I didn't want to believe that my injury was real and ran through the pain for a long time. I figured I could just tough it out, as if it was the last climb in a gut-wrenching series of hill repeats. I should have known better.
Dressed in a humble medical gown, I sat on the crinkly, paper-covered table in the examination room waiting for orthopedic surgeon to tell me everything was fine. I'd spent the previous two days hobbling about like a toddler, searching for hand holds to steady myself as I moved around my home. Just seven months before, I had finished the NYC Marathon and qualified for Boston.
I considered my training. I was running 40-50 miles per week. Short runs of 5-6 miles and long runs of 12-14. I took a day or two off each week. In the days preceding my crippling injury I had run:
Saturday: 8 mile tempo run
Sunday: 13 mile long run
Monday: 6×1 mile repeats @ 5K race pace with a 2-mile warm up and cool down
This seemed reasonable to me. After all, I was hoping to run sub 1:25:00 in an upcoming half marathon. I figured I stood a decent chance at winning my last race in the 40-44 age group. I just needed to get back out there.
The doctor came in and asked a few questions.
How long has it been hurting?
Me: 6 weeks
When does it hurt?
Me: When I run. After I run. Sometimes it's worse in the morning.
Have you tried taking some time off?
Me: Pfff... no. I've been icing and stretching it though...
Hmmm... What necessitated your visit today?
Me: Well, on my last run it hurt during the first mile like it always does. Then, it got really hot during the next mile so I figured it was warming up and would be fine. During the third mile it felt like a searing hot knife blade was being pushed through the bottom of my heel.
It was at this point in the conversation that I realized he probably thought he was talking to a moron. He poked and prodded at me for a while and then shared his diagnosis. Plantars fasciitis, bone spur, and stress fracture. The last two confirmed by X-rays.
Dark times, indeed. I let go of the upcoming half. I got myself a pair of crutches and a boot for sleeping. A few weeks later, I was back on my feet. But, running wasn't something I'd be doing again for a long time.
I mourned the loss of my running fitness. I dug out my road bike instead. But, mostly I was reeling from a sudden loss of identity and purpose. I was a runner. No! I am a runner, dammit.
Running or exercise addiction is real. Here are some signs to watch for:
- Feeling guilty or anxious about missing a workout
- Not being able to take time off when injured
- Anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping when you can't run
- Giving up social, family, or work obligations for running
- You keep doing more to feel the same effect
- You do more than you intend to do
- You run to change your mood
I still can't run. My stress fracture has healed, but my PF won't leave me alone. Every week I try a little light running to test things out, but my body just isn't ready. I'm not happy about it, but I'm dealing with it by changing my perspective.
Running is a healthy. Running too much or too often is not. There are plenty of other things you can do to stay active and enjoy life. I would recommend adding at least two days of cross training to your weekly routine to avoid overuse injury. This is especially important for masters runners who have crossed that 40-year threshold.
For me, kayaking and cycling have been great ways to stay fit. When I can run again, I will. But, this time I'll be taking a few more days off and enjoying things a bit more.