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.

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.

Listen To Your Body*

I hesitate to write this post for fear of sounding like a pretentious-know-it-all-elite-runner-coach. I of course am none of those things, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion. And since this is essentially my soap box, I will proceed.

“Listen to your body.” It is good advice. If we didn’t listen to what our bodies were telling us, we’d end up running ourselves ragged, developing injuries, and eventually come crashing down as lumpy piles of human flesh. Lately, I have been hearing this phrase quite a lot, and it almost seems to be the new mantra in the self-help exercise world. I’ve seen it bandied about on facebook, twitter, blogs, even speaking to some other runners. Personally, I don’t mind the New Age, Hippy Granola, wannabe-Zen, catch-phrase, but I think it needs a little caveat, a but, an asterisk.

The problem is, that if all we did was listen, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Listening is great in that it alerts us to a potential problem; our job is to hash out the problem and react accordingly. Therein lies the real issue. Too often – I think anyway – people will pick up a knock or feel some tension or a sore muscle and take some time off, or ease up on their workouts. Our reactions tend to be way overkill. If every time we felt discomfort of some sort, we would stop. Our bodies don’t really like pain or hurt. Most first time marathoners vow to never run that far again. How many people would run ultra marathons if they just “listened to their bodies?” How about an obese person getting into a fitness program? I can’t imagine their bodies are happy with that feeling when they start.

Just because we feel something that might be out of place or uncomfortable does not mean we should stop – or even slow-up. Rather, I think we should push a little harder and see where it takes us. More often than not, those little nagging uncomfortable spots disappear; the sore muscles fade and we’ll be in the clear. When they don’t we can take it easy – but never stop. Eventually, over time, we learn to interpret what our body tells us, but it takes effort and a fair bit of pushing. A child will never learn to swim if they stay in the wading pool, likewise we will never learn to run to our full potential if we ease up when something ‘hurts.’ It takes time to learn your pain threshold and where that falls on the continuum of healthy pushing vs. overtraining.

There are no universal rules to learning your body and it’s messages. The only way is to push. So next time you listen to your body, and it’s telling you to stop – think seriously why it’s telling you to stop. Then go for a run.

 

The Runners Commandments

So despite the circumstances that led my family down to Long Island for the weekend, it did allow for some time to do a bit of reading. For Christmas, my brother got me a copy of Dr. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running. If you are a runner, it is a must to add to your library. I do not know how many times I have borrowed the book from the library, but with the two little ones, trying to clean the house, trying to finish the addition to the house, and train my bollocks off, I have little time to actually read. Now that I own the text, and it is always on hand, I will inevitably find bits I that I think everyone should know. (Who am I, right?)

The first thing I want to share is Noakes’ section on remaining injury free. This section is huge and it will take time, but there are parts that are so significant I cannot help but share.

I have to say that I do not agree with everything Noakes says. This text is a big fan of orthotics. I am not. I am a big fan of minimalist shoes with a zero drop (go check out SKORA) and wide toe box for the foot to do as it should. However, while it may seem like Noakes and I are on the complete opposite ends of things, we are both getting at the same thing: correcting the foot to its proper form will result in fewer running related injuries.

To start I will just put out his list of “Ten Laws of Running Injuries.” If this is all you take away, it will be worth it. I will continue this post later summarizing his rules. Some are simple, some are long, some short. All of them are important.

  1. Injuries Are Not an Act of God
  2. Each Injury Progresses Through Four Grades
  3. Each Injury Indicates a Breakdown
  4. Most Injuries are Curable
  5. Sophisticated Methods Are Seldom Needed
  6. Treat the Cause, Not the Effect
  7. Complete Rest is Seldom the Best Treatment
  8. Never Accept As Final the Advice of a Nonrunner (MD or  Other)
  9.  Avoid Surgery
  10. Recreational Running Does Not Appear to Cause Osteoarthritis

Case and Point

Two days ago, I awoke before the sun and shuffled my way to the track to do a threshold workout. I despise morning workouts, but the only time that really presented itself as a possibility was dawn. I figured the first one would work as a warm-up and the rest would come easy. Wrong. My legs were starving the whole time. I sucked it up and hammered through managing to keep pace pretty steadily. Unfortunately, the day after I started to notice a bit of a twinge in my hamstring. More than just an after-workout sore, but more of an angry niggling.

As the day progressed I noticed it more; luckily, it was just a minor annoyance when I would go to sit down. Rather than push my evening run and do the 8/9 miler I had planned, I cut it back to a slow five. Right away I noticed my hamstring was tight like muscle-pull-tight, but after a little pushing through, it loosened up. Of course half way through the run I found myself having the conversation to push it further or to just keep it at an easy five and rest a bit. It is a tough conversation to have with yourself, but a necessary one all the same. Part of me even suggested I should be home laying in bed resting up.

So here it is, a minor tweak and I am all ears – sort of. Pretty sure I will be able to put in a long run Monday/Tuesday and maybe only one Q workout, but with Octoberfest a week away, I am trying to play it even safer. Hard to listen.

Listening

I ran through high school and into college, then took an 8 year hiatus. For the last three years I have been getting back on my feet and trying to get back to the fitness levels I was at – so far I have been doing an okay job. Aside from lung capacity, aerobic abilities, and muscle strength, one of the big differences lies in my body’s ability to cope the abuse I put on it.

I have only really suffered one massive injury – back in sixth grade – when I tore two ligaments in my ankle. Being young, I skipped out of rehab and never thought anything of it, until I started turning my ankle quite frequently playing soccer, rugby, or running on trails. It has taken some time, but I think it is finally back up to snuff, despite a perpetual swollen look to it.

Over the past three years since picking running back up, I have experienced a number of niggling injuries. An annoyance in the knee attributed to patella-femoral pain syndrome – whatever that is – a sharp twitch in the ankle/calf area which I was told was peroneal tendonitis, and a strained calf that came from over training in huaraches. Perhaps these all could have been avoided, I am not sure, but coming into 2013 just getting over the peroneal tendonitis and a perpetually numb toe, one of my goals was to do a better job listening to my body.

Listening is a trick. It is not just a simple, acknowledgement of a sore leg and taking a day off, or easing up on a workout. Rather, the sore leg needs to be acknowledged and understood. It can be tough figuring out what aches and pains are actual injuries waiting to happen, and which are just annoyances that can be smothered with a pillow.

I would imagine some folks do a better job than others at understanding and monitoring their bodies. I like to think I am on the better end of this spectrum and my failure to listen before was due to stubbornness and shortsightedness. This year I have been virtually injury free. Nothing new has presented itself and the problems I had been experiencing seem to have dissipated. It will be interesting to see if I can continue to listen and decipher the true warnings of injuries, and the angry soreness from my body as ultra training picks up.