I recently had a very humbling experience.
Ok, this was really just one of many humbling experiences life seems to throw my way, but this one was specifically related to running.
[It is also moderately painful to admit I need to categorize, sub-classify and then create my own Dewey Decimal System for the myriad humbling/humiliating/mortifying events that surround me].
I was planning a fairly easy Friday night run a little over a month ago. Thirty minutes in to what should have been a comfortable six miler, I felt something pop or snap in the back of my right leg.
The pain was immediate, and all I could think of what that something really, really bad had happened.
Initially I couldn’t even bear weight on the leg and worried how I’d get home.
After about 40 minutes of sitting down, I was able to take a few s-l-o-w steps at a time and made it to my car, where I called my friend D. – a genius physical therapist – for some emergency advice.
D. agreed to meet me at my house that night and put my knee/leg through a series of tests to determine the source. At the time, it fortunately did not seem to be a serious knee injury; rather it was more consistent with a hamstring pull.
She was even able to nail down the tender spot to one specific site and – great friend that she is, seriously D. is the best! – she came over four times over that weekend to manually dig into that spot and work on the strained area.
By Monday morning, with the help of D., ibuprofen and copious icing, I felt about 90% better.
But I knew that this was a warning sign.
Unfortunately, 25+ years of running has not necessarily made me a better runner. I have bad habits.
- I rarely stretch or foam roll.
- I run to the detriment of everything else. When time is tight, which it always is, I choose running. If I have 45 minutes, I run for 45 minutes, not 30 with 15 minutes of conditioning, etc.
- I rarely strength train.
- I often take a weekend warrior approach and run taxing, big miles on the weekends and much shorter distances during the week.
- I don’t monitor my form.
The list could go on for a long time.
With my wake-up call, I did the following:
- Went to PT. This has been extremely helpful. At my first appointment, the physical therapist politely asked if, perhaps, I thought I had weak glutes and a weak core? My resounding laughter affirmed his inquiry. He gave me a series of exercises, a strengthening band and I’ve been following up with him once a week for a total of five sessions.
- Was treated with the Graston Technique. This was new to me, but it really seemed to help. Stainless steel instruments are used to comb the affected area and identify any muscle disruptions, which are then worked on with deep tissue release techniques. The person I was working with said that he could feel the torn area in my semimembranosus muscle.
- Did a video taped running analysis. Actually, I did this twice. Once was at a sports performance assessment with a PhD Physical Therapist and running expert, and the second time was at a store when I bought new running shoes. I was warned before watching the video that the angles were not that flattering, but essentially I was filmed on a treadmill with four cameras watching me run. After painfully getting past the jiggling, I could see what they saw: I slouch, I pronate and I don’t engage my glutes well so my hips drop with every step. Over time, that adds up to injury.
- Bought new shoes. My old ones were examined by a few different people and determined to still have life in them, but it was recommended to consider a pair with better foot guidance to avoid pronation. Ok. Check.
- Watched a lot of YouTube videos on proper running form. Like this one.
- Tried to clean up my diet and lose some weight, which is undeniably helpful on the joints. (Notice I say “tried” since I fell off the wagon this week).
- Concentrated a lot on my form. When running, I worked on keeping my feet underneath my center of gravity to avoid overstriding, leaning forward from the ankles and engaging my core, and taking shorter, quicker steps to increase my overall cadence. It’s hard to remember to do all of this simultaneously, though.
So, here’s what happened: things seemed to get better within about three weeks. Both the physical therapist I have been seeing and I were wondering why I was even in PT. I wanted to test my leg out, and I was very, very nervous about getting behind on my training schedule for the January marathon I have on deck.
After a few gingerly-executed runs, I went out an did an 11 miler two Saturdays ago. I felt great! My form seemed better, it was a beautiful day, and I was optimistically thinking that I would come back better than before.
And then on Sunday, my right knee blew up like a balloon.
It did not look good.
Not only did it hurt, there was also a crunchy spot I could feel when I bent it.
I really started to fear a meniscal injury, since new pain was now present at what I thought might be the joint line.
I took five days off running and did three miles last Friday. The knee hurt more.
Last Saturday, I was supposed to run 12 miles. I did zero.
This week, things seem cautiously, slightly better. I ran twenty minutes on Thursday night with some walking intervals mixed in. I felt very deconditioned. That was humbling, but I made it through without aggravating the knee more and it doesn’t feel bad today.
Being sidelined as a runner doesn’t feel good, but overall I’m still trying to remember my mantra “I run because I get to,” and be grateful for any (healthy) steps I take.
This meme summed it up well:
Fingers crossed for recovery!