Right before running the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon at the end of May, I felt some very minor and non-localized pain in my right leg. It didn’t hurt in one specific spot, but felt slightly achy. I completed the race and didn’t feel any pain afterwards. I woke up the next day for the Laguna Hills Memorial Day Half Marathon with the same dull pain, but it was hardly noticeable and not affecting my stride. The very next day (Tuesday), I set out on a run with no mileage or pace goals and ended up running 10 miles in ~67-68 minutes. I wasn’t pushing at all and was very surprised with the overall time. Having run a substantial PR only 2 days prior, I should’ve been taking it easier. I was definitely in that post-race scared-to-lose-fitness zone, and it wasn’t the first time that I’ve made the choice of not making recovery a primary concern. I use the word choice over mistake because I know what I should be doing, or rather not doing, so the result was 100% avoidable.
The achy-ness became more noticeable as the week wore on, but I just kept running. The following Sunday (one week post-PR), I ran the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon with Cristina and Ellen. My shakeout run the day had been painful, but I didn’t want to bail on them, so I decided to just deal with it. I had a lot of fun during the race and don’t regret doing it, but the leg pain was pretty bad afterwards. It was time to take a few days off to rest…
BUT I CAN’T MISS BRIAN’S SUMMER TRACK WORKOUTS 1-MILE TIME TRIAL! I ran my fastest mile (5:37 – very fast for me), but the curtain crashed down after that. My leg ached for 3 days, whether I was moving or not and I briefly considered buying crutches to eliminate any and all weight bearing. It finally started to feel better after 3 days of no exercise. Naturally, I spent an embarrassing amount of time Googling various symptoms and narrowed it down to two possible injuries: 1) patellar tendonitis or 2) a stress fracture.
1) Patellar tendinitis: small tears in the tendon/ligament* connecting the patella (kneecap) and tibia bone. *Labeled as tendinitis because the injured section is the bottom part of the larger quadriceps tendon, though that particular section by itself is a ligament (bone connected to bone). There was a spot of very localized pain right below my kneecap which lead me to self diagnose patellar tendinitis.
2) Stress fracture of the proximal tibia (upper part of the shin bone): the kneecap sits on top of the tibial plateau, which is soft and acts as a shock absorber to the impact of the femur and kneecap. Having dealt with a stress fracture in my tibia before, I knew what the pain felt like and this felt very similar. Initially, I didn’t think it was a stress fracture due to the location of the pain. Although I did have that one very tender spot, the pain radiated down my tibia. As my recovery wanes on, I’m beginning to believe more and more that it is/was a stress fracture.
I’ve noticed that I tend to develop them after a lot of downhill running. The Xterra and Mountains 2 Beach races may have set me up for one, plus of course, my own stubborn stupidity. Though stress fractures are painful, I can usually cross-train through them and resume running 6 weeks post-injury. Today (Tuesday) marks 5 weeks since my last “real run.” I attempted a few treadmill and road runs during the last 5 weeks, but they were pathetic, painful, and neither increasing my fitness nor advancing my recovery. I have good days where I feel hopeful, and bad days where I want a new leg.
I also started to strength train again a few weeks ago. The DOMS hit me hard that first week. Usually a result of a good workout, that epic level of soreness was more a result of not having strength trained in a few months. Nonetheless, I missed it. I’ve implemented strength training into my routine 2-3 times per week and really hope to continue once I get back to running. It becomes very difficult as my mileage and levels of fatigue increase, but I know that it will be beneficial. I already feel stronger and more toned.
Mentally, I feel like the angry stage was much shorter than in the past. I usually go through 2 or so weeks of feeling angry, sad and frustrated. Unfortunately, when I suddenly lose the ability to do it, I find myself flailing about for a bit and feeling lost. I’ve become so accustomed to sweating and raising my heart rate every single day that by 3-4 days into a segment of complete rest, I feel antsy and irritated (stage 2?). I feel like I passed through those phases quickly and moved into “well, this is where I’m at, I’ll make the most of it.” In addition to throwing weights around again, I’ve re-kindled my love/hate relationship with the elliptical. I still felt and feel angry, sad, frustrated, and some days, antsy and irritated, but I feel like I’m managing it much better this go-around.
As I re-read this, I realize that I seem obsessive. “Why can’t you just take a break and rest?” people ask me when I express my frustration with not being able to run. Like I said above, I’ve become accustomed to a higher volume of cardiovascular exercise. My baseline has shifted over the years as I’ve become more fit. It has become a daily and unquestionable part of my routine, like brushing my teeth or making my bed. It is an important element in own personal sense of balance. Would one claim that an elite athlete is “obsessive” because they run 100+ miles per week? I’m not an elite athlete, and I don’t run 100+ miles per week, but I’m not an average-level runner either. I like sweating, I like the feeling of breathing hard, I like to feel my heart muscle working. Obsessive or not, it’s difficult to take a break from an activity which has been important to me for so long. I don’t like spending an hour inside of a gym on an elliptical, but the endorphins are worth it. Plus, the return to running will be much less painful if I’ve retained some semblance of cardiovascular fitness!