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A Look at Running Too Much Too Soon

I ran from January – October of 2014 after years of no running. I was up to 60k per week at a few too many paces beyond my limit for recovery. Let’s just say the barrier of runner injury I ran into last fall has been an interesting climb. Here’s a view of my injury, months off running and return to run the 5k Around the Bay race in Hamilton.

In December 2014 Dr. Su, (Sports Medicine, Duffin’s Creek Health Centre) looked at my bone scans in calm silence for a good while. I still held out with all the determination of a starving seagull above a picnic for the possibility that my injury wasn’t a stress fracture. “By the way, I was right. You do have a stress fracture…in fact, you have two,” his words shook. I felt immediately as if a dark fog had cleared way for a better view. But there were to be no scraps in sight of even the shortest run or jog for weeks.

With a balmy resolve, I made another appointment for as close to 8 weeks from then as I could. From what I had read I was expecting worse: 3-6 months without running.  Looking back, my diagnosis took three months too long. The initial searing pain in my upper leg one morning in mid September had been prefaced by a few weeks of sharp but short pains in the area that would eventually be the symptomatic fracture in the right inferior pubic ramus bone. The smaller fracture in my right distal fibula was painless at that point. The problem was that I didn’t know what the pain was and took on short runs now and then with pushing through the pain. I mixed that up with longer and longer breaks between runs and visits to a chiropractor, a physiotherapist and my doctor – all of whom gave different advice. Run shorter runs. Stretch this way. Take Aleve.  Nothing worked. So I stopped running for 2 weeks.

Fuelled by the ease with which I could put pants on,  I decided to try the Scotiabank Half Marathon, with the promise to run off course if I felt pain. I should have done so, but instead desperately jogged the final 16k of it in agony so that I then walked with a noticeable limp. An x-ray showed nothing.  By the end of October, sitting became painful – especially getting in the car. And yes if you are thinking of That, It was painful too so that my husband was getting a worried look. My doctor finally referred me to Dr. Su. He predicted the fracture and sent me for bone scans and an ultra sound.

In total I had been back running for just a few months more than the time I’d need to recover from the stress fracture, which would hopefully be the spring. This training disaster taught me the importance of progressing gradually and getting the necessary recovery. Bones take longer than muscle to adapt to a new level of training load. In my case the training load was too heavy. I also learned the importance of getting the appropriate medical attention (that would include the right assessments) when the pain of injury interrupts not only your sport, but your ability to do the easiest things-like sit.

So, I left the doctor’s office fortified with the reassurances of biking, the use of an elliptical, the new Zero Octane runner. Pool running – I’d have to try. I agreed to starve my legs of running for six weeks…possibly more.

During those weeks I staved off pangs of boredom perched on the bike and trainer with running magazines. I’d read a few too many kale and quinoa recipes bragging healthy returns- all of which I’d never make. I would peck at hemp hearts and bide my time.

As for the recommendation that I strengthen with exercises like lunges and squats, I did a few. For variety, I got on my phone (while on the bike) in search of step by step instructions for new planks.

I added calcium, magnesium and vitamin D supplements to my diet.

By mid January I had a very conservative plan for running: 1 minute run on the treadmill followed by 1 minute walk for a few minutes. It increased by a minute each week. I embarked on the first few runs with what felt like about enough apprehension to halt a small army.

My husband referred me to a running coach who gradually coaxed me to do runs of more length but without speed. By March break in Cuba she had me do three easy runs a week outside feeling normal again, except for the excessive heat. My husband’s worried looks turned to smiles.

It would take time for the weather to heat up in Ontario for a post-run picnic outside. But we would have a small one anyway after the ATB.  And I’d have a really crusty half-baked baguette of a race time, just for the birds.

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