Monday, January 25, 2010

Take Your Health and Run With It

Last year, when I was training for the Pittsburgh Marathon, a veteran marathoner told me that two factors would predict the outcome of my marathon: if I skipped any long runs (“whatever you do, don’t skip long runs”) and how I dealt with injuries (“because more likely than not, you will get injured at least once”). To my credit, while it was in my power to stay on schedule, I did not skip a single long run and, I will say with a considerable degree of certainty, that this made all the difference. However, as predicted, I also got injured.

When I twisted my ankle playing volleyball, I made a vow: if and when my ankle healed, I would never take my health for granted again. I would be so incredibly grateful; I would be careful with my body, even if that meant giving up volleyball all the way through May. I would cross-train! I would do anything, if only my ankle would heal and I could run this marathon. I had worked so hard for this . . . and how could I ever live without running?

As it turned out, my ankle did heal rather quickly (although at the time it seemed to take ages). I ran the marathon in May—rather well in fact—and after that I took time off from running any serious races. I ran to “stay in shape,” but as the weather got warmer and I spent my weekends sleeping until 10 a.m. instead of pounding out 12 or 16 miles, going on 4- or 6-mile runs during the week became more challenging and, honestly, more miserable. I didn’t have any goals, because now that I had run a full-length marathon, even running the Queens Half-Marathon in September seemed to require very little training; I did very few long runs ahead of time and still managed to pull off 1:38:59 (7:33/mile), 5/221 age group, 46/2236 gender placement. It was a miserable race, and I was, quite frankly, a miserable runner.

As the heat of the summer abated, and winter crept nearer, I began to look ahead to spring, for another marathon. I had qualified for Boston 2010, so finally it looked like I would have a goal on the horizon. I didn’t want to be too hasty in registering, though, in case I “broke my leg or something” (my words!), so I waited until December, and what happened? The race filled to capacity, and I was effectively shut out. I instantly registered for a substitute marathon in Washington D.C., but I was still extremely disappointed. My big race—stolen! Now I was going to run this other race that no one has ever heard of—“SunTrust” something—and clearly would therefore have no interest in watching. It was not a good way to start training.

However, once I had a schedule in place, I fell into the routine just as I had for the Pittsburgh race. It was comforting to have my Saturdays planned, to have that weekly obligation to myself. The trouble was, while I was running 5-6 days a week and gradually increasing my mileage every Saturday, I was not getting faster. In fact, if anything, I was getting slower. I was running with these men at work: one of whom was recovering from surgery, another whose wife just had a child and ho was therefore getting an average of three hours of sleep a night, and on some days I could barely keep up with them. I had no excuses, and was therefore both humiliated and increasingly frustrated.

Then, miraculously, right after my 18-mile run, I broke the speed barrier again. Suddenly I was back down to my 7:30/7:45 per mile pace without even trying. I felt exactly the same (barring some foot pain, but I was planning to go to a podiatrist for that, so it should be taken care of soon enough), and when I looked down at my watch, ta-da! Magic had happened, and there was my incredible time: 20 miles in 2hours and 30 minutes. Unbelievable!

My foot had been bothering me for about two weeks, though, so I finally went and saw a podiatrist. She taped me up, gave me an anti-inflammatory medication, and told me I needed orthotics. I left sans-orthotics, with the full intention of finding an alternative, when my foot actually started feeling better. But that was when my knee started feeling worse. And when I say worse, I mean that it completely immobilized me.

It was after a “shorter” long run, on my “down” week of 14 miles. I ran all the way up the West Side Highway to the George Washington Bridge, and as I was coming back, I knew my left leg felt tight. My knee felt a little twinge-y and I was unusually tired, but I figured this was because I was running after work. I hadn't brought my metro card, and I obviously had to get back somehow, so I just kept running. I made it back with a less-than-impressive pace of 8:14/mile and no real pain, but the moment I stopped running, I felt like an iron mouth had clamped onto the left side of my knee. I could barely walk.

Which brings me to the present, at which time I am about to start attending physical therapy for Chondromalacia of the patella, running with a patellar brace, and making a repeat vow: If and when my knee heals, I will never again take my health for granted. I will treat every run with joy and gratitude, even if every step feels mentally or emotionally miserable. Because I am 100% more miserable now, without running in my life, than I ever was on a single run. Guaranteed.

1 comment:

K said...

Oh my gosh, that's what I have/had. :( I hope you get better soon!