My First Real Running Injury: It’s Not Cool

In the few years that I’ve called myself a “runner,” I’ve never experienced a real, sidelining injury. Never had a nagging and unexplained pain that didn’t go away after a few days off or strengthening exercises of some sort. Other than a sore foot that one time caused me to take an easy week or two, I’ve been pretty injury free. Now, here I am, typing and sitting on my couch bitter and frustrated with excruciating IT pain in my right knee. It’s been a week and I’m getting anxious as its getting closer to the Oil Creek 100 on October 5, 2013.

I’ve had a pretty good running season this year. I managed to balance long trail runs with other commitments and I trained hard for the Squamish 50, a strenuous mountain race in beautiful British Columbia, held last month. I was feeling relatively strong, healthy and energetic for much of the summer. I fear now that this lasting IT pain may put a hard wrinkle in my training success.

For me, and I don’t know if others experienced the same, this IT thing happened suddenly, no warning. Last Saturday, I completed a brisk and strong 20 mile trail run. I was eating and hydrating well, charging the forest hills with energy I didn’t know I had and clearing the rooty and rocky descents with crisp strides. It was probably my strongest 20 miler yet! I was feeling great and it armed me with high confidence. But shortly after the run, my right knee tightened up and bending it became increasing painful. I went to skip down the stairs at home and, whoa! What was that! Shit!

Recognizing what it was immediately, I reached for the roller and rolled the crap out of my right outer thigh. Slow, with increasing pressure, just like the internet said. Ugh.

The next day’s planned 7 miles, became an unscheduled “rest day.” Alright, I thought, give it a break until Tuesday and get back on schedule. But Tuesday’s 5 miles, became 3, on flat surfaces. The pain was still there and it was bad, real bad. Wednesday run? Nah. Too close to the hundred miler, better to play it safe. Thursday came and the knee felt alright. I had 7 miles inked on the schedule, but I reduced it to 5 keeping myself in easy mode. Friday is a normal rest day so I kept it that way. Then today happened.

I woke up with high hopes and soaring confidence. I went light last week, rolled my thigh, even stretched, which I never do. The goal was 18 miles-all trail. I even put on my good, expensive running shirt. I mean, what could go wrong? The weather was autumn-like and chilly. The morning breeze pushed leaves from the trees. My kind of running weather! Let’s get at this!

After 6 miles, I knew I wouldn’t make it, but I stayed positive. It started with some minor discomfort on the descents. After 8 miles, I was favoring my right leg heavily. And I was focusing more mental energy towards it. I managed to make it to 14 miles before I called the show off. And even then, I didn’t expect to at that point. Here’s what happened. I ascended a few hundred feet on a single, short and steady climb. At the top, I felt the need to use the bathroom, so I stopped and went. I stopped for only, maybe, 12 seconds. I turned to continue and the sudden pain experienced from last week’s hop down the stairs again pierced me! I cursed, and really loud. There was no running to be done. There was barely any walking to be done. I had about a mile to go to a point where I could rig up a ride home. Better get walking.

Each step was painful and an exercise in trying not to bend my knee. I’d run this trail hundreds of times, but waking it, I noticed descents I never knew existed. Some mountain bikers screamed by me and I was jealous of their speed and enjoyment. I braced myself against trees and walked gingerly and slowly. I made myself look at my Garmin and it said my pace was 35 minutes! I managed to hitch a ride home with a cool, random mountain biker with flipped up hat visor. The alternative was a 2 mile walk up and over the valley wall to reach my house. I really didn’t think I would enjoy that.

What’s most striking to me about this injury is how absolutely pissed I feel. I’ve trained well this year. Time, effort and enthusiasm. Sunk costs? Like I said, my first attempt at 100 miles is, like, practically tomorrow. I’m technically in taper mode so, yes, my weekly mileage is decreasing. But now serious doubt is creeping into my mind. As I was hobbling alone in the woods, I was preparing myself, prematurely perhaps, for a DNF at Oil Creek. Ok, I said, “you might not finish, but you will start.” So, it’s not like I’m changing plans or anything. On the other hand, maybe now that I have real, sidelining injury, I can call myself a “runner,” finally.

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