I did it to myself. A dumb, newbie move. Three weeks before my big race I purchased two pairs of New Balance 1063’s, the same shoes I’d been wearing for a year. After logging more than 550 miles it was time to replace my current pair. My thinking was that two more pairs would give me a new set of trainers and a new pair of shoes for race day. All I had to do was break them in. The last sizeable run on the calendar going into my taper was a series of 4 two mile sprints at 10K pace, separated by 3 minute recovery jogs. A simple interval run, bookended with 10 minutes of warm up and warm down jogging. I had forgotten that I run faster than I used to, which meant that my 10K sprints were at 7:15 to 7:30 minutes per mile. By the last sprint I had run 11 miles, and as I slowed to a jog I could feel something was terribly wrong with my right leg.
Looking down at my right foot I saw the end result of a muscular chain reaction. The whole foot was angled out, pointing away from my body on each forward step. The foot was also inverted, accentuating my supination, the tendency to roll the foot inward which is my everyday gait defect. I slowed my speed down to about a 9 minute mile and the pain announced itself. It originated on the inside of my right knee. I slowed my pace again and concentrated on my gait, willing my right foot to land properly, but it seemed that my path was taking me along sidewalks with driveways that only accentuated the splayed, rolled direction. As I emerged from the Ballona bike path with just under a mile left I was walking with sharp pain in my knee area and scared.
I got home and did some diagnostics. I relaxed, stretched a bit, and attempted to identify what was hurting. Jill, my bodyworker, had taught me many times that my limited ankle flexion caused leg muscles to compress and compensate in bad ways. My best guess was that the new shoes had affected my ankle flexion or my leg position causing a bad compensation somewhere in the leg muscles. I took a sodium naproxen (Aleve, to you unfamiliar with NSAIDs), iced the leg, and rested. Monday was an off day, so more naproxen, ice, and limited activity. We had a birthday dinner for Brian at Umami burger, now my favorite burger in all of L.A. We caused a bit of wait staff disbelief with how much food we ordered (4 burgers for 3 people, and all the side dishes). Brian and I also ended up eating part of Sofia’s burger. Even with all that deliciousness and celebration the leg pain wasn’t going away, and to his credit Brian put on his coach hat and told me to relax and rest.
Tuesday’s schedule called for a 30 mile bike ride, but I skipped doing it in the morning as I had my appointment with Jill at noon. She started by having me go through the entire range of movement in the foot using her Yoga Tune Up PT balls, and I had little to no pain across the toes, tarsals, plantars, arch, or ankle. That led her to work her way up the leg. She was able to get my fibula to move, which meant the shin wasn’t seized either. The knee seemed fine as well. The area behind and to the side of the knee is a complex area of criss-crossing muscles and tendons. Our bipedal evolution is an incredible achievement of delicately hinged and specifically articulated overlapping and cross-connected muscles. Jill felt her way through the individual muscles and attachments, visualizing what her fingers were manipulating. We talked about neuroplasticity and the discovery that the brain can rewire and remap itself throughout life. The sustained myth that we only use 10% of our brains has been long disproved, and we’ve even seen how adults who are blinded can learn Braille by remapping their sense of touch to their visual cortex. Jill, and bodyworkers like her, must learn a tactile map of the human anatomy and it can take many years of hands-on practice. After half an hour she thought she had located the problem in the attachment of my adductor, or possibly gracilis, the two muscles of the inside thigh. The solution? Treat it like tendonitis: rest, ice, and maybe some ibuprofin to combat inflammation.
A healthy human body can fix itself of most minor injuries and illnesses in ten days to two weeks. The immune system has evolved over millions of years to combat bacteria and react to viruses by creating antibodies (if the virus doesn’t kill the host first). Muscle and tendon strains will repair themselves once the inflammation goes down, the tissue has a chance to relax and stitch things back together. Ice helps to reduce swelling and blood flow fixes the rest. For many of us, this loss of control or derailment of our plans creates a window for fear to creep in and burgle our mental home. With two weeks before the biggest race of my life, knowing I had two weeks to rest and heal was both good news and terrible at once.
The market is full of snake oil that preys upon people’s need to feel in control of themselves when they don’t know what’s happening. Proven frauds like Airborne still sell millions of dollars in product because people want to feel like they are doing something to get better, when the answer is that in ten days to two weeks their body will fix itself. Acupuncture, vitamin treatments, homeopathic garbage – these are all disproven placebos that have survived because we want control and a definitive answer. Rest and wait two weeks sucks because it’s so damned passive.
The irony is that while resting the body the mind has time to obsess. How can I speed this up? What if it doesn’t heal in two weeks? What if I’ve sabotaged all of my goals by doing something stupid to myself? Maybe I should see a specialist. Do I need surgery? OK, maybe I’ll just walk the marathon. Shit, I have to run a marathon in two weeks! Oh god, everyone’s going to be watching. I’m going to be a failure. What have I done? Do I cancel? I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t have told anyone about this stupid thing. Oh, no, you had to start a blog. You had to tell everyone “I’m doing an Ironman”, and now you fucked it up. Good job, big mouth. All that talk and you screwed it up in the home stretch. Your mom had acupuncture and she said it helped her. Now your dad is doing it, and your scientist friend with the hip problems said it helped her. But all the evidence says it’s bunk! Not a single study has proven efficacy beyond placebo! OK, then just get a massage. What’s that going to do? I’m going to scream when they touch me. I’ll just ice it. Come on, that’ll never work. You need to be fixed now!
And so on.
Brian has accused himself of acting then thinking and me of the opposite. We’re well matched that way as coach and athlete as well as friends. I have to write about my pain so I can find a mental path through it. Brian would talk about his pain a bit before the race, but only in writing afterwards would he deconstruct how he could have podiumed if he hadn’t broken four vertebrae the day before.
I reject snake oil. I write to remind myself that time is cruel, it rushes us towards our goals too quickly and yields for no one’s injury. The good news is that I hurt myself two weeks before the race, not two days, or the day of. As Ironman Julian reminded me, you can’t build any more fitness in the two weeks before your Ironman race but you can seriously hurt yourself and derail your plans. So I have reduced my training volume considerably. I have not run since Sunday. I finally got back on the bike trainer last night and had an hour spin while Ironman Julian kept me company in the garage and we talked about the race. Today I’ll swim, tomorrow I’ll ride, and then it’s a week before the race and I’ll jog a bit to see how the leg feels. My only goal for this race was to finish it injury-free. I recommit myself to that goal by not making things worse and giving my body the time it needs to heal.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
That’s right. I’m opening up a can of Bene Gesserit whup-ass on this bitch.