The Pain of Not Running

There is a general panic that takes over most runners when some kind of pain or soreness lingers. It really isn’t that complicated and it’s specific to people who have fallen in love with running. I distinguish people who are first getting into running. At those early stages, the soreness or discomfort becomes an excuse to stop versus the struggle to let it become part of your lifestyle. But eventually you fall into running and the daily run becomes the the therapy, the escape, the treat or whatever adjective fits that you look forward to.

I fell in pretty quickly to the obsession and the need to run. Of course, I ended up with an overuse injury because I can’t just do something halfway. When I eventually went to the doctor, he discovered a sizable stress fracture in my left leg. I had strict orders not to run for thirty days. Those thirty days were miserable. I went to the gym and did other things but every time I saw a runner in the street, I was envious, angry and jealous. The upside is that the love and desire stuck, so after thirty days of Bikram yoga, elliptical and other cardio, I went back out obsessively.

So now when I feel something and it is reoccurring I have a fear that somehow something will stop me from running for an extended period of time. A lot of times I will try to self-diagnose. Sometimes I will just pretend the pain isn’t that bad. All of these things are bad ideas. The good ideas are simple. First, I listen to my body. I try to pinpoint how and when the issue is coming and I scale back my mileage to figure out what is happening. I also have been to see the doctor who scolds me when we discuss my stretching routine or lack thereof. It is a reminder that at age thirty-six I can’t cheat time.

This latest iteration was a familiar tendinitis in my left leg that came on a week after the New York City Marathon. My last bout with this familiar injury was this past April. I tried to disregard it but after a trip to the orthopedist, I was told take a week off and take some stronger anti-inflammatories. Those seven days were interminable. Trying to find other ways to exert myself now seem like an obligation, as opposed to running that serves as my reward. The key element is over time you start to recognize symptoms and what their causes are. Pain in one part of my leg means I am landing wrong. Soreness in another part means I haven’t been stretching enough. I know how I feel after I went out drinking the night before or didn’t sleep enough. My body now immediately reacts to certain things. Its kind of a catch 22 but there is an awareness of my physical well-being that comes from running.

I explained it to a guy at work who is in his late twenties and had a steady diet of Bud Light and $.99 pizza. At a certain point, I noticed that the routine colds and temporary sickness that had pervaded my youth had started to dissipate. Now I would get sick less often (i.e.- once or twice a year) but that sickness would be debilitating. I would get wiped out. I explained to my co-worker who always seems to be battling some kind of infirmity that he always operated at around 72% so when he got sick, it was a slight fall to 65%. I typically operated at like 98% so when I got sick and dropped down to 65%, my fall was much more precipitous.

Getting back to my current ache or pain, I took three days off and backed off of my mileage slightly. I obsessively stretched and rolled my left leg. Eventually, this past Saturday, I went out hard. The weather was that perfect winter crisp, with plenty of sunlight and no wind. Everything heated up quickly and most importantly my leg was loose and pain-free. I had that spring in my step and I could feel that ligaments in the leg had broken free of any swelling and scar tissue. Every time my foot touched down, it felt like I was bouncing. The smile broke across my face and I picked up speed. I wouldn’t have an angry Winter stuck inside.