripping with Christmas cheer, and its exactly what I need. Its been a long week, I register slowly. My body and my brain are becoming vaguely more aware of this.  I haven’t gotten an abundance of sleep.

Headlamp bobbing, layers layered, I try to settle into the rhythm. Shivery, my breath hangs and lingers around me to mingle in with the fog forming slowly on the street.  This road is not terribly familiar for me, but I’ve decided I’ll make a stop off at my brother’s house.  I’ll take the long way, past the golf course.  Along the way, families are returning home in the brisk early evening, arms brimming with packages, toting gifts and grins as they make their way.

I start my list. This is something I do when runs give me a hard time: I start a mental tally of all the people and things I’m grateful for.  It started a few Thanksgivings ago.   I like this not only because I need to do a better job of cultivating gratitude,  but also because I find it makes difficult runs go by faster.  It helps to get outside the irritating aches and pains, the things that stress me out, when the movement itself just isn’t enough.  I am thankful, dammit! For my family, my friends, my colleagues, the runner on the other side of the street moving inexplicably gazelle-like and outpacing me like I must be standing still. Yep, him too.  I am grateful. I am. It’s not always as easy as I know it should be.

I’ve managed to make it past the golf course, and for some reason I’ve started ruminating on spills I’ve taken while running.   I think it’s a function of probability, given the clumsiness of my person plus the frequency with which I run, the result is a least a modest number of humiliating tumbles. I twist up the road, past the college, now more aware I’ll be passing a spot which was the scene of one such incident, though a while ago now.  Mindful of my feet, careful of the crackling sidewalk, I’m getting closer to my destination. More listing, who else? There are normally more than enough people I’m lucky to have in my life to get me through even longer runs.

In less than a split second, everything goes absurdly haywire.  I turn down the block, so close.

WHAM!

Its abrupt, definitive, and unrelenting, the force with which I make acquaintance with the ground.  Its unforgiving, the sidewalk.  I can’t quite pull together what has happened, only that I’m spasmodically splayed out on the cement like crime scene chalk.

Mayday! My brain is just now catching up. Nice of it to join the party. Miraculously, I’ve somehow managed to get my forearms out before the finality of the collision, something my front teeth are very grateful for (adding to the list.)

Then I’m crying. A lot.  I’m ashamed of myself for expelling tears with such raucous abandon, but I can’t stop them.  Cursing follows (naturally). It hurts. Everything. All over. All at once. My knee a lot worse than the rest.  I’m terrified, have I broken something (again)? I find I can walk, and in keeping with the theme of this run, I have, thankfully, brought my phone along.  I don’t, as a rule. Recently however, I  locked myself out of the house on a similar such cold, dark night. (Experiential learning seems to be the one thing that does reach me.)

I am thankful.  In full shock and awe, I dial up my brother (to whose ever-patient soul this post is dedicated).  I just need someone to hear me. My sobs are short and with jagged breath I’m trying to explain I’m sure I’m just fine, convincing myself as much as anything.

“Where are you? Can we come get you?” I’m so close to their house, just a few blocks.  Also, thankful.

I had wanted to do a festive post, wishing you all very happy holidays with some (hopefully) inspiring words filled with Christmas spirit and such.   But what I have settled on is this, my gratitude.

The last long dark blocks before me are filled with good thoughts I force out for probably almost everyone I know. Burying the ache with a conscious stream of appreciation, it helps me focus on what isn’t hurting.

Thank you. Foremost, for being here, sharing this place with me. I’m glad we’re in it together.

Thank you for reading.

I wish it sounded less shallow, these words of thanks, because they are deeply, deeply earnest.

Thank you, thank you, thank you and warmest, most sincere wishes from me for  happy, joyous holidays and a new year filled with new things to be grateful for.

Cheers friends!