Monday, February 27, 2012

In The Long Run: Injury (aka, My Left Foot)

Another Monday installment covering the road (or tread) more and less traveled by Midlife Rambler and Triple T...

I pulled off 10 miles of running on Saturday - at an overall pace that was a bit surprising - with a mild case of Plantar Fasciitis.

I cut the run short 50 minutes, and to some, that might have been quitting. To me, it was an absolute triumph.

For starters, from the very first stride, I had discomfort. I powered through 6 miles before texting my coach when the discomfort started to get a little more intense. It wasn't full-blown pain, but I could see it was going there.  One year ago, I would have been back in the house with a glass of wine in my hand by stride four. 

"I can't run when I'm injured! I need more wine!" 

On my mind for the entire run was a text I had gotten from my coach the night before: "Be smart tomorrow." 

I knew what she meant. Don't be stupid and run through pain. But don't quit just because you haz a boo-boo. Distinguish pain from discomfort and adjust accordingly.

Got it.

While I tried to not focus on my left foot, the constant discomfort reminded me for 6 stupid miles that it (the left foot) wasn't totally happy to be on this run with me. I tried drowning out its anger with Mini Snickers and Power Gels. There was a brief period on Sheridan Road, while Grace Jones was entertaining me with "Pull Up To The Bumper" that I wasn't thinking about my left foot: I was totally thinking about Grace Jones' 'bumper'. *

By the time I hit six miles, I could feel a hot sting on the inside of my left calf -- starting just a bit above my ankle. That area is a hot spot for me when I use The Stick to roll out my calves, so drawing on all the medical education and knowledge I have**, I deducted that I could be in trouble. I shut down the Garmin and texted my coach to let her know what was happening and ask her what I should do. While I was waiting for her response, I called Husband to let him know things were about to get shitty, and I might need him to save me from myself.

Coaches first response: "Is it sharp?"
Me: "No. Discomfort for whole 6 miles, getting more intense at ankle and calf."
Coach: "Only (stop) if it's sharp pain. Slow it down some."
Me: "K"
Coach: "Wait. Are you 6 miles away from home?"
Me: "Yes"
Coach: "Turn around."
Me: (To myself: Did that already. )
Coach: "Shoot for 7.5 or 7 miles."
Me: "K"

Once I started running again, I didn't feel bad, but I was very aware of that hot spot above my ankle. At intersections and lights, I'd bend down to massage it a bit: it felt hot. I thought that was odd, but I kept going.

More heat. Tight, hot, heat. But the rest of me felt fine.

I texted Husband: Meet me at Northwestern's Student Union Building. Get me after Little Guy is off the ice. And I kept running.

At 7.81 miles, I found myself in front of the Swimming and Athletic facility. I switched the Garmin off again and I headed inside to stretch. On the floor in this building -- which was bustling with activity -- I decided to dig into my calf as hard as I could. I took my shoe off and as I rolled my running tights up, I saw the source of my pain.

It wasn't my calf muscle. At 39-years old, I've evidently not yet  mastered how to properly put on pants. My Cold Gear Compression tights were all bunched up at the ankle, working for 7.81 miles to create a blood blister the size of a pencil top eraser just a little north of my ankle. That was my white-hot pain. My stupid pants had rubbed the shit out of my ankle.

I'll be honest: for a second, I sat on that floor and thought, "No one has to know. I can stop right now and no one has to know that the pain I had wasn't from my PF, but a symptomatic result of me not having a firm grasp on daily skills, such as dressing myself. No one has to know."

I yanked my toes towards me a little more. I worked the abnormally high arch of my foot pretty aggressively.  I dug into my calf muscles, being careful to avoid my new, throbbing blister.  

I knew I'd HATE myself if I quit. This run was not what I wanted it to be, but I was damn close to 8 miles into it. Quitting now seemed dumb.

I pulled my tights down my foot, so that they were mid-arch, to prevent further blistering. I got up, used the restroom (Why not? It's there!), sucked down another Gel, and got back to running (after texting Coach and Husband).

This had to have been my ugliest run ever. I had two breaks (one at the 6 mile mark to get feedback on whether I should stop or continue on, and then at the 5-minute stretch and blister control session at NU) and for someone that doesn't stop or walk through water support stations during races, that's borderline failure. I knew that pushing on was what had to happen. It was the pushing through that was going to make this run less of a suck and more of a success.
It shouldn't look like this.

For a short stretch on the NU campus, with Lake Michigan to my left, I thought about Eric Moussambani, that luckless fuck from Equatorial Guinea who won a wild card entry (designed to encourage developing countries without expensive training facilities to participate in different events) to swim the 100 Meter Freestyle in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He had only started swimming 8 months prior to the games.

I remember seeing this event back then. I couldn't remember his name or where he was from or what year it occurred,  but I remembered watching that poor summabitch in the pool, practically vertical, trying to reach the end of his lane.*** The crowd went nuts cheering him on, because he was so ridiculously out of his element. They cheered him to the end of his set.

I was a running Moussambani today. I wasn't winning shit. And it hurt. And I wanted to stop. I also had a small crowd cheering me on: I had gotten two texts - one from Husband and one from Coach - that told me what a hardcore, bad-ass I was. So I kept running.

And then I kept running some more. 

I kept running until I realized that in addition to my left foot/ankle/heel and calf pain, the left side of my ass was starting to hurt. I made a quick decision that I was likely - but unconsciously - adapting my running form to either protect my PF injury - or even to spare my oozing blood blister - and that adaptation was causing me other problems. I figured that dealing with PF 10 weeks before the marathon was really all I had time for: I should work hard to avoid fucking up the rest of my body now, too.

At about 9.6 miles, and still running, I texted Husband and told him where he could pick me up. And then I ran my ass off until I hit 10 miles.

Then I stopped running.

One year ago, assuming I might have run longer than the first four painful strides, stopping at 10 miles when I had at least 4 more to go would have sunk me mentally. Today, I limped across the street and crawled into Husband's parked car (we had a flawless pick up!) and proudly reported that I made it 10 miles WITH PLANTAR FASCIITIS. ****

Saturday's run was fraught with good decisions. And when I couldn't make them entirely on my own, I contacted the right person to help me through it. There's something to be said about knowing what you don't know. I'm happy that I can discern discomfort from pain: that feels like some kind of evolution as a runner.

Let's face it, I'm going to have a ton of discomfort during this 26.2. Ideally, the PF will be in check by then, but from what I hear, 26.2 miles can really do a number on an otherwise healthy/happy body. You either push through the discomfort and pain or you DQ yourself.

I'm hoping today's little experiment will arm me with some mental toughness on May 5th. I earned a stripe today, for sure.

Stop by Midlife Rambler's page to see how he has - or hasn't - dealt with injuries. Cautionary tales, readers. Cautionary tales, indeed.

* Grace is not singing about parallel parking.

** I have no medical education or knowledge.

*** Thanks be to Google and YouTube. I found him and watched his agonizing 1 min 52 sec thrash to the end of his lane. The crowd cheered him on like he was setting a new record (he was, I believe, actually setting a new record: a new record for slowness.) and once again, just like 2000, I had tears in my eyes.  Incidentally,  Moussambani was practically vertical and that bastard still could beat me in a 100 m. WTF?

**** Everything I do now is done with Plantar Fasciitis. I ran 10 miles with Plantar Fasciitis. I washed the dishes with Plantar Fasciitis. I answered the phone with Plantar Fasciitis. I cleaned the cat box with Plantar Fasciitis, etc., etc., etc. Everything I do with Plantar Fasciitis is 20x more worthy than whatever you may or may have not done without it.*****

***** That last statement was directed at Husband.


  1. You are a badass! Nice job today pushing but not pushing too much. I did my first marathon this fall. And yah, it hurts, but it's doable. I expected the first 15 miles or so to be OK and the rest to suck. Instead the pain started early and stayed with me. But I got a second (third? sixth?) wind and the last few miles felt strong. The joy of knowing that I was going to finish made all the pain fade to the background. You are going to rock the marathon!

  2. I am in awe..... you typed this blog with plantar fasciitis... you are so inspiring! Way to own that run TTT!

  3. I typed this comment with Plantar Fasciitis!

    We should have a support group where we massage our feet, stretch, and have donuts and coffee. (After washing our hands of course.)

    Sounds cool, right?

  4. :) Thanks, all.

    Cyclin' Missy - your comment is encouraging. There's a constant conversation going on in my head about this big race and the new left side issues are certainly keeping that conversation going...

    I just got back from my chiro's office, and with another needle session and a fancy new tape job, I feel a lot better than I did just 5 days ago, so I think I've just been handed a good lesson (a la Midlife Rambler) in pre- and post-run maintenance.

    Sara - you TOTALLY understand my PF Martyrdom!!!

    Rambler ... you forgot the bacon. Whaddup?????

  5. Really good job on continuing to run after mile 6. Though it wasn't a perfect run, sounds like you did the right thing, and pushed yourself, but didn't hurt yourself more!

    I hate to do it but the rolling out before the run really's time comsuming though!

    Have a great week, and wait your marathon is in March or May?

  6. Thanks, Rain. Also...I used the Balaclava on Saturday -- but could only stand it for the first mile (less than a mile, actually). With no mouth hole, my hot breath in the hood was blowing up and steaming up my sunglasses! Plus, I figured it would be tough managing the gel and stuff. My face was RED when I came back!

    My marathon is May. Rambler gets to go after his race in March.

  7. Nice work 3T, it's a real tricky balance between getting in the miles and not creating injuries for the big day.

    You're right about the 26.2 messing with your mind and body though.

    Someone in a pub (where everyone knows you get the best sporting advice) told me that the marathon halfway point was 20 miles. I thought he was drunk and/or crap at maths, and laughed accordingly.

    He was right.