Injuries: As much a part of running as the shoes

I’ve dealt with injuries, mainly involving my knees, ever since I began running races. Every round of half or full marathon training has been marked by an injury at one point or another. It varies each time, too. Sometimes the pain is in my right knee, sometimes my left, sometimes only when sitting, other times only when running… it’s unpredictable and utterly relentless.

The most frustrating injury I’ve dealt with thus far occurred last winter. I trained 16 weeks for the Madison Marathon, only to discover two days before the race that I had a stress reaction in my left ankle. After all the time and energy I had dedicated to train for my first marathon, hearing that I would run the risk of fracturing my foot if I went through with the race was crushing. I’m sure some people would have ignored their doctor’s advice and ran the marathon even with a stress reaction, but I decided against it. It didn’t seem worth it to run a race that would result in me hobbling around in a boot for several weeks thereafter, especially in a city like New York where my daily routine includes climbing three flights of stairs to get to my apartment, going up and down the subway, and walking to the supermarket. The mere thought of doing that in a boot, or worse, crutches, made me miserable. I knew there would be many more opportunities in my life to fulfill my dream of completing a marathon; there was no need to rush it.

However, the injury really messed with my confidence. Is this my fate? Am I going to get injured every time I train for a marathon from here on out? And the thought that scared me most: Maybe I’m just not meant to be a runner. 

I tried my best to push those thoughts out of my head, and once 6 weeks passed and my ankle healed, I started running again. I became a member of New York Road Runners (NYRR). I signed up for races in hopes of completing the 9+1 program (the program that guarantees you entry into the next year’s NYC marathon if you complete 9 NYRR races and volunteer for one). I signed up for the May 21 Brooklyn Airbnb Half Marathon.

Fast forward to last Saturday: I was on mile 8 of my 11 mile training run for the half marathon, crossing over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, when my left knee suddenly felt tight. The tightness soon progressed to a throb along the left side of the bottom of my knee. I stopped and stretched out my quads, thinking maybe my muscles just needed to loosen up a bit. I started running again, and within seconds the pain came back. However, I kept going. Each step was accompanied by a shot of pain, but it wasn’t unbearable. With three miles to go, I decided I would get through the run and decide what to do about it later. Those three miles were not fun, and I was pretty much limping by the end. Happy to be done, I ate breakfast, took a shower, and got ready to meet a friend at the Vegetarian Food Festival. The odd thing was, there was absolutely no pain when I walked. My knee felt a little disjointed from time to time, but nothing more. When I got home later that evening, I iced it for an hour or so, hoping that it would heal in time for my four-mile race the next morning.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. the next day to head over to Central Park for the Japan Run. My knee felt weak and I could tell it wouldn’t hold up through the race, but I went anyway to get credit for the 9+1 program.

When the race began, I started with a slow jog. I felt no pain for the first 30 seconds, but then bam– the pain came rushing in. I ran until I couldn’t take it anymore, then walked. After a few minutes of walking, bored and sick of seeing everyone pass me, I picked up the pace and settled into a jog. The sharp pain returned almost immediately. After about a minute of jogging, I stopped and walked for the next few minutes until my patience once again ran out and then went back to the painful jog. I repeated this until I crossed the finish line at 47 minutes 7 seconds (11:37 min/mile pace). I left the race feeling defeated, scared that this knee injury would prevent me from running the half coming up in just 13 short days.

Once I left the little pity party I threw for myself, I decided to rest my knee for at least the next few days, ice it daily, and bike for cardio. Monday and Tuesday I did about 30 minutes of spin followed by a BBG workout. Wednesday I rode a little longer– 55 minutes– and Thursday was my rest day. I decided to try a short run on Friday, just to see how it felt. I was skeptical that my knee had healed, but I ended up being able to do 3 miles on the treadmill with no pain. Excited that the half marathon, now just 8 days away, would indeed be doable, I decided to go for the 12-mile long run scheduled for the next day.

I woke up a little nervous but mostly excited to run outside after almost a weeklong hiatus. I made sure to start out super slow– the first two miles took me over 10 minutes/mile– to ensure that my knees could carry me through the entire 12 mile run. The miles clicked by and before I knew it I had passed mile 8, the point I was dreading since this was when my knee began to hurt the week before. A few more miles passed, and I was still feeling good. Then, around mile 10, I felt a little jolt of pain shoot up my knee.

Crap! I thought to myself. It’s coming back… I gotta slow down and pay more attention to my stride. So I slowed down, took shorter strides, and the pain subsided. The jolt came back once more around mile 11, but again immediately disappeared once I fixed my stride. I finished my run in 1 hour 55 minutes 29 seconds (9:35 min/mile), a slow but completely acceptable pace.

IMG_7878Knowing I would be able to compete in the race I had long been preparing for, I finished the run happy and relieved.

The truth is, injuries are inevitable for me. I haven’t quite accepted that reality yet; every time a new pain arises I immediately panic and doubt my running abilities. I know there are many things I can control to make me less injury-prone, like fixing my cadence/stride, experimenting with different shoes, and strength training. However, until I find the right combination of the best shoes, technique, and strength, I need to change my approach to any pain that emerges during training. I want to develop less of a panicked reaction and focus more on tactics and positivity. Maybe the pain is my body’s way of telling me something (like training too hard, needing some recovery time), maybe it’s a time to find the points of tension in my body, or perhaps it’s a time to strengthen key muscle groups. Injuries are negative for sure, but they can also bring out positive changes and revelations. I want to dwell less on the bad and concentrate more on implementing actionable and useful solutions.

 

 

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