Right in the middle of my long Sunday run I felt it go. My right ankle, which had been starting to feel loose and achy of late, really started to hurt. Each step sent a mild pain shooting up into my calf and down into my foot. This pain was not debilitating. Nonetheless, there it was, the indisputable evidence of a dreaded overuse injury.
I should have stopped right there and walked home. You’d think after all these years and all these miles, I’d at least have understood that much: when something starts to hurt, you stop.
But it’s so hard to stop. Stopping is never part of the plan. My daily runs are my bread-and-butter. They get me outside every morning and keep me on an even keel. Runners need to run. That’s all there is to it.
So I finished that Sunday run and went out again the next day, and the next, all in the vain hope that this ankle business was just a passing phase, just a little hiccup in my anatomy that would very soon right itself and all would be well.
You see where this is going. Despite my best powers of mental denial, my ankle only got worse. When it started aching 100 percent of the time, I finally broke down and stopped. I made an appointment with my physical therapist, Dr. Bill Burns, and set about living my life without running.
Oh, how I missed it, sometimes to the point of tears. I missed that hit of fresh air and endorphins every morning. When you run as obsessively as I do, it gets into your bones. It’s an addiction, pure and simple, and thus very difficult to live without. I felt sad, like I had lost my best friend. I had used her up and sent her packing because I had failed to read the signs. It was my own fault.
I have been injured before, so I know the drill. You rest, you ice, and you cross train with some lesser, non-weight-bearing activity until you get better. The last time I was injured, it took almost a year to heal. This time, I knew, my trouble wasn’t nearly that bad, but I was still looking at a few weeks, maybe a month, off.
I realize that taking a few weeks off from running, on paper, might sound somewhat pleasant. I sometimes wish I were wired that way. But I’m not. Not running brings me down. It changes my whole personality. My running friends completely understand this and offer their full sympathy. I love my running friends.
Ten, fifteen years ago, when I was more of a triathlete, I never got injured. Swimming, biking and running all use different muscles. Such well-rounded training helps you avoid overuse injuries such as the one I was suffering.
I quit the triathlons when our babies were born. It was just too difficult to schedule the swimming and the biking. Running was so much easier: toss the baby in the jogging stroller and just go. Easy peasy! As our little family grew, my friends Nan and Karen used to help me push the strollers. We’d each take a kid and run through the streets of Mystic. We made a lovely running parade.
Now that our kids are older, it’s a bit easier to schedule cross training, but not nearly as easy as simply going out for a run at any convenient time of day or night.
Not to mention the humiliation. I had never taken a spin class before this ankle incident. I am here to tell you that there is a whole spinning scene out there. These people are hard-core. They have the shoes and the bike shorts and the matching tee shirts. They have volcano thighs. They can make those spin bikes blur.
At the end of my first spin, everyone else in the class was cheerful and chatty. They all seemed to know each other and revel in each other’s company. I, on the other hand, bent double over the bike, sweat a waterfall, could hardly hold my head up. The walls of the spin room bucked and bulged, and my stomach roiled. Biking does not play to my particular skill set. This 45-minute workout almost killed me.
And they are killing me still. Three weeks into this new cross training regime, I am starting to see the benefits. As my much-neglected arms, back and core get stronger, my whole body feels better. The shorter, more intense workouts foster a type of mental toughness different from that required for long, slow runs in the woods. I am developing a sprinter’s mindset, which I’ve never had. I am a sprinting wimp. I’m hoping it helps in my long races.
Dr. Bill tells me that I’ll probably be okay to run again later this week. Much as my body pines to run for hours at Bluff Point and Haley Farm, that kind of running is still a ways off. I’ll be lucky to get in a few laps on the flat, half-mile track around the soccer fields at Poquonnock Plains. Dr. Bill says three miles tops. And increase each week by ten percent.
Which is fine with me. Any kind of running at this particular moment sounds like paradise. But let’s hope I have finally learned my lesson. All running and no cross training makes an injured runner, especially at my age.
Everything in moderation; everything in balance.