I haven’t been able to run for the last two months. Anyone who has had any amount of contact with me (in person or on the internets) will no doubt have heard about this before. I don’t respond well to having one of my favorite things taken away. It affects my sleep, my energy level and my overall attitude and though I tried to sub in other types of cardio, I haven’t really had a good adrenaline rush in a very long time.
I’ve been to the doctor, got a proper diagnosis (grownup alert!), got some pills, took them, did the recommended PT exercises, and actually went running pain-free on Friday. Now I have to conquer The Fear.
When I was working at the library one night, a student came up to the reference desk and spent a tremendous amount of time with my co-worker. I was busy myself, so I wasn’t really paying attention, but after the student left, my co-worker turned to me and asked, “Do you have any ideas on this one?”
It seems the student has a friend who was always athletic. A while ago, she got inured, something like an ACL tear, and ever since then has been terrified of hurting herself. I blinked at my co-worker, “Is that really something you can write a psych paper about, or is that just learning and conditioning?” If the stove is hot, you learn not to touch it; in figure skating, the first thing they teach you is how to fall safely. Likewise, and I don’t really know anything about ACL injuries, but most sports injuries come from overuse, or from doing something wrong–so you try not to do something wrong.
In my case, I can’t quite pinpoint what I did wrong. I’ve had torn muscles in the past, and usually you can actually feel the muscle tear. You take a step, and there’s a popping feeling followed by a tremendous amount of pain. I never felt a pop for this one, which was why is was so hard to diagnose and treat properly. I’d rest for a week, my leg would feel ok, and then I would try to go for a run often barely making it across the street. When I was able to go for a longer run/walk, I ran about 1.5 miles and walked 4.5. When I felt a slight twinge, I backed off and walked, which is something that this particular injury had left me unable to do as well.
The next morning after that test run, I woke up feeling fine. I rested a few days, and went out for a four mile run/run (with a minimal amount of walking). It felt great, I was maintaining a great pace (for an injured girl), and the act of running actually made my back pain go away.
The next day was race day.
If this had just been a normal race, I probably would have skipped it. If this had been a 1/2 marathon, I would have known I wasn’t ready, but this was the Jamestown Bridge 10k, which is not only a really, really awesome race, but a distance I could actually handle. So I had to do it. Also, I was such a geek about this race that I was actually the first person to register for it–yeah. Numbers 1 and 2 are reserved for last year’s winners, but I was number 3.
Of course, running up and down that steep of an incline is a bit taxing, but I was prepared to take it slow and steady. I met up with a friend and her mother before the race, and we made the plan to stick together and plod our way through the course. She was also recovering from an injury, so at the start line, her 60-year-old mother took off like a shot, and we starting plugging our way down the on-ramp.
What ended up being strange and interesting about this experience was the fact that I was struggling. My back had a ridiculous twinge, my leg felt stiff, and the previous day’s four miles just seemed like a beautiful dream as I hobbled along and eventually walked sending my friend ahead of me. Near the end of the race, I saw the 6 mile marker meaning that there were only .2 miles ahead. So I started running, tentatively at first, and then settled into my natural (if a bit slower than usual pace). It felt perfect. It felt like the previous day’s run instead of the plodding and drudgery of the first four miles of this race.
What I realized is in my terror of re-injuring myself and pushing too hard, I really hadn’t pushed hard enough at all. It is harder on my body to run at an unnaturally slow pace than it is to run faster. I used so much effort to slow down, that I wore myself out. If I had attempted this race at a 10 minute mile pace, not only would I have finished with a much more respectable time, but I might not be so sore today.
Therein lies my conundrum: How can I know how much I can handle, unless I try and risk re-injury? This conundrum sucks.
My next race is May 6th and it’s a 1/2 marathon that I’ve run twice before. My plan is to just not overthink it.