Part of me wishes someone would say, “Oh yeah, you’ve got a stress fracture. That’s obvious. All you need is this amount of rest, everything will heal up and then you’ll be good to go again.” Or even, “Yeah, you slowly overworked this muscle and so all you need to do is this stretch and within two weeks you’ll be good to run like new.” That’s not how this is working out though. That’s just wishful thinking. Regardless, after more treatments a couple weeks ago I decided to slowly build up my running program and everything was going quite well, until the last 3 days when the lower leg sensations that sidelined me initially sprung up. Each day they got worse until I was out of commission yet again. Obviously, whatever I was hoping had healed itself, hadn’t. But here’s the good thing about that.
I had a good feeling about working with Darrell Barnes from St. Vincent’s Sports Performance Center and not just because of those he’s worked with in the past. Even though he couldn’t determine the EXACT underlying cause for my pain, he had a good theory about what was going on. As I’ve stated before, he feels that through either an imbalance of some sort or an injury somewhere in my right leg, that over time I began very slightly favoring certain muscles while protecting others, and through that the reliance kept building on some muscles while others went further neglected. After enough time and enough mileage, the overworked muscles started screaming uncle. And that was that. They had enough.
So why I was somewhat relieved that my assumed “injury” didn’t correct itself after I started running again is because it affirms Darrell’s theory, that I don’t have an injury. I have a weakness. Sure, I have sore muscles/tendons/etc. that are in pain from running, but they aren’t injured that simply need rest. Rest will give them some reprieve where the pain will back off, but over time, without correcting the initial imbalance, those muscles will again get overworked and start screaming again. What this means is that rest is helpful in alleviating the current pain, but STRENGTH is what is going to correct this situation. My homework, and the proposed solution to this big mess, is to strengthen the muscles that have kicked their feet up and took a little vacation. That way, those muscles will start to bear the weight they should be taking and take the burden off the overworked muscles so they call off their muscular mutiny.
The minor problem to all this is that without a definitive underlying cause to this weakness, it’s hard to pinpoint which area of my leg I should be strengthening. Interestingly enough though, through some strength exercise as the performance center, we deduced that A LOT of my right leg has become weakened.
With that in mind, Darrell hooked me up with a number of exercises that focus on strengthening my glutes, muscles around my shin, ankle etc. etc. We are basically strengthening every area of my leg with lunges, squats, resistance band movements, calf raises, and so on. And here’s the crazy, reaffirming thing….my right leg is WEAK!!! I can knock out all these exercises with the greatest of ease on my left leg, but EVERYTHING I do with my right is so much harder. It’s so nuts to feel just how weak so many parts of that leg is, which, I think, adds so much to Darrell’s theory that if I just strengthen that leg (even adding periodic running during the process) I’ll be good to go again. And even better, all this time I’ve been running faster and stronger on a progressively weakening right leg, which means when I get this leg back into muscular shape, I’ll be THAT MUCH STRONGER of a runner. That’s awesome.
How long that will take is a whole ‘nother story. I should be able to start a running build up program relatively soon, but the buildup itself is going to need to be drug out a little further while I work on this leg. And believe me, I’m going to be working on it. Each day I’m not running I’m on the bike sweating it out, then hitting up the exercises whenever I have the chance, sometimes at work, sometimes on the computer, sometimes focused on the workout alone. I’m not letting up now that I have a definitive theory and goal to work for.
The added awesomeness to all this is that it’s not like I’ve been doing these exercises and need to add a huge dose of them to see an effect, but rather I’ve never done any sort of strength exercises outside of running AT ALL. No weights, no lunges, no resistance, etc. Nothing. I did start a core workout a few months ago, which I know is helping, but nothing like this, which means ANYTHING I do is going to help. And actually DOING these strength workouts is something I’ve had to come to terms with. It’s not like I find it as fun as running…not at all, but it’s helped me understand something.
I’m considered an “elite” runner to some degree. It doesn’t mean I’m paid to run or have big name sponsors, but I run fast enough and put in enough work to do so in order to attain certain times and corresponding perks. What I didn’t take into account is the sort of additional requirements that go into running at this level, that go into staying CONSISTENT at this level. See, I work full time and tend to a family, among other interests, so I tend to have the time and will to run and that’s about it. Adding more time in the day for strength isn’t so easy, unless I rope Michelle into the effort to, which fortunately she enjoys. So that perspective on overall health and strength gets pushed aside, hoping that running is enough. But as an “elite”, that means I also put in elite level work, both amount and intensity, which takes a toll on the body and requires a decent amount of maintenance. I can’t do this and get away with eating like crap. I can’t do this and get away with staying up late and partying. Those days are long gone. I have to focus intensely on fostering the efforts that keep me running at the level I’m working towards.
This is seen most clearly through those elite athletes that do NOT have full-time jobs and DO have big name sponsorships. They are running similar mileage, often much more, and of similar intensity. They certainly DO NOT just rest on their running and expect that to carry them through. When they aren’t running they are working on stretching and strength. They work on fine tuning their bodies to handle the stress they routinely place upon it and do so in order to get through and excel, to push further and run further and faster. They know very clearly that they can’t just run huge mileage and expect their body to hold up. That’s absurd.
Running like we do is a ridiculous act. It’s pushing our bodies far past the limits evolution has allowed for maintenance. And if don’t maintain ourselves past those limits, we will inevitably fail. It’s the checks and balances of nature. And this downtime has both shown me the truth in that perspective and done so through my failure to maintain.
I’m looking forward now though, understanding that I can’t simply run my way to an Olympic Qualifying marathon, but that I must also work on the rest of my body completely. I have to be able to run and run strong, not just on rest.
The future is still very hazy, as I just don’t know how long this is going to take until I get back to big workouts and 20 mile long runs, but I’ll be doing whatever I can to make it happen as soon as possible. I’m excited for that future though, where I’ll not only be the runner I was, but an even stronger and faster runner than before. Better than ever.