How do I explain to a non-runner what it is like to be unable to run for eight days?
Runners get it. They know being unable to run is like having your soul sucked right out of your body. You look at every single person running – whether they are kids running across a playground, people running for a bus, or actual runners just out running – and you envy them all. And you kind of hate them too.
You talk obsessively about your injury and annoy everyone around you. “Really? Is it still hurting? You mentioned it just ten minutes ago. That’s surprising.”
You examine that injury a hundred times a day – is it looking better? Less swollen? Can it take more weight? Could you possibly do a lunge or hop in place? What about stairs – do stairs still hurt? They hurt less on the up so you get a surge of hope, but then when you go down again, you know you are still hurt.
And then there’s googling the injury – I’ve googled the heck out of this one – time-consuming and depressing time poorly spent.
If you are me, you resist rest like most would resist – oh, I don’t know – like most would resist major surgery. Rest stinks. There are trails to be run and nature to breathe in. There are races that are slipping away with each passing day. And without the blood coursing through me when I run at speed, I’m only half alive. And it’s not the good half either.
Try telling all this to a non-runner. They say things like, eight days, oh, that’s nothing.
After visiting a masseuse on day 3, who was nice but didn’t help, on day 4, I finally called a physiotherapist. This was after three days of actual rest – no exercise, meaning no running, no gym, no nothing. Okay, so I was spotted on my mountain bike around town, but surely that didn’t count?
Anyway, the physio, Tim, was kind. When he asked what category he should put the injury under, I said, “How about stupidity? Do you have that on your list?” He laughed. Training too soon after a marathon, in the quest of an ultramarathon surely fit under stupidity. But he said, “No, you were just testing your boundaries. And you found some.” And that was so kind, it nearly made me cry. Jumper’s knee, he said, perhaps, and something wrong with the fat pad in the knee (I never knew there was one, go figure!).
He offered to tape my knee, to which I quickly replied no. So he did some ultrasound instead. But five days later, after cancelling all exercise including BodyPump, when the pain and swelling, which by rights should be well and truly gone, when it still hadn’t gone, I accepted the tape. Now my knee won’t really bend, but it doesn’t hurt to walk down stairs, and I think I’ll be able to teach BodyPump this week. Running is still elusive. Three more days, perhaps.
What I have learned (again) is this. Running is an essential drug. And not knowing when I can have it again has made me edgy, irritable, or, in my son’s terms “aggro”. I do okay with injuries when I know their pathology, their general course, when they’ll get better – but this unknown swollen knee?
One day, I’ll be looking back on this injury as just another injury that has taught me a little more about this miraculous body of mine. I’ll understand it and know how to fix it. Just like ITB and achilles pain, and all the other hundreds of injuries I’ve learned about. But right now…
To tell you the truth…being injured colors every single moment. It hits straight at a core part of my identity, and shakes it like a big, angry bear. It makes all the exciting goals I’ve set recede into the distance, like ships that I desperately wanted to board sailing away without me. It gives me nightmares – like the one I had last week, where I was walking on this suspension bridge because the traffic was stuck. I was looking for what was wrong, and had left my car with my family in it a few hundred meters back. I was standing alone on this bridge, high above a huge drop. Then this man, out of nowhere – it scares me to even write it – he grabbed me, picked me up by my legs, lifted me high in the air, and threw me over the edge.
I feel sick thinking about it even now. I woke up before I landed, as you always do. But that plummeting feeling remains with me, that sense that things are over before they should be, that I’m not in control of what is wrong.
That’s what not being able to run means to a runner. Every single day.
Hope you get well soon! I know what it is to not run for a long period of time – I get emotional (mood swings galore) and crazy.
Thanks! I’m lucky that I’m getting some great help in resolving this injury so hopefully I’ll be out on the trails again soon. It is the best, best thing for peace of mind, isn’t it? Thanks for writing and for visiting my blog!
Thanks for your honesty and eloquence; you do such a great job putting into words some of the angst that goes with a running injury.
I’ve experienced a bit of what you write about (including a recurrent patella pain for the last nine years, and the frustration and expense of chasing a cure). The words of one physical therapist have stuck in my head: “What is your injury trying to tell you?” I think he wanted me to say, “Gee, I guess I should quit running because I always end up hurt.”
Instead, I’ve decided to never. Give. Up. I keep trying different physical therapy ideas/practitioners, reading all I can (not just about injuries, but about health), and getting out on the trails a couple of times a week, even if it’s “only” walking barefoot for a half hour.
Right now I’m working on imbalances in my gait with a wonderful Pilates instructor, and seeing a physical therapist who uses a miraculous sort of acupressure technique. Today he worked on freeing what he called a nerve caught in scar tissue deep behind my knee and down my calf. He said that could be one of the factors with my recurring patella pain.
I remain optimistic (I’ve signed up for my first ultra in June of 2014), and I sure hope your treatment plan gets you back on the trails soon!
Thank you for your kind words – I think all of us runners have been there with injuries, and though it is hard to write about how bad it feels, I hope it helps others to know they are not alone in their pain. Sounds like you have been there – and you have great courage to keep pursuing a solution. Funny you should mention gait imbalances – I think my knee pain came from an ankle sprain in July that caused my arch to slightly collapse so am working on strengthening tibialis posterior to get that working again. We are complex organisms, and one small thing can lead to a lot of compensatory injuries/pain. I hope that the treatment you write about above worked a charm and that you will be out on the trails soon, painfree. For myself, I ran 1k on the treadmill today, to my absolute delight, and have high hopes for a return from this injury, over a nice long time. Thanks again for writing!
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Hi Patricia – You put it so much better than I could. As a young teacher, I worked for a head who sat on the curb and cried when he finally succunmbed to injury. You are definitely one of the posts not to miss for December over on Barefoot Beginner. http://www.barefootbeginner.com/2013/12/28/5-barefoot-posts-from-december-that-you-shouldnt-miss/
Hi Chris, thanks for your kind words and apologies for the delay in replying – I have been away from blogging for the holidays. And thanks for sharing my post on Barefoot Beginner (which I still seem to be, three years later!).