"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, March 11, 2016

What I Talk about When I Talk about Injury

There was a good article written recently about injuries and their treatment that I thought I'd share:

The only problem with this is that the author's never had what I call an injury, just setbacks. Here's what I'm talking about:

Stage 0: You have to stop running for a while, do some rehab and may have to do some maintenance work to keep running without the same problem recurring. All you've really lost is time. Those are setbacks. Though they can be serious, they're trivial and not what I call real injuries. Your running times may continue to improve, but you may never reach the heights possible before you got hurt.

Stage 1: It's irreversible. These are true injuries. If you break a toe (which I happened to do yesterday, dropping a pot on my foot), that's stage 0; if you LOSE a toe, that's stage 1. Every step afterward is different from every one before it. You think of your running career as "before it happened" and "after it happened." With these, you try to maintain what you've got as long as possible - you're never going to improve.

Stage 2: It's progressive. These are the injuries that end not just competitive careers, but threaten running as a pastime as well. Using that lost toe as an example, if you lost it due to diabetes, it was an injury that had been getting worse for some time and, if you don't work hard at it, you're probably going to lose more. Six years ago, I ran with a couple who were having a discussion of whether they took the brown pills or the blue ones and I found it charming and amusing at the time; I get it now - I, too, have arthritis in my joints (and the over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are brown and blue). It's progressive and I have to keep it in mind whenever I run.

Stage 3: It's accelerating. These are the scary ones. If you lost that toe [I'm regretting using that example, but I started with it... and my foot hurts] to bone cancer, you're worried about a lot more than your toe, or than continuing running. These are the injuries that require snowballing preventative and restorative procedures just to keep the rate of acceleration down. I have a stage 3 injury, too.

The worst thing about these injuries is that no one "gets" them until they get them. You don't understand what they are unless you have them. One friend recently asked me, "Don't you ever heal?!" The answer, is... of course not; I'm really injured. Another recently asked about my problem with a "heel bone spur," which is like calling tuberculosis "a cough."

Here's an old x-ray of my right heel. The blue line is where the outline of the bone should be.

All the "extra" bone is calcified scar tissue. What's worse, it's inoperable. At this point, if they shaved off all the extra bone, they also have to remove the Achilles tendons and replace them with the hallucis tendons, which, in my case, are as damaged as the Achilles; even if they could do it, I would have balance issues and still couldn't run. The podiatrists I've seen were stunned that I'm not in a wheelchair already. I'm writing the book on how to deal with the problem each day.

So, yeah, the jokes about entering the wheelchair divisions in races aren't terribly amusing. It's probably coming. Just not soon, if I have anything to say about it.

Enough with the gloom and doom!

First, you have to get philosophical about it. What I'm describing is not just running injuries, but life itself. When you're young, you're growing faster than you're losing from injury and everything is a growing experience. Eventually, however, you're fighting a losing battle and the exhaustion from fighting the battle causes you to lose even faster. Still, you fight on.

Second, incurable doesn't mean untreatable. You deal with the symptoms. You find work-arounds. You change things and do what you can do while you can still do. You accept.

I'm not done quite yet.

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