The Injury Post

So where have I been… Not under a rock. No, I’ve been healing. And healing always takes longer than expected. And I’m probably not healed yet, but I have been running some. So maybe, just maybe, there will be some fodder for me. Now whether or not I can get back into the habit of actually doing anything useful with the fodder is a different story. (Are there any studies out there on the life of a blog? Three years seems tops, unless it is your lively hood, I guess then it’s a different situation altogether.)

So where have I been? I’ve been moving, I’ve been homeschooling, I’ve been building. Unfortunately, I’ve been building nothing of any value, yet… Initially I believed my Achilles started bothering me in February 2014, as I looked back at my logs recently, it seems that it first started bothering me sometime in the winter of 2013, say November/December. In hindsight, if I had taken a couple of weeks off when it started bothering me, even a month, I probably would have been okay, and I wouldn’t have lost that much fitness in a month. But that’s not what I did, so no point in dwelling.

Getting There

Being a runner, and being hyperfocused, all I could see was my first go at 50 miles coming up in April – I had to finish sub-12hr to qualify for VT – and my first attempt at 100 miles at Vermont in July. I was getting my shoes for free or heavily discounted, and since you can’t complain with free, I left everything the same, ignored my Achilles, and just pushed on. Somehow convincing myself that it would hurt, and I would push through, and that after VT100, I could call it a day until it healed up. In reality, this could have been an okay plan, but runners don’t really know how to just stop, so when VT was over and someone informed me about a little 6hr race in New Hampshire, the plan to call it day after VT suddenly shifted to a plan to call it a day after Joe English. After Joe English, someone mentioned an indoor marathon in January, time to switch plans again.

Although I should have seen it way back in June, it was finally the marathon in January that made me dial way back and stop signing up for any races. See, back in May, while training for Vermont, my Achilles had gotten so stiff in the morning, and so sore in the afternoons, that I finally dialed back my training. I cut my mileage, canceled quality workouts and started hoping that the work I had put in over the last six months would be enough to carry me through my first hundred miler. Of course, on occasion I still tried to get in a good Q-workout and while they usually worked well enough, it was almost unbearable the day after. (By no means am I comparing myself to someone with chronic back pain or anything like that, but when you have a constant nagging feeling of some physical ailment, not only is your psyche effected, but your interactions and patients with others around you is also diminished. This is less than ideal when you have two small children at home.)

I don’t really know how I managed to get through Joe English, but I did. It almost gave me some hope that things were getting better, but then the indoor marathon happened. I ended up running 3:00+ (I think it was 3:08ish? Results give me a slower time because I showed up after the start – snowplows!) and wasn’t exactly enthralled by that time. It was ten minutes slower than my very first marathon, and near 20 minutes off my pr. Perhaps it was a bit of pr vanity that I stopped signing up for races, or maybe I honestly felt like it was time to call it a day. I don’t know for sure, but either way, after that marathon, I dialed my mileage back. That was January 2015, almost two years ago.

Rather than just hang it up, I had a running streak that I wanted to get to a year, and figured easy short mileage would suffice. I could keep my base up, and let things heal. Wrong. Over the next two years, I would dial my mileage back, and run until things felt better. Once better, I’d up my mileage ever so slightly only for the pain to come back. I’d lower my mileage to where it was before, but the pain would subsist until I dropped mileage even lower. It was in this fashion that I finally walked my mileage down to zero and ended a 600+ day run streak on March 23rd, 2016: 3,700+ miles after the initial injury.

With a streak dead, I had no push to carry on. I wanted to run, but at this point, it was time to just sit on my laurels and do nothing. I tried to do some cross training with weights and the like, but it never really caught on. It’s a poor excuse, yes, but it’s what I’ve got. Eventually I would find myself riding a tri-bike my brother gave to me, but in the end, even that gave my Achilles some undue stress and it was shelved. (Don’t worry, I’ve got it back out and am riding outside in January!!!)

The Doctor Side

So what did I do during this hiatus, and what if anything worked? I don’t know. I tried some Graston Technique at the local chiropracter, and while he was a super nice guy, the therapy just didn’t cut it for me. I tried doing it at home, but still, nothing. I’d had x-rays done and there was no bone spur, which was a positive. It meant that the irritation in the tendon was not due to an off-structural appendage in my heel that would take surgery and a cement chisel to remove. However, nothing on the x-rays also meant that this was totally a soft tissue thing and an MRI would be needed. Now what did I want an MRI for? I don’t really know. I think my main concern that this was such an ongoing and persistent thing, I had somehow managed to cause a minor tearing and the scar tissue was so dense, I was totally up a creek. Again, blessings be, this was not the case. The case was simple: I scuffed and stretched, rubbed and frayed my Achilles something fierce. It would heal, but it would take time. Lots of time.

Deeper Than Accupuncture

So it’s been a while, but when the writer of a blog about running ceases to run, well, there’s not much to write. Sure I’ve dabbled here and there, but there isn’t a whole lot to share about a junk mile filled with discomfort. And I’ve been busy.

Back when this whole Achilles thing first happened, one of the therapies suggested was dry needling (along with Graston and a bunch of others). Of course, I was slow to go with any therapy, but eventually I gave Graston a shot to no avail. In fact, it seemed to make things worse. Not long after the Graston didn’t work, I gave up on running – March 23, 2016 – altogether. I think I can say that over the last six months, things have improved, but I’m not entirely sure. The progress has been slow. Small nags, morning stiffness, discomfort. It’s all still present.

I can’t say why I finally went for it, but three weeks ago, I jumped on the dry needling. I didn’t really do my homework before hand. I knew I was going to have some needles stuck in me. I knew there’d be some discomfort. I knew the trigger points would (hopefully) be released. I did not know how much discomfort would be following me around for the next day and a half.

Generally speaking the needling wasn’t that bad. When he would find a knot and stab it a few times, that’s when the discomfort would escalate a bit. I’ve read of people likening it to an electric shock, and I guess that is true to some degree, but while a shock seems to let go after a bit, the dry needling holds that shock. Imagine a calf cramp – the type that wakes you up  at night with your toe thrust downward while you fumble to find your toes and pull them back up – well dry needling isn’t that bad, but it’s that prolonged cramp feeling that leaves you feeling exhausted and sore afterwards. Not having run an actual workout in at least a year, the exhausted ache afterwards was just the bump I’ve needed.

The first dry needle course really did a number and I wish I had taken the advice I received over two years ago and gone with the dry needling right away. The amount of Achilles discomfort subsided significantly.  It was exciting – and hopeful, so hopeful. I’ve had a second course and while things are better, it’s not ready yet. I’ve read of Achilles taking a year or more to recover. It’s not ruptured, so there’s that glimmer. For now, I just need to keep getting needled for my exhausted-muscle fix.

Running By Numbers

Running, like any other sport really, is measured by numbers. At first thought, it might seem that our numbers are simple – time and distance. But the reality is, there are a plethora of numbers that come into account for most when we think about our running. We don’t just log our time, but now we have watches that log each split – about every mile or so, we know our pace. Our watches tell us how fast our heart is beating. Not only do we know how far we’ve run by mile, but we can find out down to the thousandth how far we’ve run. We log our days by miles and time, and at the end of the week we have a nice little total. Our totals add up monthly and eventually yearly. And over time we’ll know just how many miles our legs have traveled; we’ll know how many days we’ve run; how much time we’ve spent on our feet traipsing around chasing fantasies and finding solace in ourselves.

For me, adding these numbers up – following my own progress – gives me motivation. I like to be able to look back and see that I’ve hit my weekly mileage  for 10 weeks, 20 weeks, a year. At the start of every week, I lay out a mileage goal of some sort for myself – my little carrot. This year I’ve also laid out some mileage goals for the year and am attempting to run-streak for the year, and maybe beyond. But all these numbers, all these little goals, can muddle the end point. The focus on staying healthy and running fast can get forgotten as I look to accumulate miles and time.

Since February I’ve been running with a bit of nagging Achilles issue – nothing too big, but stiffness in the morning, tenderness to touch, and discomfort to run. It wasn’t a gradual occurence, rather one of those trauma induced injuries you get from running at 4:00AM in single digits without properly warming up. I think a big fear of any athlete is to bugger the Achilles. A bad injury takes months to heal, and it never seems to heal to full strength.

Last week, after yet another early morning longish run and a day standing around corralling fourth graders, it became apparent that my Achilles was, in fact, not happy. It was time to evaluate. It didn’t go away on it’s own as I had wished it might. Nor did it really progress pain-wise. With a half marathon in a little over two weeks and the VT100 a little over two months away, I knew I had to do something.

All those numbers that were so important to me. My mileage goals for the week, the month, the year had to be tossed. My training plan was scratched. It was time to reevaluate and think long term. With my future in mind, and forsaking all the numbers that mean so much to me, I took a week easy. A whole week. It might not seem like much, but for the past seven months I’ve been building up for my first 100 mile race, and with two months to go, I would be logging less weekly mileage than I have in almost a year.

But then I did some realizing. I already knew it, but I needed to remind myself – the miles, the weeks, even the months, they don’t really matter. Sure, if your miles plummet for a long time so will your fitness, but what is seven days, fourteen days? If I had started my week on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday, my weekly mileage would be different, and what would it matter? I had been – and probably will continue again – to focus on the little things, the numbers that matter, but don’t. The numbers that will impact my final goal, but not more than a significant injury.

And so with great discipline, I took a week easy. I ran short four mile or less days. I didn’t fret over the pedestrian pace or the low mileage. I made myself ignore the finishing time on my watch. And while my log book looks a bit disappointing, my Achilles feels much better, and as I come back to real training, I’ve never felt more motivated to get out and hit it hard.