A month without running
I've run my entire life. I loved running as a kid just to be moving. As soon as I was at a school that offered any kind of track and cross country team, I joined both (junior high). I ran all the way through high school and kept it up on a recreational level in college.
When I moved to Chicago, winters were challenging, but I found ways to run indoors and additional sports to participate in that kept me in shape. It was in Chicago that I first started racing again. First just a race or two for fun. Then eventually I ran a marathon. I wasn't training for it, a friend broke her toe and gave me her bib, knowing that I loved running and wanting it to go to good use. I had such a good time that I decided to run another one, except I decided to train for it this time.
It was then that I began training for ALL of my races. I enjoyed having a training plan and a goal. I also liked having structured speed days, rest days, long run days and easy days. Winter became my off season where I just ran what I wanted to run and spring, summer and fall were when I got to pick out the races I would train for. This has been my pattern.
I've dealt with a few injuries, as most people have. I was hit by a truck while riding my bike to work a month before that second marathon. I was lucky (the bike was not) and made an almost full recovery after a lot of physical therapy. My PT did NOT tell me that it was okay to run the marathon, but I did it. Much slower than I would have, but faster than I had the year before and with an exit plan in place (that thankfully I didn't need to use) and without sustaining any damage. I did have to take two weeks off of running before the race. That was rough.
Last year I had patellar tendonitis. It popped up right before my first race of the season, the Soldier Field 10 Mile. It was an overuse injury and it would heal, but I needed to stay off it for a week. I swam and did yoga and biked. I hated swimming. I didn't have a normal swimsuit, so I wore my bikini and felt like everyone was judging me. (I had done this before the marathon as well, but it was slightly worse because my shoulder was so injured I couldn't raise my right arm over my head.) I was happy when that week was over and I was cleared to run again. The race didn't go as I wanted, but I was able to run it without pain.
This year was the worst. We had a very wet and cold April, I fought through a lot of freezing training runs. The day that it turned nice out, I went for a training run and my ankle hurt so badly that I knew something was wrong. I had done a ten mile run that weekend and it had been stiff at the outset, but had warmed up on the run, so I thought maybe it was just sore from wearing high heels in the days prior. By the time I limped home on Monday I knew that I was wrong.
I began icing it and staying off of it. I biked and I even took a cycling class with my husband. I was afraid to increase yoga because I wasn't sure what was wrong with it and all impact seemed painful. I couldn't walk without taking Advil. I finally went for an injury screening at the Physical Therapy office at one of the gyms I work at. (Coincidentally the same office where I received therapy after the accident.) She diagnosed me with an inflamed Peroneal Tendon and gave me instructions for ice and massage and some stretches. Her prediction was 5 more days of no running and then if I could walk without Advil by the weekend I could try an easy run. I was ecstatic.
I followed her instructions perfectly. I iced, I stretched. I found new things to work out on. I tried the rowing machine and got blisters on my hands after day three of rowing. I decided to give that exercise a rest because I also was unsure of the wisdom of pushing off with my feet. I also went around and tried all of the non-impact cardio machines there were.
The weekend came and I was still unable to walk without Advil. On Thursday I tried. I put two Advil in my pocket as my husband tried to take me to our traditional breakfast date spot a few blocks away. I was walking so slow it was ridiculous. After the first block I just swallowed the Advil dry and tried unsuccessfully to hold back tears of frustration. We had our breakfast date and I tried to perk up. We said goodbye, Dean went to work and I began to hobble home. The Advil hadn't fully kicked in yet and I was in full breakdown mode by the time I got home. I called my primary and managed to get an appointment for Tuesday.
Meanwhile I decided to try not feeling sorry for myself and to work out some kind of alternate training. I eventually gave in and tried swimming again. This time I was lucky to still be in possession of a friend's one-piece suit that I could wear in the pool. I still didn't have goggles or a swim cap, but I felt less out of place. I even marked the times of some swim classes onto my calendar.
I explored all the weird machines in the various gyms where I worked. I downloaded a tabata timer and did tabatas on the Jacob's Ladder. LOVED that, but was unsure of it's affect on my ankle, so decided to leave it out of regular rotation. I did workouts on the Arc Trainer, which ended up being my cardio machine of choice. I could choose different workouts that were reprogrammed and actually feel like I was working. Nothing compared to running however, and I thought it was kind of cruel that in most gyms, these machines were right behind the treadmills so you had to watch all of those lucky people sprinting away. I carried an ACE bandage with me and iced constantly after any kind of workout. I didn't wear my running shoes, but I made sure to wear very supportive athletic shoes every where I went.
One of the worst parts was that the weather turned the day that I had to stop running. Warm spring days had finally come and I was unable to run in them. I did go for some long bike rides and even dusted off the rollerblades one day, so I got to be outside. I missed my runs though.
By the time I made it to the doctor I was finally able to walk without Advil. He checked me out and ordered x-rays to eliminate stress fractures. (I also learned that I'm a high risk for stress fracture due to my physicality and activity rate.) He said that if there was no sign of a stress fracture I could run again in 10 days. (I did the mental math and realized that I would be able to run Soldier Field in 10 days, but I wouldn't be able to do any running before that.) He went on to say that if I did have a stress fracture, I'd be running in a pool "like a horse. Like Secretariat." Although the comparison to Secretariat pleased me, the prospect of running in a pool did not.
Before he sent me up to get x-rays, he asked me about my calorie consumption and I was told that I need to eat more calories when training at such a high volume. He also said that if the x-rays were clear, I could do a test run in ten days on grass. If there was no pain, I could resume training, if there was pain, we were going to do an MRI.
I always hold my breath during x-rays. I just realized that this is probably a throwback to when I was twelve and had been diagnosed with scoliosis. My curve was 'on the cusp' so for several months I was just monitored to see if it changed. I always had to hold my breath during the x-rays because my curve is largely in my thoracic vertebrae, high up by my lungs. The curve did change and I was put into a back brace until I was finished growing. I still had to have x-rays (and hold my breath) every six months until I was released from the brace near age fifteen. I never realized until now that it's not something you have to do when it's you're getting a foot x-ray, although the technicians probably appreciated my extra stillness. I think I do this during dental x-rays too.
The next morning I got a call that the x-rays were clean! He said I could do a test run on grass in seven to ten days and to let him know how it went. Oooooooo! SEVEN to ten days! Seven was less than ten! I resolved to follow all instructions perfectly until day seven and then do my test run. I iced, I stretched, I swam, I biked, I walked in supported shoes, I did those crazy Arc Trainer workouts until I broke a significant sweat, I did all the things I could do without hurting my foot.
Day seven came. It had rained ALL DAY the day before. The grass was completely soaked but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I put on some old running shoes and biked out to a grassy park where I ran around in circles for a mile. There was NO PAIN! The run was slow because I was slogging through wet turf, but man was I excited.
I texted my doctor with the news (because he's cool and I can text him stuff), dutifully iced my ankle and then headed out to work. He texted back the okay to train, (I texted back 'yay!') and I decided to do an easy three mile the next day partially on a trail, partially on asphalt. Maybe an easy run the next day and then rest before the race.
The run didn't go too well. I wore my normal running shoes and could definitely tell the difference when running on concrete and on the trail. Maybe my bones just need to get used to running on concrete again? That's what I hoped. But I was worried. My husband had picked up my race packet for me. My in-laws were coming in as they did every year to cheer me on. I decided I would at least start the race, but be smart, not worry about time, stop if I needed to stop. No sense damaging it further and risk the entire summer.
The next day I was training a client and went on a run with her. We did a run walk as she hadn't done any outside running yet that year, but had been doing lots of physical activity over the winter so I suspected she would be fine. We kept to her pace, stopped when she wanted to stop, ran when she was able to run. All in all we did about fifty minutes of run-walking. We were nearly done when I realized I was having no pain at all in my ankle and that I was also wearing my old shoes. Could it have been the shoes this entire time?
The next day was a rest day. I did some walking in my running shoes. I didn't bike to rest my legs and I wore my shoes the entire day teaching. Dean's parents had generously found us a hotel downtown so that we could be closer to the race site. Dean and I were walking up to the hotel when I began to feel that familiar pain. It's the shoes.
My amazing in laws took us out to a carb loading dinner and my amazing husband parted ways with us after dinner to go back home and get my last season running shoes. I honestly believe that if he had not done this, I would not have finished the race.
And finish I did! With my worst Soldier Field 10 time in the five that I have run. Ten minutes and one second behind my record for that course. I had to talk myself down several times during the race, each time another set of pacers passed me (my time going out was actually not bad) and especially that time the guy juggling passed me. (He was actually doing really well too!) My ankle didn't talk to me until about mile eight and even then not loudly. I did my best to run on the dirt whenever possible.
A few things surprised me:
1. I was surprised at how hot I was! My last training run had been in 30 degree weather. Yes, I had done biking, walking and rollerblading out in the warmer temps, but running was different. It was also fun that it was the warmest day Chicago had experienced this year. I was far from the only runner that I saw stripping a shirt off and pouring water on their head, which made me feel better. Lots of us had shirts flapping from our waist bands and tucked into sports bras.
2. I was sore in the weirdest places! I expected to be sore after ten miles straight right after no running for basically a month even though I had been doing my best at other cardio. But man, my inner thighs right above my knees? I have never been sore in that area before. My calves were sore. I got a weird cramp in my right rib cage area near my spine.
3. I was exhausted. I do not remember ever being this tired after a race before. Not even the marathon I ran where I had not trained for it. I'm talking, take the contact lenses out, try and lay down but unable to go to sleep tired. I was wrecked. The last time I felt that tired was during an abusive tech rehearsal where the director kept us until all hours and I had to get up a 4 a.m. three nights in a row. (Eventually I was allowed to leave slightly early one day after collapsing during a rehearsal.)
4. I was SO HUNGRY. I was like Cookie Monster but with all food. I never got full that day. I cleaned my plate at the brunch place and then again at the dinner place. I also ate the bread. I drank ALL the water. I snacked on crackers in between times. Never once did I have that "I'm full, so I should actually stop now.," feeling. I also woke up hungry the next day and made my husband go with me to get a big, fat, chocolate muffin and a vat of coffee.
5. My middle toe on my right foot turned a lovely shade of purple! I know this is common for many runners, but it had never happened to me before. I also got a nice purple blood blister on my left foot. And this happened in my trusty, well-broken-in, last season shoes.
6. My legs are still tired. I went on an easy recovery run the following day to get the lactic acids out of my poor legs. Less than a mile to a friends house, hang out, glass of water, less than a mile back. The next day I tried an easy run. The next day I tried a longer easy run. Nope. My mile times were ridiculous, I decided to cut back and just run a three miler this morning. I went to the gym after and lifted weights and came home and FELL ASLEEP after breakfast because I was so exhausted. (Fortunately I did that thing where I told my brain when I had to be awake to get to work on time, so I did wake up and get to work on time.)
If you've stuck with me this far, you deserve to know what I've learned, so here ya go!
1. Occasionally, it's good for your body to try different things. I used to say I would never to a triathalon. Now, it's not completely after the question. Adding goggles and an actual sport swimsuit (yes, I finally bought my own and it was one third of the price of the athletic bikinis I'm looking at) really made a difference. I'm no longer saying 'never.'
2. It's good to have a back up plan. If someone had told me right away that I would be out of the running game for a month, I would have been inconsolable. But having that first week and a bit to try new things and figure out what worked made me a little calmer when I realized I would have to wait for a longer period. I knew what worked and I was ready to experiment.
3. I tried some new classes. As a Group Fitness Instructor, I think swimming classes were the only ones I had avoided. As a bonus, I also got my husband to try some new things with me.
4. I got fitted for shoes for the first time in several years. As a 25+ year runner, I thought I knew what worked for me and knew the idiosyncrasies of my feet. Turns out, as you age, your feet elongate, necessitating in a large running shoe size. This is why I got the black toe in my trusty old shoes. I'm not vain about my shoe size, I still have pretty feet, so I don't feel bad about going up a size, I'm just glad I know now!
5. Probably the most important thing I learned was that just because your body has been able to handle a certain set of stressors for the entirety of your life, doesn't mean that it will always handle these stressors for the remainder of your life. This is one of those things where you know it intellectually, but until you've experienced it, it remains an abstract concept.
I hope that I am always able to run. And I hope that I'm always able to run distance races. I would like to be able to continue training for race after race. (Paying attention to my nutrition and rest of course.) But I am aware that this may not always be the case for me. It's nice to know that I have other physical outlets. Even other skills that I could develop if I wanted to explore them. For now, I will do everything I can for the one body that I have and enjoy running in it for as long as possible.