Discomfort and Pain, Friend and Foe

Any good distance runner can probably tell you a great deal about what discomfort feels like, along with constant hunger, fatigue and thirst. Pain however, pain is something we learn to compartmentalize or remove from our lexicon entirely. I can’t think of the last time when I wasn’t in at least mild discomfort and I’m actually quite okay with that, even proud. I can distinctly remember the last time I was in pain though (when I slammed my knee last May) You see, training for marathons is simply one long grind of discomfort, often extreme discomfort, with even more discomfort as the reward in the races themselves. Discomfort becomes then, a valuable training guide and a close friend and ally, it’s often the only one out there with us on those bitter winter runs. It’s often the only one sweating it out on the muggy summer runs too, only really leaving us alone on the easy paced runs in comfortable weather, or for those few moments of running euphoria when we’re coasting through the trees or gliding like a goat down a mountain. It always show up when we ask it to though, just as surely as the need to nap and extreme hunger are present after a hard 2 hour run or a set of 20 x 400 meter intervals. It’s not only there as a silent companion, but as a great source of feedback too. When we have to run faster and push harder just to be together again, discomfort tells us that we are now faster and stronger runners. When we are trying to run based on effort level, our discomfort tells how long we can sustain that effort on that day. In the end, discomfort is really a solid protagonist in the distance runner’s story, a bit grumpy and rough around the edges sure, but with a good heart. Pain is a sworn enemy however, it never comes along side to guide us to the right pace in a workout, it never tells us that foam rolling and massage our actually helping through the hurt. It never does anything positive, it just intrudes and barks unwanted orders to the components in our bodies that propel us forward, based on it’s own silly bias and ideas. Pain is a jerk and a dream crusher. Obviously it is still in my lexicon, though rarely used or admitted to. I’m not socializing with it right now, but I have been in that middle ground where localized discomfort hangs around long enough to create doubts about the reality of actual pain. This time my nearly p-word foe has materialized in the form of a very common running antagonist, plantar fasciitis. I would call it an injury, but that word is even more seldom used then pain, and certainly never applies to things that you can sort of run through! Real injuries have to involve broken bones and large ligament tears, right? Plantar is just an annoying pest that makes you feel like an arthritic octogenarian. After going through bouts of it for about two weeks, I’ve arrived at the taper portion of my marathon training with more discomfort then I’d like to admit to. Normally a few days of easy running, massage and stretching can clear any lasting plantar, but after two “easy” days last week (32 miles between the two) I decided that action needed to be taken since my foot was already in some righteous discomfort before the start of my scheduled 20 miler. So I did something that causes me real, genuine, honest-to-goodness pain, I skipped my workout and took the day off from running. As I mentioned in my last post, the reality of this being the right decision has no bearing at all on the morose and sullen lethargy that a runner feels when forced to skip his running. I moped around all day trying to focus on the positives in my life on the day before Easter Sunday, but hardly moved from the chair or bed. I managed to put on a happy face and go out to a friends house for a get-together Saturday night and did enjoy myself by employing the tactics of forced forgetfulness and ignorance, something I normally reserve for the first few miles of a run, when I’m not ready to hang out with discomfort yet. Yesterday I used similar methods and genuinely enjoyed time spent at Easter service and with friends who are more like family for the remainder of the day. Today I’m not sure how I’ll manage, but between work, strength training and enough core work to make myself cry, I think I might survive my third day of no running. Tomorrow I run, because to think that I won’t is just too scary an idea to fully accept. After all, I have felt slightly better each of the past two days, I’m not even limping in the morning!

Returning From Injury – Stronger! (mentally and physically)

I’ve had a serious lack of inspiration in blogging lately and not due to lack of worthy content. I’ve been training to the point of excellent sleep due to exhaustion this entire week. Full training schedule and cold nights have turned me into a real sleeper again. But between the sleep, running and vacation planning, I’ve become a full time slacker on the blog.

The return from an injury break has been an emotional one, full of ups and a few downs. I feel like every workout has been part of a long slow crawl out of a pit full of snakes, the pit from Indiana Jones, to be specific. I’ve seen a light at the end of the tunnel since the first time I saw a Dr. about this issue, just over a month ago, but that has not made the recovery an easier task physically. The loss of fitness from the zero training period made a serious dent in my current ability.
To give some background, since I don’t think I’ve mentioned what exactly happened, I’ll list a brief history. I started experiencing some serious pain and tightness in my right hip after a long training run at the beginning of September. This spread quickly to my knee and iliotibial band and I foolishly tried to keep training through it, even when the pain did not subside. Eventually my knee became too stiff to even run on and I finally broke down and saw someone. The Dr. told me that on top of the 4 days I had already taken off, I needed at least another week with NO running to let the hip flexor muscles relax as they were flared up something awful. Ten days of rest and a return trip to the Dr. later and I could carefully start running again. I put 29 miles in the first week back and followed that up with a week of nearly full training, but at scaled back paces and slightly shorter distances. I’ve now put 165 miles on the legs since getting the all clear to run again, three+ weeks ago. I feel nearly healthy again, but I still feel like my fitness level is back to where it was in mid summer, just not feeling fast anymore! I am focusing on the positives, because to do anything else is a selfish outlook on the wonderful health God has blessed me with thus far. I had a minor injury and I learned heaps about proper recovery and when to take it easy and when to take a break. My fall marathon goal was ambitious, at best, and at worst, unrealistic, but I was training for it optimistically anyway. Now the pressure is off from that goal, I have one more marathon this year and I’m just about to start my taper for that race. It will be a fun race no matter what, because being able to run at all is what I am appreciating right now.

Tune in to my next post in a couple days, where I hope to put some thoughts down about a impending vacation to Portland, Bend, Montana and all over Idaho and Washington. I’ll soon be running on the west coast, using up most of my vacation time and forgetting taper madness in the mountains!

 Last but not least, GO SOX! World Series bound! I’ll be tuning in from the west coast!