Masking the pain

Have you ever been sidelined because of an overuse running injury? Have you ever just kept running through the injury with hopes that the pain would go away simply by running more miles? Have you ever done crazy things to mask the injury so you could keep logging in your miles?  The answer is yes, yes and yes for me.

You name the overuse injury and I will probably have to say yes to that as well. But it was not always like that.   I considered myself lucky to have been injury free for the first few years of marathon training and racing while many of my training buddies were starting to experience the aches and pains associated with long distance running.

My injury free running status all changed in 1996 when I had the pea brain idea to wear racing flats in the 1996 Boston Marathon.  I had high hopes that the light weight sneakers would help me run a sub 3:15 minute marathon and break my existing PR.  I remember sitting on the lawn outside the school in Hopkington, Mass. contemplating which sneaks to lace up before lining up at the starting line.    I remember that my gut kept telling me to wear the trainers but the thought of having an advantage with the light weight racers and running a PR got the best of me.

I know now that it’s always best to go with your gut instinct because my plan backfired at the end of the day when I crossed the finish line limping and blood stained sneakers. Not pretty. Like those few extra ounces in the weight of wearing my regular training shoes would have made that much of difference in my finishing time.  Every time an overuse injury strikes me, I blame it on those damn racing flats.

The worst part was getting out of bed the next day not being able to put any pressure on the balls or heels of my feet without excruciating pain.  I managed to limp around the streets of Boston to shop and eat but there was no way that I was going to run.

The first thing I did when I returned to Syracuse was schedule a appointment with a respectable sports orthopedic doctor who understood runners. The diagnosis plantar fasciitis with a treatment plan of several weeks of rest, ice, stretching and massage therapy.  I was comfortable with the ice, stretching and massage plan but the word rest  or time off of running was not going to happen if I had anything to do with it.

I was so elated when I found this deep tissue massage therapist that was able to cure my foot ailments with  magical hands after 2-3 sessions.   This therapist had me back on the streets in days.  I didn’t care how much it cost or how many times a week I needed to coordinate my schedule to squeeze in appointments as long as I could run.

I had become a massage therapy addict even after there was no signs of inflammation on the soles of my feet.

Fast forward through achilles tendonitis, ITB syndrome, knee pain, hip pain, butt pain, back pain and more bouts of plantar fasciitis, etc.., – I was able to keep pounding the pavement with injury at bay with the help of regular deep tissue massages and an occasional cortisone injection to the sight of pain.  A certified Rolfer was added my bag a tricks to keep me moving forward.  It was not uncommon for me to seek 2-3 sessions of this therapy in a given week if my body was feeling off. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to all the pills that can reduce inflammation but would have given them a try if I could.

It wasn’t until all of these compounded injures caught up with me at the Diva Half Marathon in the fall of 2010.  Again like an idiot the slight hip pain I was experiencing during training runs  became excruciating pain at mile 9 of the race- these were all the telltale signs that I needed to call it a day.  Then because of this rule I have for myself of never DNFing –  I crossed the finish line of this half marathon with the worst hip pain and turned around and ran a 5k race the next week with this pain.

It made sense to seek medical attention after the 5K because I could barely walk.  The MRI that the doctor ordered confirmed that I had a significant tear in my gluteus medius.  I was in a state of shock when I heard this news because there was no quick fix or remedy to heal this injury.  Only rest and physical therapy was noted on the Rx slip.

I did listen and follow the doctors orders diligently. No running and PT 3x/week for months.  Probably because there was no way that my body could tolerate the slightest form of any weight-bearing exercise. I managed to find an alternate method of running in the pool so I could keep my body moving and not be a total slug.

The moral of my story is that I learned a lot during my physical therapy sessions about building the strength that is necessary in your other muscles of your body (like your core and lateral hip muscles) that will ultimately help your running if you pay a little attention to them.  I am proud to say that I have not had a cortisone injection, massage or rolfing since September of 2010 and have finally kicked the habit.   It’s not to say that I will never have these sessions again but I need to listen to the signs and symptoms of  my body and back off  if I want to keep running for the rest of my life.

Am I the only massage /rolfing junkie out there? What do you do when an injury strikes you without any warning signs?  – RUN or REST?   Don’t be afraid to reveal your pain.