Monday, November 12, 2012

A Very Long Overdue Rest

WAIS Divide Antarctica....Where I'm headed in 12 days.

After going essentially non-stop for over a year, I have finally decided that I need some time to heal.  2012 was surely an unforgettable year for me; one that will likely stand alone when I look back on my book of life accomplishments.  But the nagging and annoying "tweaks" have been compounding.  As much as I try to wish things away, or tell myself that I don't get injured, the time has come to finally face some demons.  I unquestionably and absolutely battered my body this year.  There is no doubt about this fact.  I trained for Barkley, then ran it.  Less than three weeks later I was running a 50k, and then Massanutten two weeks after that.  Then came Finger Lakes, Badwater, Leadville, Pine Creek, and Oil Creek.  All the while I was putting in 50+ mile weeks without ever taking more than a day or two off.  There's only so much advil and ice can do.

I desperately want to run some great, NEW, races next year.  Depending on lotteries, this could include Hardrock, Western States, or various other venues.  I want to be healthy and enjoy my time on the trails.  I realize by taking time off, the body loses fitness, but this is the best time for me to take some down time.  I am headed to Antarctica in two weeks anyway, and I will have time once rested to ramp up again before the race season begins.  If I keep up the running, I'll never heal properly and just keep exacerbating existing problems.

  • Last June (2011), I ran the Rothrock 30k.  During this race, at about mile 15, I bashed my right front toe on a rock.  I felt something change in my toe, and it's never been the same.   I tried taking 5 days off last year, but it wasn't enough.  After continued pain, I finally saw a doctor early this year, and was told that it was not a broken bone, nor classic turf-toe...but was instead osteoarthritis in the joint of my toe.  The x-ray clearly showed that when I bashed my toe, all the cartilage between my 1st and 2nd toe bones was somehow destroyed.  In the x-ray, the two bones were touching as opposed to all of the other bones in my toe that showed a notable space between them.  What this all means is that when I bend my big toe certain ways, or push off it in certain ways, the two bones rub, it hurts....and likely irritates the joint only more.  While the symptoms do seem to come and go, the overall problem is still there.  I don't know that it will ever heal properly, but some time off is one way to test this.  Thankfully, the whole situation has seemed to settle into an equilibrium where my toes hurts when I run, but never "stings" like when I first incurred the injury.  Still, if I push off that toe in just the right way, it can bite.
  • Earlier this year, after finishing the Barkley, I should have taken a couple of weeks off.  Any sane person would have.  I did not.  I kept right on pushing.  I ran a 50k and then a ridiculously hard 100-miler : Massanutten.  At some point around this time I started noticing some nagging pain in my right heel.  I assumed it would go away....but it never did.  I continued to after day, race-after-race....and it never went away.  It waxed and waned, but remained.  I was always in denial, just assuming it would be like every other ultra-related ache or pain.  I assumed it would just go away....which is what my pains always do.  But it didn't.  It is now 7 months later, and my heel still hurts almost every day.  Some days it's almost unnoticeable, and I think that maybe it's finally healed, but then after a few runs it's back with a vengeance.  I run in my Hokas for a while thinking it will help, and perhaps it does; it's likely psychosomatic.  Is it a spur?  Is it the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis?  Who knows.  I just know it's never had a chance to properly heal.
  • Two weeks ago, I ran my last ultra of the season a short two weeks after running a new 100-mile PR at the Oil Creek 100.  During this 50k (Fire on the Mountain), I was having a blast, until somewhere around mile 25.  It was then that I noticed the outside of my right knee was extremely painful.  I did what most ultrarunners would do, I popped a tylenol and kept on running.  After the race, the pain subsided and I went worries.  Since that day, on every one of my runs, that knee pain angrily returns every time I hit the 4-mile mark.  No matter how gingerly I run, I hit about 4 miles, and I begin hobbling.  Not good.  

There came a point on my run last week, around mile 5, where I realized I was hobbling with knee pain, always careful of how I was pushing off with my right big toe (so as not to make it "bite"), while also wearing my Hokas so that my heel wouldn't hurt too much.  I quite literally stopped in the middle of the trail about a half-mile from my apartment, having an epiphany of sorts, while in utter amazement at how ridiculously stupid I was being.  I walked home cursing myself the entire way and asking the oh-so-poingnant question of "what kind of idiot runs on three nagging injuries?"

Just a few weeks ago I was reading a story about the U.S Running Streak Association.  I was in utter disbelief with the fact that there are people out there, so stubborn, that they have run at least one mile every day since before I was born.  I realize some people call this dedication...and perhaps it starts that way.  But somewhere along the line, after a few years, it turns into an obsessive compulsive disorder.  I was reading stories in the forums about how people ran in place on planes as they crossed international date-lines so that they didn't "miss a day".  I saw people explaining the logic to purposely stalling the finishing of a 100 miler so that they finished after midnight...thereby logging at least one mile the next calendar day.  I read, jaw agape, at how people run through airports or in bathrooms to make their miles.  I read about people running with broken feet, or legs.  People running while sick with the flu, with 102 degree temps, or immediately after surgeries.  I read about how people stress about accidentally falling asleep and breaking their 20-year streaks.  It is absolutely an obsessive compulsive disorder.  I cannot fathom running for a reason like this...especially one that taps into such an obsessive personality trait.  I think running a streak could be fun, and exciting....but keeping a streak for decades becomes a way of life and a commitment that I simply cannot comprehend.

And yet here I am running on a three injuries.  What the hell for?  I run because I love being outdoors, and staying in shape.  This can be done by hiking, biking, roller blading, whatever.  And so here we  Up until now, I've sort-of convinced myself that I'll just be relegated to running with pain from now on.  But that is not the right attitude.  My body is trying to tell me something, and I haven't been listening.  I am now.

I am taking some time off.  I will ride my bike and I will enjoy some easy hikes on local trails...but these running legs are taking a wee break.  How long?  Don't know...until things feel right.

For's time to head off to my 2nd home on the icy continent down below. I come.


Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

Can definitly relate to the long walk(hobble)home. A piece of advice from my doctor re crosstraining while injured, "if it hurts during or after don't do it".

Check out this fun symptom checker...then see a physiotherapist:-)

Hope you enjoy your down time in Antarctica!

Unknown said...

I had a similar heel issue pop up on my PCT thru-hike, around mid-Oregon. It wasn't on any steep climb and I didn't do anything to set it off, it just sort of started hurting one day. Now, a couple months after finishing, it comes and goes, especially when I run. I think it's bruised tissue and I have heard this takes a long time to heal. I hope it heals 100% before my CDT attempt next June! Enjoy your time off.

Aaron Nolan said...

Hey, bud...glad to hear that you are taking a well-deserved rest. I will bet you $50 that your knee pain is iliotibial band (ITB) symptoms. The tendon running from your iliac crest of the hip to the top of the tibia just below the outer knee can get tight and rub against the lateral portion of the knee. It is the only running injury I've ever had (aside from black toenails and blisters) and is fixable. To stretch, sit on the ground with your legs straight out, then bring one leg over the opposite leg tip the heel is touching the outside of the opposite hip. Place the opposite elbow against the knee and push toward the "opposite hip" side feeling the stretch along the lateral side of your leg. Should start to see pain reduce after a couple weeks. Hope it works! Let me know if you'll be in Webster for TGiving!