I’m in the desert, but I swear I see a huge water slide sitting just on the horizon. This is to say that I’m by no means in the clear, but I have reason for hope, honest silver linings in the clouds. I’ve been dying to write this post for 5 weeks now. Let me preface though, I’m by no means in the clear.
This past week however I have run. Not far, but I have run. Consistently even. A full 4, going on 5, days in a row!
It started Sunday when I couldn’t take the regiment of cycling in place any longer. Granted, it felt so good to finally get my heart rate up and sweat it out for at least an hour (the shortest of all my run time) fairly consistently, but in the end, it wasn’t running. Maybe it was the taste of fitness again, but I really needed to get back out there and run again, even if for only a block, just to see how my leg felt when I put weight on it. Leading up to that first attempt I hadn’t felt much in my leg anyways, so I thought maybe now was the time to try it out again, press my luck.
I wasn’t planning on it at first until while riding my bike I realized all I had to do was throw on a different pair of shoes and take off around the block. With the familiar sensation of sweat in my eyes and heavy breathing in my chest I jumped off the bike at an hour, quickly threw on my running shoes and started running around the block, trying not to lose momentum. Surprisingly, the circular motion of cycling and the activated muscles had me moving quickly and powerfully as soon as I started in and I was going at a good clip when I really just wanted to take it easy, not put too much stress on my fragile lower leg. But here’s the thing, it felt good.
It felt real good actually. Ok, not “it’s a miracle! he has been sayaved!” good, but good enough to run on without shin splint pain. This I knew, though, meant nothing. Still, in all I ran a good 800 meters give or take for my first try. Now, all previous attempts at running again have felt decent the first day and the subsequent day I was dying in pain, limping from the start and dragging, quite literally, my leg home the rest of the run. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up. Still, I had to start somewhere.
However, I was, of course, not in the clear.
I decided I had to try the next day as well, but this time go out a little farther, again testing out how it felt after a little stressor, but not risking going two steps forward, 10 steps back. So on Sunday I rode the bike to get everything warmed up again and at 50 minutes jumped off, threw on my long neglected running shoes and began another quick-paced run around the block, mildly wincing in fear that the first steps would repeat the painful pattern of my last few second try runs. But I made it just far enough to realize that restrictive, debilitating shin pain was not going to surface, not right from the start anyways, so I continued on unabated, not holding myself back. Oh how good that felt, even if I did only run just over a mile.
I held no delusions though, I wasn’t in the clear.
Tuesday came and I could barely contain my enthusiasm at work, finding it difficult to concentrate on work matters when all I wanted to do was go home and test my leg again, even if my running still wasn’t even a warm-up of my previous running-self. When the work day ended I rode my bike quickly home, nearly jumped out of my work clothes and into my running shorts before heading out the door. Although still a little tentative at first, I quickly found a natural stride and hit a decent pace sticking to my neighborhood streets in case my leg started flaring up in pain. I knocked out one mile, then two and with the confidence surging through me I ran just a little farther to really push the envelope. Daring, I know. Still, the shin splint pain came only in the most minor twinges before disappearing almost immediately and any other discomfort was entirely tolerable and episodic. A wave of relief washed over me when I completed a full 15 minutes of running without the pain and soreness that usually accompanied my lower leg upon stopping. It took a great deal of restraint from immediately thinking towards the future and recreating the fitness I had before this setback.
But again, as hopeful as I felt after each run, I tempered myself from declaring my injury absolved.
Today, with much anticipation, I jumped into my shoes and shorts after work, set my watch to chrono and bounded out the door without restraint. The weather was unbeatable and within half a block I was beyond a warm-up pace and getting my breathing up. I probably should continue to ease into my runs, but my emotional state is difficult to tether right now. I moved easily down the street and back towards the Monon rail-trail of which I’ve neglected for the past month plus. The crushed gravel felt like a massage under my feet as my rhythm kicked out a dirt and rock shuffling tune…the best song I’ve heard in quite some time. My form felt good and the restriction I had on my runs prior to this recent attempt was gone, my leg loosened up and keeping the pain at bay. Now, I’m not going to pass this off as a problem-free run. I did feel a pain in my lower leg most of the run, but it was definitively different than the shin splint pain that stopped me in the first place. This was something inarguably muscular and located in the back of my calf, where I’ve been working on strengthening with calf raises, so this didn’t worry me or surprise me even. Still, I didn’t press the good thing I had going. I hit my turn around point at a mile and a half and headed back home to finish up, not letting myself get carried away with the relative success.
When I was almost home I treated myself to a strengthening exercise I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my running since this setback. About a block from home is a pristinely mowed stretch of neighborhood park grass that was begging to be run through…barefoot. I’ll save the whole barefoot discussion for a later post, but aside from its purported benefits, I just wanted to run barefoot for fun! So that’s what I did.
Running 5 striders with an equal length jog in between I let the cool grass and soft ground pad my feet. It was so nice and even nicer that the stress of striding didn’t inflame any muscles or create any worrisome pain in my shins. But let’s not get carried away..
I’m still not in the clear.
I’m still only at just over 3 miles, where my previous test runs were at 5, so I’m not making any big statements just yet. But still, right now…..it feels real damn good. Out of the clear or not, just being able to be out there again, the sounds, the sun, the air, and everything else that goes along with the running experience. Damn I’ve missed it, so bad.
Now, I still don’t know exactly what was/is going on with my leg, which is cause for great concern, but I’m continuing to do a handful of new strength exercises and stretches along with massage and spinal adjustments hoping that these are adding to my recovering and injury avoidance in the future.
Coach Matt keeps saying we just need to “flip the switch”, which means do what needs to be done to help the body start its process of recovery. Maybe we’ve done that. Maybe not. I’m not saying anything yet. I still feel what I call “oddness” in my leg, but above all else I don’t feel debilitating shin pain. That is what matters most to me right now, because it means I can get back out there and run.
Damn it feels good. It’ll feel better when I can tell you I am undeniably “in the clear”. Until then….