Anyway, she’s funny. And interesting. And fast.
I recently purchased Tim Noakes’ seminal work The Lore of Running. I had to put something into my Amazon cart to get free shipping and I’d always meant to buy this book. So I did. It can best be described as a compendium of running physiology, but shot through with a whole lot of wisdom.
Weighing in at 931 pages, it’s not a book I can see myself reading through cover to cover. Instead, I keep it on the dining room table and once or twice a day, when I’m having breakfast or lunch, I dip in and read a few pages. Today I ventured into the chapter entitled “Training the Mind”. I thought I’d pick up some tips in preparation for the day that I line up for a race again.
But it seems I could not escape my current predicament, even by studiously avoiding chapters about injury. There, on page 556, a section entitled “Psychology of Injury” began. On the next page was a subsection: “Typical Response to Injury,” which enumerates the mental stations of the injury cross in a form that would make Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proud (except…what, no bargaining?):
- Denial: At first, the athlete refuses to accept that the injury has occurred and simply denies its possibility. Examples of runners who ran to their deaths, denying that they could possibly have heart disease, are detailed in chapter 5.
- Anger (rage): When the injury can no longer be denied, the athlete becomes enraged and blames either the doctor, a spouse [ed. note: oh, yes -- that's why runners should always hitch their wagons to other runners, who will call them on their shit], or some third party for the injury. Occasionally, athletes will blame their bodies for this betrayal and may even subject it to further abuse, for example, by continuing to run. [ed. note: or, in my case, by consuming tremendous amounts of wine.]
- Depression: When denial and rage no longer work, the athlete moves on to the (penultimate) state of depression.
- Acceptance: Finally, the athlete learns to accept the injury and to modify ambition to accommodate the inadequacies of the mortal body. When this occurs, the athlete is likely to be over the injury.
That last line bears repeating, in case you missed it: When [acceptance] occurs, the athlete is likely to be over the injury.
Isn’t that tragic?
But probably true.
I am almost afraid to note this, since I’ve had so many false alarms over the past couple of weeks. But I think my original problem (crippling muscle knots) has abated almost completely and I have actually replaced that problem with a new one: a pulled adductor muscle. Maybe it’s a compensatory injury from my wonky walking, but I’m more apt to blame it on the insane pedaling I’ve been doing on the stationary bike over the past week.
The past few days (and especially at night and first thing in the morning), the adductor magnus, or maybe it’s the brevis, hurts a lot. I did three hours of cross-training yesterday, 2.5 the day before, most of it on the bike. Today I didn’t do anything other than take a hot bath and, earlier, wander the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond, not buying things (sometimes I do this for no apparent reason, sort of a reverse osmosis consumerism). If I do anything tomorrow, it will be going to the Y and trying out my water running equipment. But if that irritates the problem muscle, I won’t proceed.
So. To review. The good news is that the original problem seems to be going away. The bad news is I have a new problem. But I’ve dealt with adductor strains before — I even trained with one for 10 weeks — and they are not a big deal. I know this particular monster and it’s not that scary.
Might this be a light I see? I know better than to hope when the right thing — the only thing — to do is to simply wait. I almost hate to trivialize T.S. Eliot by applying his words to something as lightweight as a running injury. But, on the other hand, I think he had a lot to say about accepting hardship and even quietly embracing it as a worthy experience unto itself (if one accepts that things that are worthwhile are not always necessarily pleasant):
I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope; for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith. But the faith, and the love, and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
I haven’t run in a month. Unless some miracle occurs in the coming week, I don’t expect to be running any time soon. So these days my strategy to keep myself from getting depressed is to come up with as many productive ways to cope as possible. Here are my best ideas:
1. Accept your injury. You are injured. That’s reality. If you are lucky enough to have a diagnosis and presciption, then do your homework — that might mean stretching, icing, pills, physical therapy, cross-training or any other number of assignments. Most important, don’t run again before you’re ready to, as that may only prolong your layoff.
2. Don’t set deadlines. Your injury will abate when it’s damned well ready. It does not care about your race schedule or even what an expert said about your prognosis. I am registered for a race on September 25. Even if I’m able to run by then, I probably won’t be ready to race. I could obsess over the 25th and see it as a looming deadline. Instead, I’m ignoring that date and looking further forward to races I have planned many months from now. Maybe I won’t be able to run those either, but I’ll worry about that in the coming weeks and months. With these strategies, I’m hoping I won’t have shot myself by then.
3. Embrace cross-training. I have stopped viewing cross-training as “something I have to do while I can’t run.” Now I’m trying to view it as what I do to keep in shape. I’m trying to imagine that running has not been invented yet. For better or worse, I am now spending more time cross-training — between two and three hours a day — than I did while training as a runner. Since I started doing an AM and PM session of cross-training, I have regained the daily structure that running previously provided, plus I’m confident that not only am I not losing fitness, I may be gaining it while I ride out this period of injury. Added bonus: I can stop subsisting on rabbit food like I had to during my first few weeks of injury (when I could do nothing but lurch, wince and complain) since I’m burning a truckload of calories again.
Also, mix up your cross-training with variety and real, sustained-effort workouts. Just about any long run, tempo or track workout can be replicated on a bike or in a pool, for example. Yes, it sucks. But it’s better than the alternative.
Finally, take this opportunity to multitask: you can read a book while on a stationary bike; you can listen to podcasts while water running; one person I know takes language lessons while she stretches.
4. Volunteer at a race or two. I admit it: I never volunteer at races. Yes, that probably makes me something of a total shit. Now that I’m sidelined, I may as well spread the love and make myself useful to other runners, while reminding myself of how much fun it will be when I’m grabbing that cup again, rather than handing it to someone. So I’m going to volunteer at a few road races. This will also get me outside to enjoy the fall weather when I would otherwise be inclined to sit inside and wallow in self-pity over the fact that I’m not out running in it.
5. Reconnect with your non-running friends. Remember them? I’ll bet they’ve missed you. Just don’t spend the entire lunch date talking about your injury.
6. Remember that this too shall pass. When other runners hear that you’re injured, they will tell you their stories. Many of them will be much, much worse than yours is. On one message board I frequent, one contributor was injured for four years — during that period she could barely run and she could not race at all. She cross-trained, got through it, and was racing again eventually — and winning some of those races outright at the age of 48. You’ll run again. (And, unfortunately, you’ll probably get injured again.) Keep the faith.
There’s a new Internet meme on the loose. I like this one, because it was compelling enough to have me lying awake at night thinking about how to respond.
But first, here’s a helpful, timely interview about memes, and Internet memes specifically, with the man who originally coined the phrase, Richard Dawkins.
Now that you know what a meme is, here are the parameters:
- Answer this question: if you had the chance to go back and change one thing in your life, would you and what would it be?
- Pick 6 people and give them this award. You then have to inform each that she has gotten this award.
- Thank the person who gave you the award.
A case of arrested development
There are lots of things I wish I’d done differently. When I first started thinking about this little meme, I found it difficult to pick one. But eventually I realized that my regrets all tied back to one essential flaw. Or maybe it’s not a flaw. More like a failure to, for whatever reason, reach a state of self-awareness that most people achieve fairly early in life.
I did not see myself as a wholly autonomous actor in my own life until fairly recently, meaning within the last, eh, maybe eight years? Before that, I made wildly dramatic decisions and took risks that would seem to indicate a great deal of autonomy and confidence. But I think that’s called overcompensation.
No, I was pretty much along for the ride in most aspects. I’d make a big decision (e.g., move to New York after high school, borrow a shit-tonne of money to go to grad school, start a business, etc.), entrench myself, fully committed…but from there pretty much let external circumstances or other people define the outcome of those experiences.
The unfortunate result of this failure to reach what I suspect is a critical milestone of emotional development is that my life’s trajectory has been neither smooth nor predictable. And it’s never felt under my own control. Again, until recently.
I have been extremely lucky to have had, through the past couple of decades, a few relationships and pursuits that have served as an anchor to which I could tether myself. Or maybe the better nautical analogy is water wings I could strap on so I could finally go from treading water to learning how to actually swim.
Unfortunately, my previous “follower” nature, along with my tendency to avoid all forms of confrontation, meant that for a long, long time I attracted and tolerated the wrong kinds of people and situations. I saw myself as moving air molecules aside as I made my way through the world, but that was the extent of my impact. I guess it comes down to not having a clue that I mattered. You can imagine how the absence of that essential missing brick in one’s personal foundation affects the life that is built upon it. Bad relationships are endured. Good ones, unrecognized, go to seed or, worse, are torpedoed for stupid, clueless reasons. Dreams are concocted, but plans never made.
Could I have done anything to change this arrestation of personal development? Probably not. But I still regret it.
Anyway. Things are better now. I have no idea why. I suspect I went through, albeit slowly, whatever range of life experiences I needed to in order to earn my “emotional intelligence” and “self esteem” merit badges. I do credit running with having helped in some indirect way. Or maybe directly. My brain functions better when training and I’m overall a happier person. The actions I take while “on running” are not the desperate gambits of the past, but conscious decisions that include active plans for follow-through: to try to make something original and valuable out of nothing (Houston Hopefuls); to ask — and hold out — for what I want (I’m turning down projects/clients that are not a good fit for me); to keep my mind open to new experiences, however scarily foreign or seemingly extravagant (going somewhere new to altitude train for 4-5 weeks).
I know people who are very private in their online lives. I’m not one of them, although I can be impenetrable in person. I don’t think of myself as an “oversharer,” or exhibitionistic. (Although when I read something like this, I’m not so sure.) I do know that some of the best relationships I’ve found and fostered have come as a result of being authentic on this blog. People who sort of knew me in “real life” came to know me better. People who didn’t know me at all decided they wanted to. Perhaps I come across as a navel-gazing fruitcake. But I’m recognized by the right fellow fruitcakes, all of whom are most assuredly not navel-gazers. So something’s working.
If you were hoping for something less amorphous, like “I wish I’d stuck with those ballet lessons in third grade,” my apologies.
Six people, six insights
I suspect you’ll get some interesting responses from these people. I know some of them well. Others, I just wish I knew better.
- Susan (she’s my sister; she’s also got a running blog)
- Anti-blogger (not her real name)
- Caroline (author of this guest post, which is one of the better items I’ve ever posted to this blog)
Joe, who tagged me in this meme, is one such “online-to-offline” discovery, although he might bristle at being included in the fruitcake category. He’s a thinker and a careful reader, he gathers information, he loves a debate. He holds strong opinions, but his mind is open to new data and points of view and, beyond that, he works to connect people for the purpose of creating discussion and sharing information. He’s also upbeat and fun to talk to.
I’m approaching the conclusion of my fourth week in which I’ve been unable to run. Had I not seen steady progress, I would be a lot more depressed about this state of affairs than I am. But I will say that the first two weeks were grim indeed.
First, let’s look at the stellar week of workouts that I enjoyed before my gluteal erruption.
I had a well-timed day off on the first of August, which was great because our house was in dire need of attention. So it’s not like I didn’t exercise that day. On Monday I had a fantastic progression run on the OCA Trail north of Sleepy Hollow High School. Then a track workout with Sandra the next day that also went fabulously well (for example, I gave her a 3:08 800m when she wanted a 3:15). Wednesday the heat wave reasserted itself, but I did fine over the next few days, having comfortably picked up my pace on recovery runs. And then Saturday was my disaster in Central Park.
The next five days were not happy ones. My log entries for Sun-Thu of that week are all identical: “Hip/buttock/hamstring issues continue. On painkillers, anti-inflammatories. Walking is extremely painful.”
I could not walk properly, or move anywhere on my feet for more than 5-10 minutes. Over subsequent days I experimented with various forms of treatment and relief, with mixed results. Later in the week I had the first of several myotherapy sessions with Sandra. Those were helpful for confirming that the problem was muscular (specifically, knots or “trigger points”), but in some ways the cure was worse than the ailment. Painkillers dulled the pain, but if I happened to forget to take one, I was completely screwed.
So that was Week 1 in Injury Land.
Week 2* wasn’t much better. This was the week that hopelessness and fear of a long-term layoff began to settle in. Lots of frustration too, because not being able to walk and being in constant pain gets really old after awhile.
This was the week I started sleeping like a cat. I needed 9-10 hours a night. I needed naps. I suspect a myriad of reasons behind this need for sleep: for one thing, the massage sessions were really rough on me; for another, I was worn down from the constant pain and I think the painkillers were accumulating in my system; finally, I was getting depressed and if there’s one thing I can do well when I’m depressed, it’s sleep excessively.
Sandra had to head out of town until early September, so I was heading into Injury Week 3 without a good massage therapist.
I attempted some cross-training on the bike, but that aggravated the knots, as did many of the stretching/strengthening exercises I had. I checked out my local YMCA and YWCA during this and the following week, which were great facilities, but my timing was terrible: all of the local Y’s pools were closed for cleaning until after Labor Day. So my last option for non-impact cross-training — pool running — was no longer on the table. The local health clubs up here are really awful, and I couldn’t accept joining one just to get a week or two of pool time.
I would describe my state of mind that weekend as bereft. Coupled with this was the awareness that I would start losing fitness quickly if I didn’t do something. But what could I do? I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. I started a 10 day course of Nabumetone to try to help kickstart a reduction in inflammation. I also iced like crazy. Lots and lots of ice baths and sitting on ice packs. Sugar free fudgesicles too.
By the 22nd I’d managed to wean myself off all forms of painkiller. I wasn’t even taking Tylenol anymore. The problem muscles had calmed down and things were looking up, however subtley. The next day I started a regimen of massage to attack the knots, now that I could actually get to them. I knew that working on them, however painful, was not going to make the problem worse and would only make it better. So attack them I did. Or I should say “we” did. Once or twice a day I’d aggressively work on myself with various tools. Then, in the evening, Jonathan would play amateur myotherapist and also work on them.
On Tuesday the 24th I had what felt like some sort of breakthrough — I could actually walk around in the house that morning with minimal pain. But that confidence was severely erroded upon attempting a shopping trip. Within 10 minutes, the area had seized up again. It has taken me quite awhile to figure out that it’s not walking that screws me up — it’s driving.
On Wednesday the 25th I was finally able to get through one of my stretching/strengthening routines without incident. Biking was still a problem, so I avoided it. On Friday I did another routine and then (on Jaymee‘s advice, which turned out to be spot on), took a break from all massage for the next 24 hours. Whatever I’d done in the preceeding days was like some sort of magic, because my training log for Saturday reads: “Today was a miracle. I felt really good in the morning. Around noon I decided to try 20 mins on the bike at low resistance/high turnover (Resistance Level 4, 80RPM). That presented no problems. So I walked for an hour on the treadmill at 2.7 mph/22:00. A litlte pain/tightness, but it didn’t get worse. Felt fine afterwards. Went shopping and had no problems. I have renewed hope.”
Over the next few days I did some treadmill walking, each one progressively faster. I attempted a few seconds of running, but it was too painful. I also kept up the massage and stretching/strengthening work and got some bike time in.
On Tuesday of this week I was (not surprisingly) exhausted and took a nap, then decided to attempt a real workout on the bike. I did 90 mins at average 72% effort with four 5 minute surges at 85-86%. That felt really, really good — almost like running! — and presented no issues. Since I was due for a day of rest from the massage, I left myself alone. I also took the following day (yesterday) off from exercise. I had a meeting that I had to drive an hour to each way and, once again, I was semi-crippled upon arrival.
I’ve got two clearly-indentifiable knots from the original five. So we’ve made huge progress. But the one bad one is deep in my gluteus medius, and I believe that this is the knot that gets aggravated by driving. I’m also not convinced that I can get rid of this on my own. Fortunately, I see Sandra again next week, so she can whale on it with her expert hands and elbows then.
Not being able to run has been frustrating and upsetting. But at least I’ve made progress. Today’s Thursday. I have plans for another big bike workout today, and some treadmill walking again. Then an easy day on Friday and another bike workout on Saturday. I have optimistically scheduled a half mile test jog on the track on Saturday morning. But I’m fully prepared to jettison those plans if I’m obviously still not ready to run. Tried to run on Sunday, Sept 5. That did not go well.
*Apologies for the fact that all my week numbers are screwed up on my training log. I’m too lazy to go back and fix them.