General Health

Letting go. A post about running

I’m taking a departure today to write about running. Should be back to plant based ranting and government/agribusiness misdeeds next week.

As some of you know, I’m in Mesa, Arizona today for the Phoenix Marathon and Half-marathon. And I was sitting in my hotel room this morning at 4:15 pondering the nature of letting go and just how difficult that can be. But for a more full understanding, I’m going to have to take you back to last October.

On October 18 I ran the Des Moines (Iowa) Half-marathon with Kathy Lindstrom. Neither of us was expecting much besides a finish. Kathy was still recovering from a terrible hamstring injury incurred during a Ragnar and I had had my training interrupted by the vagaries of life (work. Selling the house, moving, etc.). But we both made it to Des Moines that day and queued up at the start line.  As it turns out, I did pretty well, coming in at 2:04:57 (my PR for a half is (1:54:59). Despite the erratic training, I got it together and ran a decent course. Buoyed by this, I set out to find my next run with the expectation that I might be able to best my PR. (In my heart of hearts I know I have a 1:45 in me!) and behold, I found it in the form of the Phoenix Marathon. February 27 in Phoenix, away from the cold of the Twin Cities and, best of all, a long, slow, gentle downhill course. Perfect!

So I dusted off my Runner’s Connect sub-2 hour half-marathon training plan, my calendar, and set to work. I mapped out all of the runs right up to race day with all of the optimism that any distance runner has months away from the start line and in the comfort of their computer chair. Registration for the race completed, hotel and flight booked, I was ready to start training. And, for the first 6 weeks or so things went very well. The weather was turning toward winter, but I was still running outside most of the time. I had done a few treadmill runs when it was dark, raining, or snowing and they had left me with a vague ache in the left foot near the 4th MTP joint (where the toe joins to the foot bones), but it was not something that would keep me from getting my miles in. Then, on Christmas Eve day I did an 11 mile run on an indoor track (Eagan YMCA) and almost immediately after I quit running I had a very sharp, severe pain in that left foot. I knew that it was either some serious inflammation of the joint capsule (cleverly called capsulitis) or a stress fracture. Either way, I was shut down on running until it at least didn’t hurt to walk. I didn’t know that it would be almost 5 weeks.

Determined not to give up on the half-marathon, I decided to use the elliptical trainer and stationary cycles plus treadmill walking to keep my cardio conditioning up. I spent a good bit of time on the elliptical in particular, going up to 2 hours to mimic long runs. But it wasn’t until January 19 that I tentatively stepped on the treadmill and did first mile. Miraculously, no pain. I did 2 miles 2 days later, 5k two days after that and on January 24 a 10k. I was back, and just 5 weeks before the run.

I was able to log well over 100 miles between January 19 and today, with the longest run a 12 miler on the 15th. With the way that weekends get busy and since I have free time, I’ve found a lot of pleasure in long running on Monday around mid-day. I knew that I wasn’t going to PR in Phoenix. No one takes 5 weeks out of the middle of a training schedule and PRs, but I hoped to make a decent show of it and secretly hoped I’d best Des Moines. I set out on Monday, the 22nd, just 5 days ahead of the race, on my last longer run with a nice taper planned for the week.

The weather was nice, about 38 degrees (F) and there was no snow or ice on the sidewalks. My 9 miles went very well, averaging about 9:35 per mile. When I reached 9 I stopped, about 2 blocks from home. On my second step after stopping I knew something was very wrong. I had this sudden, terrible tightness in my right hip and butt and pain shooting down my right leg when I tried to extend my foot. I hobbled home and grabbed the ibuprofen, took a shower to try to loosen up, but to no avail.

I contacted my massage therapist and she worked me in for 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. No serious inflammation, she reported, but a lot of muscle tightness. I was stretching twice a day and feeling like it was going to release at any time, but the thought of Kathy’s rehab from her hamstring tear was lurking in the back of my mind. On Wednesday I couldn’t  take the inactivity, so I went out for a nice long leisurely walk. To my surprise and pleasure, the tightness almost completely disappeared and I was feeling very good about Saturday.

Thursday morning I got up to the worst tightness yet and a return of the sciatica. Rest, ibuprofen, gentle stretching, none of it made any difference. I began to understand and try to come to grips with the idea that I might not run on Saturday. Suffice to say, I was not happy. After struggling to make a comeback from  foot pain, this just seemed needlessly cruel.

And then it was travel day. Getting down to Phoenix, getting the race packet and getting around all involved  a fair bit of walking. And the hip wasn’t terrible. It was stiff and sore, but no sciatica at all! I began to hope again and made plans to run in the morning, knowing that I’d have to make a hard call in the morning.

Which brings me back to 4:15 this morning, sitting in a hotel room in Mesa trying to let go of the dream of running this race. I knew the moment the alarm went off that I wasn’t running. The stiffness was back with a vengeance. No sciatica, thankfully, but I got up went through my stretches feeling just how tight that hip was. Just two more days, I thought. In two more days I’ll be good to go. It’s not a major muscle tear, it’s just a spasm, like I thought on Monday when it first hit. In two days it will be gone and I could do this 13 miles without a care. But. There’s always that but. But it’s not gone now. Can I do the 13? Yes, I think I can. If I do the 13, will I set it off? Yes, I think I will. If I set it off, will I run again anytime soon? Will I be able to walk to the plane tomorrow? Will I be able to get around at all over the next week? These were all good questions and the sort of thing that haunts you at 4:15 in Mesa. If I was 25 I would have gone outa d run, I’m sure of it. But in not 25, I’m 53 and healing is not so quick and automatic as it used to be. And, I’d like to think, I’m a bit wiser. If I feel better on Monday, I’ll head out and do 13.1. If not, perhaps on Tuesday, or whenever this pain goes away. But until then, well, I let it go and went back to bed and slept well, knowing I’d made the right, but difficult, decision.

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