December 26, 2012

Running injury: a blessing in disguise

The past 12 months have been dramatic, to say the least. As a runner, I have enjoyed the highest highs and suffered the lowest lows.

2012, which marked my 17th year as a runner, began with a training regime I loved and responded well to, both mentally and physically. Everything clicked; I thoroughly enjoyed my training and saw the results in races, lowering my best times for the half marathon to 86:54 (from 88:13 in 2008) and the 10K to 39:39 (from 39:51 in 2008).

Those PRs were simply picked up along the way to my key goal -- improving my 3:06:06 marathon, set in October 2011 when I bested another 2008 PB by 64 seconds. Consistent marathon training and racing since June 2005 paid off in May this year when I ran 3:00:29 in the Vancouver marathon, a 5-1/2 minute improvement. I was on top of the world, and I knew I could go faster.

Then I made what turned out to be a critical mistake.

Instead of taking my usual time to recover, allowing at least four weeks, I embarked on a 10-week running clinic that started two weeks after the marathon. It was led by a coach I was keen to work with and I was not sure if the opportunity would come around again. It was high intensity and I ran my best times for 400m, 800m, the mile and 2 miles, all within six weeks of my fastest marathon. I also raced a 10K and a half marathon.

Not a good idea...

Increasing tightness turned into pain and six weeks later I knew something was very wrong, though did not yet have a clue about the extent of it.

I have always been extremely careful, taking care to avoid injury. I love to run, and I want to be able to do so as long as I live. Until this summer I had enjoyed nine injury-free years, during which I raced three Ironmans, 12 marathons in 3:15 and faster, completed five ultras (one 45K, two 50-milers, and two 100Ks), and a slew of other shorter running races and triathlons; I am very disciplined and work hard at staying healthy.

My success in warding off injury was part of the reason I let my guard down when I should have been most careful, and I am still suffering the consequences; I have not run for three months, and even in the prior three months my kilometres run totalled 200K at most. (That's an average of 15K a week -- in comparison, I ran at least 100K a week from July 2011 through September 2011, and again from January through April this year without any issues). I probably will not try to run again until February.

An MRI in early November (there is a two-month wait period) showed little to explain the pain in my right heel/ankle.


The healing procress has been frighteningly slow. It is only in the past couple of weeks that I am starting to feel a real difference; I can now walk the dog again without pain during or afterward. And I have been able to do Bikram yoga, eleven sessions in the past 14 days; at the start of July I had bought a 20-visit pass, valid until January 2nd, but stopped going as it aggravated the pain in my ankle/heel and I first needed to find out what was going on.

It is only now that I can truly start to picture running again, and that I am able to see the injury may prove to have been a blessing in disguise.

Bloodwork done because of my injury helped detect that my calcium was low, so I am now taking a supplement to boost it. The results also prompted my GP to recommend I take vitamin B12 and D and magnesium. (My iron levels were excellent, however).

To help the healing I also made significant changes to my diet, cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, sugar and gluten, while boosting the amount of veggies and fruit. Bread and pasta formed a huge part of my diet for years and nearly eliminating them has been enjoyable so far, even if a little challenging at first.

In October I signed up for Ironman Whistler 2013 because I needed positive motivation to swim and cycle again for the first time in more than seven years, cross training that I have been encouraged to do while the injury heals. I doubt I'd otherwise have entered what will be my first Ironman in 8-1/2 years. And by now I am excited about it, even if still scared too.

With the help of Tim, who gave me some fantastic workouts, I returned to the pool and found that I did not drown, even actually enjoyed swimming again after such a long layoff; freestyle has never been my forte. I am now comfortable enough to join the Titans' masters swim program, which offers three sessions a week; in fact, my first race of the season might be a swim meet -- gulp! -- on February 24 in Vancouver with the club.

I had hoped to start 2013 with the First Half Marathon and have until January 9 to accept a spot, but that is not a good idea, as tempting as it is.

Meanwhile, spinning on the wind trainer has also proved a welcome outlet for pent-up energy, and the Argon 18 Platinum and I have reconnected on short easy sessions of between 30 and 60 minutes so far.

The injury has forced me to work on strength and flexibility, and I can only benefit from this. The postures in Bikram confirm I have plenty of tightness, weakness and imbalance; they are pretty good at pointing out their exact location too. This also confirms, indeed strengthens, my belief that I can improve all the personal records I set this year with a stronger, more flexible and balanced body.

I hope to do another five Bikram classes before the end of the year to finish the remainder of my pass, and I certainly plan to incorporate this or another type of yoga in my training regime in 2013.

Also part of my new rourtine are specific exercises for my feet and ankles. My supportive sponsors Drs Paul Fleming and Leah Stadelmann have provided me with great strengthening exercises for my foot, aside from a slew of treatments, while Australia's Dr Daryl Phillips, the first ART therapist I ever saw because of an ITB injury in 2003, has given me superb ankle-mobilization exercises. I thank them for their ongoing support, which has been much appreciated.    

A sports med specialist in Vancouver told me that calf raises were the key to my return to running; when I last saw him on December 12, he gave me a concrete goal; when I can do three sets of 20 single calf raises with fast drops without pain, I can try a run. He estimated it might take me six weeks. He also recommended I learn to balance on the ball of each foot for 30 seconds.  

The No. 1 priority remains a return to injury-free running, period. For now, it is about Bikram, swimming and cycling, strengthening, and mobilizing. And calf raises.


Meg said...

This is just what I needed. I'm a triathlete, though no where near as talented or experienced as you. I suffered a foot injury this season and found it really challenging. I've been swimming, biking and getting strength sessions in. I find yoga keeps me grounded.
I've only just realised the whole "blessing in disguise" thing. Thank you for your honest account x

Margreet Dietz said...

Thanks so much Meg. I hope that your recovery is going well! Wishing you a superb 2013 season, Margreet