It is easy for most people to tell that I am a runner, and regularly do marathons–because I tell them. If they do not quickly spot someone else in the room with whom they suddenly and desperately need to talk, and they actually take the bait, they will often share that they used to run, or would like to run, but pain or injuries have prevented it. And they ask how I have avoided, or dealt with, pain and injuries.
Considering that I started this crazy hobby relatively late in life (first full marathon at age 47), and now, six years later I’ve run 19 of them, I do find it remarkable that I have never had to withdraw from a marathon for which I have registered, and I have finished them all (no DNFs–Did Not Finish). But, with all the things that can go wrong, a lot of that is just luck.
And, it is also true that I have had pain and injuries–many. In fact, my last marathon (in July) was very nearly my first from which I had to withdraw. Most people in their right mind would have skipped it. But, distance runners, by definition, are not in their right mind, so they will understand what happened instead.
Candice and I had planned a trip to Rexburg, Idaho, to see her parents in July. We often look around for a running event anywhere we are traveling, and found that Idaho Falls, just 30 minutes away, was hosting its marathon the same weekend. Even though that was just a month after the Midnight Sun Marathon we ran in Alaska, we decided to do it. She registered for the half, and I for the full distance.
Then, the Friday afternoon before the Saturday event, I was at the library of the local university–and took a true fall down its marble staircase. Among other bumps and bruises, I broke the big toe on my right foot (only an Arizonan would be wearing sandals in Idaho, right?). By evening, it was black and swollen, and I would not let Candice or my mother-in-law see it, because I knew they would pull the plug on my race. I wanted to withhold that decision until morning.
At 2:50 a.m. the morning of the marathon, I arose, put my running gear on, and gingerly worked my feet into my running shoes. I then ran up and down the street in front of my in-laws’ house. Every step hurt–but I could run, and it did not feel like I was making anything worse. Candice and I drove to Idaho Falls and loaded onto the buses. I really didn’t know how it would go, but had decided to run until I couldn’t. I felt the toe every step, but I had an enjoyable marathon, taking in the beautiful rolling hills of this agricultural area. And, due to getting lost in a city neighborhood (this was a very small event, not always clearly marked, and I missed something), I actually ran 28 miles! I still finished 3rd in my age group (maybe there were just three of us).
This was not my first time running a marathon with an injury. A couple of years ago, I sprained my left ankle hiking a few weeks before the Mt. Lemmon marathon. That injury derailed my training for a while, and I could still feel it during the event, but did fine. And, of course, over the years as a runner, I have experienced almost every area of stiffness, aches, pain, and various injuries. For example, starting from the top down: sore neck, sore thoracic spine, sore lumbar spine, sore hips, pain in the quads, pain in the hamstrings, knee pain, ankle pain, Achilles tendon and heel pain, heel bruising, sore foot “pads,” sore toes, blackened toenails (I call those a runner’s tattoo), and, of course, blisters.
At some time, I’ve experienced each of these. So, when the question is, “have you had ‘X’ problem?”, the answer is usually “yes.” The much harder question for me to comfortably answer: “What do you do, or should you do, or have you done, for ‘X’?”
Here is my answer: “I kept running.” Yep. This is likely not the best approach, and is not advice of any kind. It is simply the true answer. I have always hoped and assumed that the pain would go away and so far it eventually has. Of course, there were actual injuries that required time off running, but only a few weeks. When that happened, i tried to substitute other cardio exercise for the same approximate time my training schedule had me running. Although that substitution is not optimal for peak performance (like setting a new PR), it did seem to be enough for me to step back into regular training when the injury healed enough, and be ready for whatever marathon I was training to run.
Clearly, I do not have to run in pain or with injuries. I need to give a disclaimer again. When I have had an injury that I detected would actually be made worse by running on it, I did back off. No one would care, or even notice, if I let up even more. I don’t run for a living, sponsorships, or even podium placement. I am not even very fast for an amateur! So what am I trying to prove? I don’t know. It isn’t that I have a high tolerance for pain. I nearly pass out giving a blood sample (wish that were a joke). I think my consistency comes from other sources. Here are some guesses:
- I’m cheap–I hate the idea of paying a registration fee and not getting my medal, shirt, and experience. I even want the free Gatorade and gels.
- I think I am afraid that, if I stop, I will not startIt is easier to eat poorly and be sedentary than what I am doing instead–that is why our society has a problem. I don’t want to go back.
- I am still exploring my limits, pain and otherwise. Just trying to see where they are and if I can expand them. Dedicated athletes have pushed through far more than a broken toe.
- I recognize that, when I do take a break, at my age, it takes surprising effort to catch up to where I left off.
- If I were always waiting to be completely pain free before I ran or exercised, I would run very little. And, I dislike the consequence of that more than I dislike some pain.
On that last point, I remember feeling knee pain pretty regularly while training for my first and second marathons. If I had stopped due to that pain, I would have run that first marathon (if that) and stopped. Instead, I’ve run 19, and am still going. And I have not had knee pain in at least 5 years. I don’t purport to have a physiological explanation for that; but it is a fact.
So, here is a list of what I have done, mostly, for pain or injuries when I’ve had them:
- Rested it, at least for a bit;
- Some Ice (a few times, for a few minutes, for a few injuries);
- Self-rolling (handheld tools);
- Pressure-point massage ball (i.e., like rolling my foot on a baseball);
- Complain to other runners, and some innocent bystanders, about my aches and pains.
But, here is at least a partial list of things that anyone should likely do for their injuries, that I have generally not done:
- Go to a doctor;
- Go to a physical therapist;
- Do massage (I’ve had them, but not for injuries);
- Purchase orthotics;
- Use KT tape;
- Do ice baths;
- Purchase special shoes.
Again, my approach is likely entirely wrong. I am a lawyer, not a doctor. The wiser course of action would be to go to a medical professional and do what they tell you to do. I am too cheap and skeptical for my own good.
Regular, serious, vigorous exercise will likely cause some aches and pains–even injuries, from time to time. But, don’t we have some of this even in our cubicle, to car, to recliner lifestyle as well? I cannot pretend to know what the answer should be for someone else, but, for me, it is worth the trade-off of experiencing some aches and pains, in order to enjoy the benefits of being a committed runner.