Last night around the time I was supposed to be basking in a post-long-run comatose, I was actually having a panic attack. It wasn’t loud, aggressive, or filled with tears (can you guess how these normally go for me?) but it definitely happened, and it kept my brain a-flutter for far too long.
To summarize, in the space of about 3 iPhone internet searches, I self-diagnosed myself with a stress fracture and resolved myself to a fate of another spring without running and no more Eugene marathon.
Let’s back up a bit though.
Yesterday, I ran 18.5 miles for my long run—a bit longer than I intended on, however I felt great the whole time. Despite a brutal head wind that never seemed to go in the right direction, conditions were ideal for this run, and I was thrilled to be out in short sleeves again. There was really only one thing irking me, and right from the get-go it didn’t really make sense: a shin splint.
I’ve had shin splints before, however that was back when I was running track, and I don’t think I’ve actually had one from running since then. Therefore, I was really confused how after all the mileage I’ve built up and training I’ve done, one persnickety little shin splint would choose to show up out of the blue. It didn’t get worse or anything throughout the run, it just kind of hung out not wanting to go away. After I was done, I noticed that flexing my foot to push the pedals in my car was irritating it—and this put me on edge a bit.
I’m very paranoid about any kind of injury (as most runners are) but I think that I’m particularly wary when it comes to any ache or pain in my body. I go right into prevention/recovery mode whenever I feel something’s off—ice, pain killers, stretching, etc. Last night, the pain still hadn’t subsided, and although I was completely fine in terms of weight-bearing and walking, I still had a pang whenever I would flex my foot.
So, after BF had fallen asleep (yesterday he ran the furthest he’s ever run before—14 miles!), I decided to do what I believe is one of the biggest mistakes runners can do: I went online and tried to figure out what was wrong. Now you see, shin splints and stress fractures are quite interrelated in terms of their similar symptoms, their location, and their frequency in runners. Therefore, when you start Googling anything related to shins and running and pain, you get a very wide range of possibilities for the culprit. This would be the part of the story where I go straight to the worst case scenario, deciding not only that I have a stress fracture but that I can no longer run the Eugene Marathon and must resound myself to swimming and spinning for 6-8 weeks. Not only that, but I actually thought about how sad I would be to read other runner’s blogs and how I would need to try to stay positive in my own blogging. Oh, I also thought, “Maybe I’ll still be able to do the half? But then I’d be so depressed seeing people do the full…and why would my family come if I was only doing the half?”
Yes, all those thoughts did go through my head.
No, I don’t have anything near a stress fracture.
Once I woke up this morning and regained a better grip on reality, I realized two things: It’s actually not running or impact that irritates this feeling in my shin (it’s flexing my foot), and I’ve had this pain before—and it definitely wasn’t a stress fracture then either.
After a little more logical and thorough investigation with my sports doctor known as Dr. Google, PhD., I got a little closer to what I think is going on.
Ready for some fancy name-calling? Tibialis Anterior Tendonitis. AKA: Really bad shin splints.
In a nutshell, one of the muscles on the front of my leg has some tendonitis, and it hurts to bend my foot.
So yes, it’s too bad and I’ll be taking all the proper precautions in the mean time, but no…it’s not the completely debilitating injury that my pre-bedtime brain decided it was.
Now, I know many runners are super hyper-aware about getting hurt, and understandably so. However, I do think there was a particular reason I so quickly and dramatically decided that this pain meant the worse case injury. You see, it was almost exactly one year ago to the weekend that I got hurt last year. I actually think it may have been the exact same weekend; I had run my half marathon PR, and like a really super smart person decided to run 9 miles the day after. Thus began the week-long downward spiral of my hip flexor, which ultimately would end up torn and disabling me from being able to walk, let alone run. I couldn’t even run 10 feet for a solid 2 months without my hip seizing in pain, and it would be 3 months before I could run more than a mile.
Those were fun times. No, actually they sucked. However, despite it all I did learn a lot about myself as a runner, and more importantly about my limits.
So, what does all this have to do with my panic attack about a stress fracture?
Well, I can’t be entirely certain, but I do think a part of my brain—that mysterious subconscious part that enjoys playing tricks on you—is in full-force protection mode right now in regards to injuries. Because last year my spring was so wholly down-trodden due to my limping gimp status, I think part of me is really bugged-out scared about the possibility of something like that happening again. And, sure, it’s for good reason—no one wants to get hurt—but for me that period of time is not entirely pleasant to think back to. I have such high hopes for this spring, for this upcoming marathon, and for the plans I have for the summer, and it cripples me to think of them going wrong.
As a runner, I do need to realize that injuries do happen—it’s all in the nature of the sport. I have internalized this, and I feel better prepared for if and when something happens again, but this little bout of panic I had last night made me realize that maybe I’m more afraid of it than I consciously think I am. I know I got through it last time, I know I could get through it again, but I also remember the feeling of disappointment that lasted for months. And that feeling is what I’m most afraid of. Disappointment in myself for not training smarter, disappointment in not being able to cross another marathon finish line, and overall disappointment in missing the glory of a good run.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m feeling a bit vulnerable right now, and I know it’s because at this point—I do have a lot to lose.
And in reality, that’s a really good thing.
Sure it’s scary to think that one little slip up could take everything away, but I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s when you’re happiest that you tend to feel the most vulnerable. When you’ve built up a great deal of strength(both literally and figuratively) in your life, you cannot help but feel exposed and be fearful that all your hard work will come crashing down.
It is better to feel like you have something to lose rather than nothing to lose, though. When you have something to lose, in this case—training and mileage build up—it’s because you’ve put dedication into something; you’ve taken time and care into making something happen. The thought of those hours and grueling efforts going to waste is horrifying, but I think we/I should remember that they actually will never go to waste. Sure, if I were to get hurt, there would definitely be a loss in morale and my marathon registration fee, but it wouldn’t take away from the hours I’ve spent on the pavement, loving the feeling of running, and soaking in the greatness that is a runner’s high.
I’m going to try and remember this, as I nurse this pesky shin splint, but also as I think about the future of my running career. This momentary lapse in my better thinking made me realize that part of being a good runner is internalizing the fact that injuries happen, and I need to trust myself a little more. I’ve done everything I can to stay healthy, and if my body doesn’t choose to cooperate—well then, there really isn’t anything I can do about it.
Of course, as with most tough things, this mentality is easier said than done, but I am going to try and focus on the reality of being a runner instead of just the ideals of it.
Obviously running a PR in every race and having a great run every day would be awesome, but it’s not the nature of the beast. Sometimes, we need a little dose of fear to help us realize that running isn’t a submissive mistress. She keeps you on your toes, and you need to listen to her demands in order to maintain a steady relationship.
Icing, ibuprofen-ing, massaging, and resting until this bugger subsides. I’m considering waiting until later in the week to run again, but we’ll see how things go. Thanks for reading my attempts at narrating the complexities of my brain. Sometimes I feel like it’s trying to be an announcer for a 20-person trapeze show…not a cool task.
Questions: Tell me something fun about your weekend! Or, if you’re feeling deep, tell me about your thoughts on the psyche of injuries.