Friday, February 26, 2010

A Setback?

I'm not quite sure what constitutes a bonafide running injury.  Is it the extent of the problem?  Whether it keeps you from running?  How long it keeps you from running?  How much money you spend curing the problem?  I guess it doesn't much matter how you define it--injury/niggle/setback.  They aren't fun to endure, but each one probably represents a neatly-wrapped little life lesson if you can find it hidden inside the stinking pile of dog pooh.  

I had a setback this week.  I ran 94 miles last week capped off with a 23 miler on Saturday (that included 8 miles run up a hill at LT effort) and an easy, and I mean easy, 10 miles on Sunday.  I was facing a daunting 100-mile week this week and a very full work schedule that included a two-day trip to San Francisco for meetings Thursday-Friday.

On Monday, I had a double workout scheduled with 10 in the morning and 4 at night.  During the morning run, I noticed that my left achilles/calf was tight.  I didn't think much of it and continued on with 5 strides, 2 bouts of hill drills and 2 x 2 minutes at 3k effort.  During my 4 miler that night, I noticed that the tightness in my calf started feeling a little more like a pain and was there throughout the run.  The next day I had 20 miles scheduled, split into a 15 and 5 miler.  I decide to do the 5 miles in the morning to test out the calf.  I felt pain for most of the run.

I scheduled an appointment that afternoon with the Miracle Worker.  He started his line of inquiry with questions about my shoes.  How new/old were they?  Was I wearing a new style?  After we decided my trainers were not the issue, he started his inspection of the injured area, stopping at my left arch.  He looked up at me and asked, eyebrows raised, "what's this?"  It was the scab on the bottom of my foot from the race the weekend before.  I explained that I had worn shoes that were too small without socks in a cross country race and got a blister on my arch.  He said, "Oh no, this is not a blister.  You ripped a hole in the bottom of your foot!  Look at the way the skin is all jagged around the edges."  Interesting.  I had been wondering why my "blister" hadn't healed more quickly.  In fact, it hurt on pretty much every run I had done since the race and seemed to become even more irritated.

He then deduced that either I had strained my calf during the race by running on the grass in shoes that allowed my heel to slip around or the wound on the bottom of my foot caused me to run my last 100 miles, spread over the last week, a little off kilter which caused my calf to tighten up and put strain on my achilles.

He began working on the calf by introducing the jumpy machine (electrical stimulation) and then squished down on the calf in all the most painful places causing me to cry out for my mommy under my breath a few times.  He iced the calf, and told me I was good to go.  I asked if I could run 100 miles, and, after we cleared up that I wasn't going to do it all at once, he gave me the green light.  Cool, I thought.  Resume training.

What I did next is certain to disappoint any of you who ever thought I was the least bit smart.  I decided to do my hill workout on Wednesday as written: 15 miles with 10 x 6 minutes up a hill at half marathon effort finishing with 10 strides.  Brilliant.  My calf is sore, so I think I'll go run up a hill for an hour.  I jumped on Tready and knocked out the workout Wednesday morning and definitely felt a dull ache in my left calf throughout.  As I finished the run outside with strides, I suddenly felt an alarming sharp pain in my achilles during my 8th stride and shut it down.  I jogged back to the car and wondered what the fuzzy duck I had just done.

I babied the calf the rest of the day, but thought it was a good idea to test out the calf later that night with another 5 miles.  To my credit, I have had some success running through these types of little niggles before, so I thought it was worth a try.  Three miles into the run, I felt a bitey, bitey, bitey that left me walking all the way home.  I was done.
Now, let's recap my injury history.  I don't have one.  This obviously means I have a very sturdy constitution since I clearly can't be trusted to make the smartest training decisions.  It also means that I have a lot of anxiety associated with becoming injured since I haven't been through it before.  I decided to take Thursday off from running and this was convenient since I had to take the train into the city very early, spend all day in a meeting and then stay the night.  I was glad to be busy, because during the few stray minutes I had to myself, I felt a pit form in my stomach with worry about my running future.  When the day was finally over and I was alone in my hotel room, I let my self pity get the best of me, and I cried a little.  How could I be so stupid?  I had ruined my training and chances at a good marathon in May.  If I was a horse, they would put a bullet through my thick skull.  Blah, blah, blah.

I felt better for getting all of that out, and quickly began devising a more constructive, solutions-oriented plan.  I contacted my coach and found out that she had suffered from something very similar a few years ago.  She had lots of great advice.  She reassured me that I could recover quickly if I was smart about my recovery.  But, I would need to take a break from running.  No running.  Wham.  There it was.  Without a history of injury, I had never had to cross train.  Granted, I cross train as recovery after a marathon, but I realize that there is a big difference between choosing to cross training and having to cross train.  Now, I had to cross train.

Nicole suggested pool running as the ideal, but thought the bike would work too.  She gave me a new training plan for the next few days and offered some tips that had helped her heal quickly when she had this injury.  "I can do this," I thought.  I woke up this morning at 4 a.m., tossed and turned for an hour before deciding to hop out of bed and get my butt to the gym for some cross training.  While pool running was the preferred alternative, that wasn't an option for me today.  My achilles was super sore as I walked the 6 blocks to the nearest 24 Hour Fitness Center and this just reinforced my resolve to embrace cross training.

I decided I would test out different pieces of equipment with the goal of finding something that would allow me to do a decent workout without aggravating my calf.  The elliptical machine ended up being the ticket.  I was able to set the cross ramp to a setting that had only my hamsters, glutes and quads working while my lower legs served merely as pegs to push the pedals down.  I did an hour on the machine including 20 x 30 seconds hard/30 seconds easy and felt very proud of myself in the end.  I then knocked out some core exercises and hobbled back to the hotel.

I iced my calf for a bit and then decided to take some ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation.  I generally don't like to take it because I dislike masking pain but, I was amazed at how much the pain was reduced for the rest of the day.  After my meetings ended midday, I headed back on the train and decided I would see if I could get back in to see the Miracle Worker.  I was told by his very protective receptionist that he was booked and that I would just have to call when I got back in town to see if he had an opening.  I had my fingers crossed as Amtrak dumped me into Sacramento 1.5 hours late.

The Genius picked me up from the station and we rushed over to the Miracle Factory.  Lino saw me right away and the Genius was excited to see him in action without having to experience his healing wrath.  When I told Lino I had run up a hill for an hour, he looked down his nose at me and said, "I told you no hills."  He actually hadn't told me no hills, but I felt like I probably should have asked whether hills were okay during my last visit knowing they were on my dance card.

He probed my achilles with his digits and decided that it was perfectly healthy, albeit inflamed.  He poked around for the point of pain and finally found a little bit of shiznit at the place where the tendon fibers cross over one another.  With a little *pop* it was gone.  A miracle.  He then worked his way up all of the bits of adhesion that were settling in my calf and painfully popped those as I closed my eyes so tightly that my eyelashes poked my optic nerves in both eyes.  He then gave me the jumpy machine treatment for a few minutes and afterward told me to go walk around to see how it felt.  It felt great to walk, but the true test was to tippy toe around.  No problem.  No pain.

He looked me in the eye and said, "No hills for two weeks, but you can run on the flats as much and as fast as you want."  He showed me some good stretches and kicked my butt out the door.

So, here I sit, a little shaken up and slightly anxious about trying out my newly-healed baby cow tomorrow on what will probably be a short, easy run.  I want to believe in miracles.  Here's hoping for proof on tomorrow's run.


  1. Welcome to the world we mere mortals live in. Although, like you, for a long time I thought of myself as "a runner who doesn't get injured." Then I got injured twice in succession and learned all about denial.

    I've corresponded with a runner (a former indoor record holder for the masters mile) who was injured for four years. Meaning she couldn't run consistently or race at all. Now she's back and frequently winning local road races outright at 48. The level of fortitude it takes to cross-train and keep faith for four years is something I don't have.

    It doesn't sound like this hiccup will affect your marathon plans. But please do listen to your body (and your coach and Miracle Worker). A few missed runs is better than a missed season.

  2. First, you have traced your ordeal to a specific, albeit stupid -- but not marrying-the-wrong-person stupid -- event.

    Second, you seem to be in the hands, literally, of a good professional who understands and, more important, can help.

    Third, you've been doing such quality training that not only will missing a bit of time not be an issue but the forced, short break might be beneficial. (I find that if I miss some days, the first day backs tends to have me run way too fast and that I die really quickly but that I'm back to normal in a few days, able to pick up where I left off.)

    Fourth, you'll be fine.

  3. Julie, I'm with you. I really doubt I would have the courage to gut it out with cross training for long at all. That runner is truly impressive. However, having not been there, I'm not really sure what I would be able to do. I guess I never thought I'd have the attention span to run for as long as I have either.

    Joe, Your summary gives me comfort. I credit my paid professional for helping me stay out of the injury cycle for this long. It's nice to have a trusted resource like him. My coach also reminded me that my body has been hinting at being tired, so this is a relatively minor way for it to rebel. I am listening and believe that everything will be fine. Thanks for your post.

  4. Sounds like you've been lucky with this one (hope there aren't too many more). Excellent that you have someone like Miracle Worker looking after you... not to mention a smart coach guiding your recovery.

    I like Joe's "not marrying-the-wrong-person stupid" description for what you haven't done. I imagine that'd describe something like doing a cross country race and marathon on Saturday and Sunday then racing an indoor mile on Monday night.

    Seems like you're also blessed with a strong 'injury-proof' gene. Good luck tomorrow. Hope it's not a fuzzy ducked up run ;)

  5. Jaymee I read this yesterday and had seen your update about pool running. At least you have the miracle worker! And it's good to see you dedicating yourself to HEALING this (as much as you dedicate yourself to your training). Your coach sounds really supportive as well. Very nice! I think every sidelined injured runner ends up gaining a new perspective on 'days off' and realizes that the down time actually will make them stronger. I mean, look at Meb! You are going to be fine and kicking ass sooner than you know it.

  6. You are an awesome athlete and know your body and limits. You will be back to business in no time at all, I have confidence in you! I have been checking daily to see how things are going. How are things going? You are a force to reckon with, don't let this get you down.- Jessie

  7. Yes looks like you dodged one "J" and don't be so hard on yourself.

    You know if you were really smart you wouldn't be friends with Ewen.

    I'm guilty too.