It has taken me almost my entire life to find a form of exercise that I enjoy. In elementary school, I tried my best to weasel out of group kick-ball games. In high school, I did everything I could to avoid gym class: I managed the field hockey team for credit, I walked around the class instead of spending an hour in the fitness room, I was excused entirely when I came down with mononucleosis. My freshman year of college, I had a friend who lived in another dorm than my own, and we’d meet in the connecting weight room to hammer out 30 minutes on the elliptical together. I never enjoyed it and often got off after only a few minutes, preferring instead to wait for my friend to finish and just watch TV instead.
My sophmore year, however, I was bitten by the running bug. I loved getting up early, while the rest of campus was still asleep, to run a mile or so down the street. My college was located in an affluent residential neighborhood, and I liked to see the houses and greet the neighborhood dogs. I never was able to run the full mile without stopping a few times, but it still felt like an accomplishment, like something I could be proud of. That changed a little the first time I came down with plantar fasciitis, a horrible pain that shot from my heel up to the ball of my foot. New sneakers and a fresh pair of insoles solved the problem, but I remember being very surprised when a friend of mine, who was on the baseball team, told me that it was an injury common in basketball players. I felt a strange sense of pride knowing that my bad arches put me up in the ranks with “real” athletes, even if I was only able to run a measly mile.
Junior year I went to France, and aside from walking all over Paris and backpacking around Europe, I did no physical activity. There were a few instances where I tried to run around the block where I lived, but I was so out of shape that it was excruciating. Running in public is also not so common in Europe, and, although I shouldn’t have let it get to me, I was completely embarrassed every time I hit the pavement in spandex. Ce n’est pas français!
I’m not sure how it started exactly, but sometime during the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I decided I wanted to train for and run the marathon. I didn’t take into account that I didn’t really like running, but I liked having a goal with a distinct end. I’m not the most organized person, but I liked the idea of a training plan with fixed mileage that I was required to log every day. One of the reasons I even started this blog was to keep track of my training progress. The same day I started “half marathon training”, however, I wrote: Sooo I think I may have overestimated myself a wee bit. After about a mile on the treadmill at 5.3 mph, I started to feel my body shut down. I ran .33 more, then switched to the elliptical and went 1.17 miles to make the total an even 2.5. Then I biked home again (.5 miles round trip) giving myself a 3 mile workout. I know using the cross trainer isn’t the same as going for a regular run, but I think I’ve been pushing myself too hard too fast. I’m going to think today and re-evaluate my training schedule. A month later, I was scheduled to run a 5K but was in so much pain that I couldn’t even walk it, and a few days later I was diagnosed with a femural stress fracture and put on crutches for the next 6 weeks. I wasn’t able to run again for three months.
This summer, after graduating from college, getting more serious with Ari, and just trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life, I turned back to running. It was something I could do on my own terms, in my own time. It cleared my head, and made me feel powerful. In September, almost a year after the race I was too hurt to participate in, I ran my first 5K. A few weeks later, when I ran 6 miles– the distance I thought would confirm that I was a “real” runner- I almost cried. Last Sunday I ran a 10K race at a pace I was more than proud of, and the next day signed up for a 15K in December. It felt addicting. I’d finally found something I was good at. I didn’t have to be the fastest or the “best” to feel proud of myself, because at the end of a run, the only person it truly mattered to was me. I was the one who had to force myself out of bed and lace up my shoes, and I was the only one who cared about the number of miles that were logged into my training spreadsheet at the end of the week. But why am I speaking in the past tense? The race was only a five days ago!
This morning I got myself up bright and early in order to get to the physical therapist’s office on time. Although I’d gotten the referral from my doctor, he PT did not turn out to be on my insurance plan. However, he offered to give me an hour-long evaluation for free, and it would be up to me to decide how I wanted to proceed afterwards.
DISCLAIMER: If photos of the body/ skeleton make you squeamish, hide your eyes! I don’t like to see my own X-Rays or think about what’s going on inside of me either… these photos aren’t of me, though.
1. The first thing he noted was that although I have a runner’s body (tall and slim), I do not have adequate muscle tone. I do arm work, but I’ve gotten lazy about the rest of my upper body (back and core, most importantly) and my legs. Running does not do enough to build calf and quad muscles. In order to support the joints that are repeatedly smashed into the ground when I run, these muscle groups need to be really strong. Period.
2. I also have scoliosis. He was shocked that it’s gone undiagnosed until now. It’s at about 10 degrees (like the image on the left), and since I’m not growing anymore, won’t worsen until I get pregnant. Apparently it’s hereditary (my mom has a mild case as well), and there’s not really anything that I need to do about it. I’m not in paid, but it causes my right shoulder to come out a little farther than the left, and when I sit down, I lean to the right. The PT said one good thing about my unemployment is it means I’m not slouched over a desk all day. Then I told him I was a blogger and slouched over a computer a lot anyway! Erin gave me some great back exercises a long time ago… I’ve got to go back and find her notes.
3. I overpronate in my right foot. This isn’t news; I’ve been wearing stability shoes for almost a year now, and they seem to really help. Still, I can sometimes feel my feet turning inwards when I’m walking or running.
4. My patellae squint. Basically, my knee caps turn inward, which could contributed to my femural stress fracture. While strength training won’t “fix” them 100%, stronger muscles will help shift them back into place.
So what’s with the knee pain?
5. At some point during the 10K, I sprained my meniscus (the cartilage that cushions the knee joints).Had I felt the exact moment when it happened and walked it off, the problem probably would have gone away on itself. Too bad I was “in the zone”, and just wanted to get through the race. The right inner knee is tender, and hurts most when I bend it to the side. (Going down stairs is agony.) I am really lucky because as of now, it doesn’t look like I tore it. If my knee doesn’t feel 100% better in 4 weeks, I have to go in for an MRI. If it’s torn- which it probably is not– I’ll have to have surgery.
Okay… so what do I do to heal myself?
- Serious lower body strength training every other day
- Serious upper body strength training every other day
- Serious core work. I currently do ab exercises 2-4 times a week… that doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m going to make sure to work my core a minimum of 4x/ week.
- Stretching– at least 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after. Each stretch must be held for at least 30 seconds. Flexibility is key to recovery, and right now my muscles are tight and rusty.
- 1-2 weeks off running. Towards the middle/ end of week 1 I can start biking if that doesn’t hurt. Towards the end of week 2, I can start running if it doesn’t hurt. If all is well, I can run 5 miles that week, and 10 miles on week 3.
- Get running “out of my system” now, because it will destroy my body by the time I’m 30. Read that one again. Yeah.
Tomorrow, I’m going to try to find a physical therapist who takes my insurance and is specialized in running. I simply cannot accept that I wasn’t “made” to be a runner. Yes, I’ve been injured- pretty seriously- because of it, but it has become my passion and my dream. Maybe I’ll feel differently about it one day (when I’m 30 and my bones are all broken), but right now, I need it in my life. I’ve come so far since my last injury. I can run 3.2 miles in under 28 minutes, and I can keep my going for over an hour without stopping. So, I guess the old saying about “taking two steps forward and one step back” is the only way to describe my situation here. Either that, or someone needs to protect me from myself.