New Challenges – New Perspectives

Onward I goAbout three weeks ago, a fear most athletes have came true when I had my first major injury.  My training had been going very well and I had just started incorporating some mountain training.  I was hoping that it was just a slight strain–something that would go away with some rest or reduced training.  Yet deep inside I knew it was probably something worse.  Over the five years I have been running regularly, only once had an injury occurred and it was just something the set me back for a week or so–nothing serious.  When this injury happened, the pain and severity was quite different than anything I ever experienced.  Immediately I went to several medical/athletic websites to try to figure out what the injury may be.  The symptoms lead me to believe it was a type 2 (maybe a type 1) tear of my left medial gastrocnemius aka the upper inside part of my left calf.  On the recommendation of a physiotherapist I got an ultrasound that confirmed that it was indeed a type 2 tear.  That meant 4-6 weeks of recovery–right in the middle of my training for my 100 mile race in late October.  Not what I was hoping…

The good news is that prior to this injury, I had been focusing on many ways to improve my life, attitude, performance, etc.  Several books I read had large sections focusing on the power of a positive mental attitude–no matter the situation.  When the news hit that I had to stop running for over a month, my positive perspective was that this would make me stronger and with a little luck and a lot of elbow grease, I would gain some new skills that will ultimately make me a better runner.

The doctors and physiotherapists all agreed that I could continue to walk.  With that, I set out to become an efficient power walker.  Using many websites, photos, and videos, I learned some tips to improve my pace as a walker which is immensely useful in ultramarathons.  During the Keys 100, I think one of my assets was my ability to walk at a faster clip than most, allowing me to make up a lot of ground in the second half of the race.

Over the past 3 weeks, my walking has improved by leaps and bounds.  It reminds me of when I first started to learn how to run regularly.  I am pretty sure that my form is not legal for the competitive speed walkers but I am definitely not running.  Any motion that is close to running still bothers my calf.  When I walk, my feet land on the heels and roll to the front.  Plus, I am much less fatigued even after walking for 60-90 minutes compared to running.

My adjusted view is this:  I know that I will not be able to match or beat my Keys 100 time at the Javelina Jundred (20:28) but the whole purpose of this race is for the experience and to run a qualifier for entry to the Western States 100.  The only requirement is that I finish under 30 hours.  I am confident that I can walk 100 miles in under 30 hours.  While my running fitness will not be where I want it going into the race, my hope is to have enough in the tank to give it a 50/50 or even a 75/25 run/walk ratio.

Beyond this new power walking ability I am honing, I have been focusing on increased flexibility especially in areas that have been neglected during my years of running.  Also, I have (finally) started to learn how to practice mindful meditation.  It has been a goal of mine for numerous years but I never made the time to learn or try.  In addition, I am working on increasing strength in the supporting areas of the body for running–better balance, posture, and range of motion.

The funny thing out of all of this is that I am not worried or scared.  I have a feeling of peacefulness that tells me I am learning and improving myself.  This is exactly where I should be despite it not being my chosen path.  In a zen-like approach, I am not focusing on what might happen and wishing I could change the past.  Right here is where I want to be.

The Setback

Over the past several days, I’ve pondered different subjects to write. I have thought of gratitude — how grateful I am to have such a supportive family in all aspects of my life. I have thought about the natural meshing of Zen principles with that of the long distance runner (I know it’s clichéd but I truly experience it). I have thought about the subject of being an example for my kids, especially as I am about to meet my third daughter any day now. All of these subjects warrant serious consideration but today the subject jumped up and bit me — in my right ankle.

Today’s run was a wonderfully refreshing morning run lasting around two hours and twenty minutes. I ran through various neighborhoods of Guadalajara. I finished the run with a run straight up a steep incline with a very positive rush of a job well done 24.5 km/15.2 mi in the books. A strange thing occurred happened about 20-30 minutes after the run. I finished showering, getting dressed and preparing my morning tea. As I walked from the kitchen to the bedroom of my daughters to help them get off to summer camp, I felt a pretty sharp pain on the inside of my ankle just to the back of the ankle bone and below it. It was not a terrible pain but one that caught my attention. As I was getting ready to go out the door, I noticed that I started to limp a bit.  

 

If you look to the right, you’ll see the ramp I went up to end my run.

 
My wife and I had our final appointment with the doctor prior to our newest daughter’s arrival next week. As I accompanied her to the medical building of the doctor, my limp became more pronounced. Hmmmm… I thought. This is not boding well. While we were in the doctor’s office, the pain continued to increase. The area around the inside of my ankle was very sensitive to the touch. Now I’m started to worry.

Side Note: I recently hired a running coach to help me prepare for my next race.

When we were called to go in for my wife’s exam, I could barely walk. I had to put all my weight on the heel of my foot to try to minimize the pain. Full on panic started to set in, did I break something? Could it be a stress fracture? As obsessive as I am, I immediately pulled out the iPhone to start Googling the symptoms. The first thing I found was Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis and other variations. As I read website after website, I was not happy with what I saw. This could mean weeks/months of being out of commission. Since I started running regularly, I haven’t had any major injuries. I’ve tried to be very careful with mileage increases and workload to ensure that I stay in the game for the long haul. As we were finishing our appointment, my wife asked her doctor if he could recommend an orthopedic specialist. Luckily for me, the doctor he recommended was the floor below us. We went immediately there and my wife, with her amazing personality and persuasiveness, was able to get us squeezed in even though they were telling her in the beginning that their next appointment was not until August 14th.  

The doctor saw me within minutes. During the examination, he asked me some standard questions and then started poking around my ankle. He then touched on or around the ankle bone and I shot straight up and then back in the examination bed. It was like I had a convulsion. Talk about pain…good lord!!! It even surprised the doctor. He sent me to get an X-ray since there was the possibility of a stress fracture. I was quite worried at this point. The pain is so severe that I thought there was a chance of the stress fracture. The only thing I thought (probably incorrectly) was that since I didn’t see a ton of swelling, maybe that means there was less of a chance of a stress fracture. We got the X-rays done and then had to wait about an hour to be seen. I forgot to mention that I was then being wheeled around in a wheelchair.  

Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis

  
Good news came when the doctor saw me again. He said there was no fracture and Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis, which I had guessed thanks to the Internet, was the diagnosis. He wrapped my foot in a Robert Jones bandage (I had never heard of it before) and told me to stay off of it. I am on crutches now and will go back on Tuesday.

  
At this point there are a few things floating around my head:

My wife is just about to give birth and I injure myself–way to go Dad! I am supposed to be giving her all the support in the world. This is not how you do it. Now she is caring for me. I am disappointed.

I just hired a coach. My initial analysis has been done and I am super excited to get the professional training plan started. Now who knows how long I am going to be in this state?!  

Could I have avoided it? I am not sure. Merida is completely flat and Guadalajara has lots of hills. The last time I trained here back in December, my left knee bothered me for a few weeks after the trip because of the hill training. I made a point this time to take it very easy on the hills and avoid any long uphills more than once per week. Today was day eight, and was only the second day that I ran up some long big hills. The best thing I can figure is that I ran up a very steep incline at the end of my run–one that was so steep that it was pure stairs at the top. My only guess is that after running for 2:20, my calves were very tight and it was just too much pressure for the tendon to take.

The good news, according to the doctor, is that we caught this very early. Since this just happened and has not been a chronic injury or one that has been slowly getting worse and worse, that should mean that recovery/rehabilitation will be faster. I am going to use my free time to try to find as many types of natural remedies to help with reduce inflammation. I am very aware of the properties of turmeric so it is on the top of my list to purchase but I need to find other things I can add to my smoothies and cereals.

I am committed to staying positive. The race I want to run is in 4.5 months. I think that if I can get back to running by September, I will still have enough time to train. My base fitness is the best it has been in my life. Even if I have to do a lot of cycling to maintain fitness, I will.  
Chin up!