A classic case of “It was all going so well, until it wasn’t.”
I was invincible this summer. Sailed effortlessly through triple digit weeks. Watched wide-eyed as my long runs got faster and faster… and faster. No injuries, no pains, nary an ache to speak of.
This Saturday, I dragged myself out of bed early to cram in an 18-miler before a class field trip. After shaking the limpness of sleep out of my limbs, I cruised comfortably through the familiar dark until about 40 minutes into the run, when I gradually became aware that something was off.
There was no pop, no twinge, no acute episode, just an abrupt consciousness of tightness at the hamstring attachment point behind my knee. I was already seven miles from home, so I ran through it, easing off the gas for preventive good measure.
I ran again the next day – easy, short, an assessment of the ache. I still had an awareness of the tightness, but felt fine.
I ran again on Monday – easy, longer. Started getting some of the same odd tightness in my other hamstring in addition to the first, and took this as a good sign in that it might mean there were merely some kinks to be worked out.
Today was the turning point. I met a running buddy for 10 miles at what was to be somewhere around our goal marathon pace. We set out at ~7:00 pace and I felt great for the first 40-45 minutes, but then there it was again: the tightness, the not rightness, the sickening hitch in my leg mid-stride that felt insidious enough to launch me into a horrifying premonition of spending November 18 bundled up on the sidelines cheering for my friends instead of being out there myself with the miles melting away before my feet.
I had to stop and stretch multiple times, and my running partner was gracious enough to slow the pace in order to accommodate the sad reality that I couldn’t hold 7s without altering my gait. We finished the piece, and instead of jogging the two miles home, I walked.
Now I’m here on my bed staring agog at the backside of my leg and wondering how this all came on so quickly, wondering how the crook behind my knee can look so normal and unchanged from the outside even though something is indubitably amiss in the mystifying mess of fibers and blood and strings alleged to exist beneath the skin.
I have a fairly simple personal rule of thumb about aches and pains: if I can’t run without altering my gait, and if this persists for more than a few runs, it’s time to manage for an injury.
Eight weeks out from the marathon is not when I want to be taking a week completely off from running, but my base is ferocious, so I’m not concerned about it yet. I’m hoping a solid block of days off will afford me with sufficient protection from something more sinister and chronic. I’ll have to settle for (hopefully) holding steady instead of making gains in my fitness, but part of me suspects a little time off after such a long string of high mileage weeks will end up being a fantastic thing for my musculo-skeletal and cardio-respiratory systems.
I don’t mess around with this soft tissue stuff anymore. One awful experience with my psoas in high school woke me up to how bad things can get if you’re not proactive, and I think this mentality is part of the reason I’ve gone so long without an injury in spite of my high volume: as soon as I get even a whisper of an ache, I turn into a theatrical drama queen about it and declare that I must take time off, self-administer trigger point therapy, perform modern voodoo on myself, and fall asleep at night visualizing muscle fibers in the offending area miraculously healing themselves. Usually I worry like hell over my “injury” for a week or two and then it turns out to be nothing at all.
In the end, it’s just running. I have so many other things going on right now that if I were to sustain a long-term injury, I’d be able to distract myself with school, job searching, and social life (…can anyone speak to the benefits of excess hops consumption for soft tissue injuries?).
And hey, if I do become for-real injured, my first order of business will be getting my butt back into a rowing shell and refitting these grown-soft palms with a few blisters and callouses. I think I could deal with that.