Losing Awesome... and how to find it again
I had run 100 miles dammit! I went all year training with nary a glitch or hitch. I stayed injury free, though I always struggled a bit with tight calves and achilles. I had recovered post-Umstead 100, incorporating this ridiculous but effective one-legged hip/glute routing when I brushed my teeth everyday. I trained for a trail ½ marathon which I did easily. I kept running but was starting to notice some right foot and heel pain. The dreaded Plantar Fasciitis?... but it couldn’t really be that bad. I could start running and the pain would fade within 1 mile. I’d be fine until later that day and the next. I’d started limping sometimes… my stride was shortening. Still, I could “self-treat” I thought. More training, this time stairs and hills, getting ready for Double Dipsea race in California (14 miles with 4400 ft elevation gain and nearly 700 stairs). I was able to do it, too! Still… just pushing forward, and trying not to think too much about the next day’s pain. Around early July it changed character though. Suddenly it didn't feel good even after loosening up for the first mile, and the price to be paid after a run was brutal. I was walking MUCH more slowly now, and every time I stood up the first few steps were agony. Combinations of long drives and sitting created a worsening picture of calf tightness and agonizing heel pain.
Here I was… only 3 months from having been in the best shape of my life… able to tolerate running mid-long distances like they were nothing… and now I couldn’t even walk fast! I’m 53 years old but always felt “young”... now I felt like a 90 yr old. I had tried stretching, massage, CBD oil, night splinting, NSAIDs, Turmeric, rolling, ice, taping, cross training on my bike… I had watched too many YouTube videos and listened to podcasts. It was 2 weeks out from the Grandfurther Mountain race and I hadn’t run a step in weeks.
Grandfurther Mountain is run up and over… and back up and over Grandfather Mountain NC. Tanawha Adventures puts it on and I had set alarms to sign up as soon as registration opening I was so anxious to get in! It promised a unique and beautiful challenge. Lots of technical singletrack, plenty of vertical gain and descent (4500 ft over 15 miles) and even fixed ropes and ladders at some points. It was going to be the highlight of my summer's end. But… I could barely walk well, and I was getting deconditioned daily.
I generally pride myself in my ability to be positive in life. I’m that guy who usually has a smile, finding fun in almost any situation. I knew in my heart of hearts that the training process, like and endurance race itself, has its ups and downs. I couldn't escape the reality though, that I was going to fail miserably, or worse injure myself further if I did this race. It wasn’t so much the non-refundable entry fee, as it was the disappointment of missing out. I hadn’t been able to fix myself in time… but really I knew that I had GOTTEN myself to that point by not addressing the problem sooner. And now… I was NOT RUNNING. I dropped from the race.
Not Running… that sucks. I love to run. It’s that simple. No, I don’t love having to run in heat and humidity… no I don’t love dragging ass outta bed when it’s warm in the covers… no I don’t love SOME runs… but most of the time… as soon as I take those first 10 or 20 strides, I’m in my happy place. My running brings me to places I can’t get otherwise. I see things… hear and smell things… experience the world around me differently because of it. And now… it’s been GONE. I was literally feeling pangs of jealousy seeing my friends post runs on Strava, or worse seeing them actually out there. I HAD to get better.
So I finally got off my ass and made an appointment with Brian at Run Raleigh PT. Brian helped me a little over a year ago with some tight calves/Achilles and ITB issues. He fixed me up enough to run Greyson Highlands 50k in a pretty short time. He does some of the usual PT stuff but also dry needling and videoing my running to correct some form issues. With very few visits last year, he made some very positive changes. Why I waited as many weeks as I did? Who knows. Two days ago he spent an hour with me. We talked it through and he found the trigger points of my pain. Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Posterior tibialis and Gluteus minimus. Pretty much the entire posterior chain of my lower leg was pulling relentlessly on my heel and causing inflammation to it and the plantar fascia insertion. Duh! Same shit that was going on last year, but magnified. We talked about a plan: he said he thinks he can get me starting back running in just 2 weeks. There will be needles.
Dry needling, also known as myofascial trigger point dry needling, is an alternative medicine technique similar to acupuncture. Dry needling is sometimes also known as intramuscular stimulation.The primary aim is to relieve muscle pain and cramping, but it may also help to improve a person's flexibility. A practitioner inserts short, thin, stainless steel filiform needles into pressure points. Also called trigger points, these are tight areas or knots in the muscles -Wikipedia
I knew what to expect this time, but there was a fair amount of gripping the table and gritting my teeth as he worked my calf and glute. I never did see the mule that kicked me back there but I’m quite sure there was one… but ya know what? As I started walking around that day, and working in the ED later that night… the part that DIDN’T hurt… my foot. Things are looking brighter!
… to be continued
It’s been a month. I got needled twice as it turns out… as well as a third session doing some “myofascial release” stuff on both calves and achilles’. When Brian gave me the green light to run I was excited, but nervous! He warned me to take it easy and just do 30-40 minutes at first, knowing I’d probably be sore. I chose Loblolly Trail in Umstead Park… my go-to recovery run trail, mostly because it speaks to me in some way, has some easy flowing parts but still some ups and downs and creek crossings. I was creaky to say the least! Foot hurt, but not debilitatingly, and cardiovascular was SHOT despite trying to keep it up with bike riding! Pretty sore after, but symptoms would settle with stretching and rolling. Picked up a Roll Recovery device from Run-n-Tri Outfitters in Wake Forest, and that along with rolling logs strategically placed everywhere, I was INTO it! The next day I ran again, and THIS time most of the pain was sore quads… love it! I’ll take pain in the form of post run soreness any day over injury-pain! After giving myself a hike-day and a rest day, I then put in a double-day celebrating my return to action with the House of Hops Run Club and a delicious beer post second run of the day. From there I was ON it! I realized that by staying on top of stretching and rolling, and very importantly AVOIDING too much sitting (car rides, computer time etc…) I was seeing real improvement in my ability to recover from each run. So blissfully happy was I to be back out on my trails that I started naming my Strava runs with haikus. I have been careful.. Slowly building up the mileage, not worrying about speed, or walking when I need to, and recovering properly. I nearly hit 30 miles last week and my legs/feet feel great.
Alas… The challenge to stay positive never ceases. A skin cancer cut off my nose yesterday dictates “NO RUNNING” for at least the next 4-5 days. As irony would have it, stepping out of bed this morning I felt not even the slightest twinge of pain or tightness in my foot and calves. It would’ve been a great night for a post-shift run… but I can wait… knowing that I can, and will, very soon. I have some serious awesomeness on the near horizon (Sally McCrae and Tanawha Adventures' Western NC Trail Camp), and I plan to be tuned up in time