The running community is surrounded by volunteers. We work with coaches, depend on race marshalls to keep us safe, and look for those handing out water and Gatorade and blankets to keep us warm when we finish racing. A lot of race directors and their teams are often volunteers. But the one group that we tend to forget about are the First Aid Responders.
Before I write any more, I should make it clear that some organizations are crewed by paid responders, but many are not. What is the difference between them? Basically, none. They are all trained and kept up to date through practical sessions. But an event will often go to a less expensive organization first and any payment goes directly into that medical organization to cover its operating costs such as medical equipment and vehicles; since the responders are not earning income, there is more money to put towards those costs.
We need to remember that First Aid Responders are there because they want to be. It may not their job, and they probably are not being paid, but they are passionate about what they are doing: being there for you if you need help and looking after you if you get hurt. So when you are handing out thank you’s at your next race, remember to wave to the bike patrol, or stop at the truck or medical tent. We all know that a thank you goes a long way. You might just make someone’s day.
The marathon can be one of the most frustrating road events. I love the distance, the training that goes into it and the satisfaction from finishing. For the first time in many years, I changed my focus in this last training cycle from a time goal to simply finishing. I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” and I was winning. I was ready. Then the tides turned on me and derailed me during taper week, days before the Chicago marathon. Even then, I made it to the start and felt I could finish, albeit slowly. Instead, I finished one mile – one lousy mile.
I didn’t fail, but I didn’t do what I set out to do. Was I upset? Absolutely, and I was angry too, angry about the wasted time, effort and cost (in physio, chiropractic and osteo treatments). But I got over it, and now I move on.
Before I can do that, though, I have to get to the route of the problem. My hip buckled under me when I ran during taper week, and it did again on Sunday morning. This hasn’t happened before and it has become a cause for concern. Tammy the Hamstring may be playing her games again and partying it up with her friends, but my chiro suggested an x-ray to make sure that there isn’t a fracture.
On Friday night, Dave and I went to the hospital to learn that there isn’t an obvious fracture. The doctor suggested Advil (3 times a day), physiotherapy and a bone scan. (Why do doctors always recommend nothing but Advil and physiotherapy?). On Saturday morning, my chiro agreed that I should have a bone scan to look for a possible stress fracture. “With your high mileage, age, and frame,” he said, “I think it is a good idea.”
So now I wait. I have an appointment with my GP on the 23rd and will, hopefully, get some imaging done a week later. It’s frustrating as that means I probably won’t get results until a month after the first buckle.
In the meantime, I can continue to strengthen my muscles, try to get back on my bike and maybe, just maybe, get back into the pool. I may not be able to run, but I can take advantage of the time off running to do other things that I love, as well as focus on what I can do and work towards improvement.
I use to have a chiropractor who helped me with running aches and pains, usually my left SI joint or my right hamstring. When I had trouble with my back three years ago, though, he wasn’t able to help me at all; yet, he kept wanting me to go back for treatments. I turned to a physiotherapist who had a different approach and it ended up being the right one. I never did go back to that chiropractor.
This summer, I went through the reverse when Tammy the Hamstring acted up. I started with physiotherapy which just didn’t seem to be making any difference in how I felt. I called a friend to ask for her acupuncturist’s name, but she suggested that I see her chiropractor. “He’s really good,” she said. He knows muscles too.” So I took his name, googled him, read that he specializes in running and hockey injuries and had treated some high profile athletes including an Olympian sprinter. I picked up the phone and made an appointment to see him that week.
That Friday, Sandy treated me and gave me orders to run over the weekend, with a long warm-up and a gazillion lunges. And, since the run/walk combination had been too painful, he told me to just run very slowly. After my third visit with Sandy, my husband decided that he would run with me that night but he watched while I did my 6 sets of 60 lunges.
On the run home, Dave exclaimed, “Your form has completely changed!” I waited for the negative comments to follow, about how sore and lop-sided I looked, but instead he said, “It’s unbelievable! You are completely symmetrical! You’ve lost your funny kick. It’s absolutely incredible! Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”
“Even though I am so slow?” I asked.
“You look great! It’s unreal!”
My husband is not one to hand out compliments, so I was shocked by his enthusiasm and support, as well as blown away by the almost instantaneous change that resulted from just a few chiropractic treatments. It was clear that this was the right therapy for me.
In the past week, I have had a setback, but Sandy’s treatments and fitness plan for me have been effective. I am in this for the long haul and am going to do whatever it takes to heal. Between Sandy and my coach, I know that I will be able to come back stronger and faster than before.
To anyone with an injury, this is my advice: don’t fixate on one type of treatment. What worked before may not another time so it is important to be open to new ideas. I went in for my first visit with a “let’s see how it goes” attitude and, to my surprise, it was the right solution. While I feel like I am back at square one, I have every confidence that chiropractic care will help me get to where I want to be.
Many years ago, I told my youngest that he was brave. In his little boy mind, he didn’t understand so I explained that being brave means that you do something that you don’t want to do.
Yesterday, those words flew back to me when my friend, Wendy, posted that I was brave to stop running. I had thought my decision was tough, hard, smart and even courageous, but not once did I think of it as being brave. I know this seems odd when bravery and courage are synonyms, but “brave” is just that much more of a powerful word.
I thought back to that conversation I had with my youngest: being brave means doing something that you don’t want to do. I spent the past three months determined to start yesterday’s race and, in the past six weeks, I rebuilt my strength and endurance to start and finish. I was excited but also cautious that Tammy the Hamstring could make a reappearance. Sure enough, she did – and at the twelfth hour – but she also settled down enough to make me believe that I could run 26.2 miles.
Yesterday, I was on my guard as I started the marathon and, barely ten minutes in, I stepped aside. I got on the sidewalk and I held myself together while I worked my way back to the hotel. Feeling like a failure, I didn’t want any attention but, ironically, I was upset that not one of the hundreds of spectators I saw asked if I was okay. I wanted to cry, but I had to be brave.
Wendy’s words helped me to realize that bravery was a huge part of this journey. I did what I had to do, not what I wanted to do. I am 55 and want to be running and racing competitively for many more. As I reflect on the past few months and set goals for the future, I know that there are going to be other tough decisions to make and I am prepared to face them.
Weeks ago, I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” in the hope that I would be able to toe the line at the Chicago Marathon. I saw an osteopath who worked some magic. I spent time with an acupuncturist who lessened the pain and improved the circulation in my glutes and hamstring. And I found a chiropractor who is a gift to runners.
Within weeks, my Chiro got me running from 2 miles a week at the end of August to ending my training with 40+ mile weeks. When I first saw him, it hurt to walk. Last Sunday, and the one before, I ran 18 miles relatively painfree. I had put in the time running, stretching, and strengthening, and I was ready for Chicago – not for a fast time but to finish what I started.
But you can’t underestimate the power of the marathon. During the final days of my taper, Tammy the Hamstring came back to visit and she was angry. On Wednesday night, Kelly-Lynne and I went out for an easy 6 mile run and, half-way through, I felt like my back thigh was bleeding internally. A bit later, I thought a knife ripped through my piriformis. Minutes later, Kelly-Lynne and I walked Tammy back home, with me holding back tears.
After two more visits to the chiropractor, who felt I was just having a muscle spasm, and an acupuncture treatment, all I could do was hold my breath and hope that I would be able to run. Tammy needed to settle down.
By last night, I felt much better. My leg had loosened up, and I made the decision to run slowly for the first six miles of today’s marathon and take it from there. I felt confident that I was going to be able to finish.
So this morning, I left my sleeping husband and boys at the hotel at 6:00 as I walked to the start. Tammy the Hamstring felt relaxed; she was back under control. At 8:00, we started to move to the start line and began our marathon. But just past the one mile point, I felt a twinge. Tammy had resurfaced.
It was only a few minutes longer before I realized that I wasn’t going to finish. I was prepared to walk the back end of the course but not 25 miles, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run. So I called it a day.
It took almost an hour to get back to the hotel because of the road closures, and I watched runners and walkers of different sizes and speeds pass me. That was hard. I wondered whether I made the right decision until I hobbled back into the hotel lobby. It was clear that I made the best choice.
A nap, a snack and a lot of tears later, I am comfortable with my decision. I gave Chicago my best shot but finishing today just wasn’t in the cards. For whatever reason, this just wasn’t meant to be.
I am grateful for the optimism of my youngest who said, “Ya, but we’re in Chicago. At least, we get a holiday together.” And he is right. It is Canada’s Thanksgiving and I am thankful to be here with my husband and boys. In the end, this time together is what matters the most.
Gastro-intestinal distress. It’s a secret ailment that most runners share and, like childbirth, unless you have experienced it, you really don’t know what it is all about. Well, for those of you who have been fortunate enough to escape the horrors of GI distress, running means that you are pounding your body’s weight into the ground, which also means that you’re shaking up the contents of your stomach. The longer the distance you run, the more everything breaks apart. As everything loosens, it easily passes through your intestinal tract and, sometimes, faster than expected, leaving runners desperately seeking a bathroom, porta-potty or tall grass. If you aren’t careful, GI distress can be an absolute disaster.
When I run with friends, no one ever argues if someone needs a bathroom; we’ve all been in that situation. And no one ever complains about the wait. In fact, none of my friends really talk about GI distress at all – except Kelly-Lynne. A few months ago, she complained about eating the wrong foods at work so, twenty-five minutes into our evening run, we had to stop for a bathroom. This time, it was me who was waiting for her, which was so unusual that I teased her about it, and we somehow ended up talking about poop for the rest of the run. By the time we finished, I asked, “Do you realize that we just spent the last 30 minutes talking about poop? How many girls talk about poop? That is unheard of!” Finally, I had found a poop peep.
Years ago, my conversations about poop were limited to other moms who had to deal with the horrors of poopy diapers and poop that finds its way up a baby’s back and into every crevice of the body, places that I never would have imagined poop could crawl into until I had my own boys, poop that was so gross that Dave would jump to walk the dog on the coldest days of winter to avoid the dreaded diaper change. But Kelly-Lynne is my first real poop peep, someone to share my greatest pre-race fears: not emptying my gut before the start, getting caught mid-race needing a porta-potty and wondering whether I can ‘hang on’ until the end.
Last night, Tammy the Hamstring derailed my plans to take my youngest and his three friends to the Blue Jays game. I knew that Tammy wouldn’t want to sit at the game for 2 hours or more, and she would end up complaining about the train trip in and out of the city as well. When Dave came to the rescue and agreed to take the boys, the other moms (Susan and Anna) were equally grateful and asked me to thank him. “He still owes me,” I messaged. “I’d rather take 4 boys to a baseball game than spend all those years changing poopy diapers. He got off easy.” Somehow the discussion changed to the joys of teen boys and plunging toilets of their superhuman feats bobbing inside. Within minutes, I realized that I had found more poop peeps.
Susan and Anna are not just poop peeps, though. They are peeps with strategies, mom hacks that are so brilliant that they make bathing a skunky dog with Vagisil seem banal, strategies that include using laxatives to break down the most frightening of exhibits or pouring Restoralax (and, yes, you can buy it in bulk at Costco) into the toilet bowl to loosen things. A Restoralax/Gatorade concoction, they tell me, moves things along quite nicely. Gatorade in the toilet? Who knew?!
Everyone needs a poop peep, especially if you are a runner, a mom or a running mom. My network feels complete but there is always room for more.
Taking two weeks off running was completely my idea. I needed to remove the pressure of trying to run and to train for Chicago. I needed to focus on healing. At the time, I honestly didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, and I still don’t, but it gave me the break that I needed. It gave me the time to accept that Chicago will not be the marathon that I want it to be; once that happened, my frustration disappeared.
But taking the time off was still hard even though I walked Zeda, I spun my wheel on my windtrainer (because I didn’t trust that riding up and down hills in the great outdoors would be good for Tammy the Hamstring), and I went to yoga. I survived the first week without running but, by Day 10, I was getting antsy. “Four more days will not make a difference” I told myself. By Day 14, I was quite excited – one more day. It no longer hurt when I walk, my stability was back and I felt stronger, but I didn’t know if the time off would help my running.
I decided to test the trails on Saturday afternoon instead of in the morning as I felt my body would be more awake and Tammy would be less of a nuisance. I knew that I had to do 2’s and 1’s, and slowly. My osteopath also gave me some exercises to do before and after: hip rotations (like using a hula hoop), opening and closing the gates, and leg swings (forwards and sideways). I could hear my hip popping during the first set, which made me nervous, but I stuck to the plan: go out slowly, on a soft surface, 2 minutes on, 1 minute off, aim for a mile.
When I left the house, I was able to run along a straight plane but I had trouble manoeuvring corners and turns, even at a 9/10 minute mile pace. I almost quit and went back home. “Stick to the plan.” After 3 sets of 2’s and 1’s, I could feel that my hips had loosened up and I was moving more easily. After 6 sets, I was able to turn the same corner that I couldn’t get around before. Success! Then I went through my exercises at home for another 20 minutes. In the end, I spent more time warming up and cooling down/stretching than I actually did running, but it really didn’t matter because I ran!
Today, I went through the same routine but ran on a mix of surfaces – grass, gravel path, road – and for a bit longer. As on Saturday, I finished feeling good about running, but Tammy was still a pain in the butt – not as much of a pain as she was before, but still a nuisance. As my osteopath explained, there is scar tissue surrounding Tammy that has formed a rope and it needs to be loosened. When Tammy complains to my brain that she is sore, my body reacts by tightening up even more to protect her. But my joints and bones are healthy, my tendons are strong, and there is lots of fluid flowing through my veins. So I need to run – slowly and carefully – to start breaking up the scar tissue, to tame Tammy and to send the message to my brain that I am not broken; I am strong.
What does this mean in terms of the Chicago Marathon? I have no idea. I will be there and I will be running. I don’t know how far or how fast but I do know it will be with Tammy, and she will be on a very short leash.
I cried today. It has been the first time I cried since my training for Chicago has been sidelined. Heck, it is the first time that I have cried in I don’t know how long. But I do know that since Tammy started acting up, the uncertainty of whether I will be able to run the Chicago Marathon has left me feeling blue. Last week, I only ran on Monday, when I realized that Tammy the Hamstring needed attention, so I turned to yoga and spinning on my wind trainer for the rest of the week. The rest helped; I noticed that the range of motion in my right leg improved over the seven days as did my strength and balance.
This past Monday, I was cleared by my physiotherapist to try some shorter distances so I ran 3 miles that afternoon. Tammy was still tight, but she wasn’t sore like she was the week before and I felt fine the next day. On Wednesday, I was starting to feel normal; my hips felt like they were opening up again and I seemed to be walking properly. At my physio appointment the next morning, I was told that the puffiness on the back of my thigh was down and the weird bruising, which started to surface when we taped my leg the week before, was disappearing. Things seemed to be progressing and I was encouraged, so I ran again on Thursday night; this time I covered 4 miles.
This morning, everything changed. I headed out for an easy 3 mile run and Tammy decided to start kicking me in the butt. At the one mile mark, I stopped my watch, walked home and cried. I have been doing everything right: my exercises, my warm-ups, rest, sleep, physio…but it hasn’t been enough for Tammy. She obviously needs more time.
Today was the first time that I have cried since my training for Chicago came to a halt. In the past two weeks, I have played the “what if” scenarios, including not starting. I have toyed with the idea of walking the 26.2 miles but that is not what I set out to do; I want to run the course, not walk it. I have thought about running part of the course and walking the rest, which I would be okay with if that becomes the plan, and I’ve considered running part and dropping out. But not once during the “what if” games that my mind played did I cry. Until today.
This afternoon, I decided that I am not going to run until Tammy is in better shape. I feel that my trying to run is like playing Russian Roulette; how much more can I push Tammy until she has had enough and really bites me in the butt? I looked into pool running as a way to supplement my training and was ready to buy a belt, but I don’t want to pool run. When I put things in perspective, I reminded myself that running Chicago is suppose to be fun, so I don’t need to torture myself with things that I don’t want to do. Instead, I will continue to ride on my wind trainer and go to yoga; I’m even willing to start swimming again. If I don’t start in Chicago, so be it. There is always another marathon. As I walked with my youngest in the late afternoon and felt Tammy’s presence again, I realized that taking a step back like this is the best thing for me.
I am trying to stay positive but there will likely be more tears between now and October 7th while I figure out what exactly Tammy has planned for me. Who knows? Maybe I will be able to pull a miracle out of my butt and I’ll be able to chase my dreams sooner than I think. Only time can tell.
On Friday morning, I went out for an easy 5 mile run. Half way through it, I noticed that my right adductor was tight so I slowed down; by the time I got home, the front and back of my upper thigh was sore. The next afternoon, I decided to go out for an easy run to make sure that my leg had recovered and I’d be able to handle my long run the next day. I felt good for about 3 miles, but as I climbed a slight uphill, I heard the back of my thigh start to scream at me. That’s when I thought my piriformis was source of my grief. I got home, took the next day off and waited for Physio on Tuesday.
Since then, I have seen two physiotherapists. One appointment was pre-scheduled to work on my diaphragmatic breathing but since movement was a huge issue, Tracy worked on my leg instead; the other, with Lisa, was a routine maintenance check, again scheduled weeks ago for today, and became a “Let’s get Cynthia moving” appointment. Both physiotherapists said the same thing: my right hamstring, right at the top of the leg where the hamstring meets the butt, was aggravated so the muscles around it (the other hamstrings, glute medius, sciatica) are tensing up to protect it. Well, they have been protecting it for a week now, and I’d really like the hamstring to relax and settle down so that I can get back to my running.
Since I have time these days, I also went to my family doctor who agreed with the others. I asked if he thought there was a tear because recovery has been so slow, but he said that my leg isn’t swollen enough and I’m not in enough pain for it to be a tear. All three professionals agree on the diagnosis: hamstring strain. Hooray, I think.
Meanwhile, I’m not running and I’m not happy about it. I’ve been told to take it really easy for a few more days: walking and some gentle cycling if it doesn’t hurt. I can go to yoga but I need to be careful to not overstretch.
Meanwhile, with Chicago only ten weeks away and the Canadian 5K Championships in mid-September, I am using every card in my hand to recover quickly.
Card #1: Physiotherapy: My doctor agreed that this is a must for a fast recovery. I have been getting ultrasound and acupuncture and my right hamstring is taped for a while.
Card #2: Anti-inflammatories: My right thigh is only 2.5 mm bigger than my left, which is not really significant. However, it has been a week with very little progress so we are being a little more aggressive through a prescription.
Card #3: Compression shorts: Lisa suggested that I wear compression shorts all day until my hamstring has settled down. Living in a house with ultra-conservative boys and men, I don’t own compression shorts. Fortunately, I found a pair of 2XU shorts on sale at National Sport. I think this may actually count as another “Hooray!”
Card #4: Rest: Of course, and I’m milking it. I’ve told my husband that I can’t vacuum or do any housework that involves using my hamstrings (like cleaning the bathtub), and I can only walk Zeda if we go for a slow walk. Yes, I am absolutely taking advantage of this! Shhhhh…..
Card #5: Stay calm: I’m not panicking. I’m frustrated beyond belief, but I am trying to stay positive. I have a solid base behind me so I’m trying to look at this a short period of forced rest to that I can be my best in the fall. But, Hamstring, be warned: if you play this game for more than three weeks, I will become a force to be reckoned with (and that’s when you’ll hear my husband and kids complain).
My advice to anyone thinking about massage is to start establishing a relationship with an RMT during your off-season, when a strange ache that might follow doesn’t matter. The RMT didn’t know me; she didn’t know what I could handle. On another runner or triathlete, the same pressure probably would have been fine but, on me, it wasn’t. Maybe I will go back to see her, but it will be after the marathon. In the meantime, I’m going to keep playing the cards in my hand; one of the them has to be the lucky one.
The last time I had a massage I was training for the Toronto Goodlife Marathon – in 2012. I’m not typically a touchy-feely person so I never really enjoyed going but, as I felt my body start to tire during the marathon cycle, I figured it was good for me. And it was – until one Thursday night when the therapist went deep into my right ankle; it hurt while standing the next day, ached during my long run that Saturday, and resulted in three weeks of no running. So I never went back and I have never re-entertained the idea of seeing a massage therapist again.
Until this year. There are many times when I know that my body is tight – my back, my neck, my legs, my feet, pretty much everywhere – and I rethink that a massage would be good for me. I regularly see a physiotherapist, mostly for maintenance, but she can only do so much in the time that she has with me. So, at the end of June, I began the daunting task of finding a massage therapist.
It didn’t take long before I realized that there are a lot of RMT’s locally and I had no idea where to go. I asked for recommendations, searched Health and Wellness facilities online, read every single biography that I could find, and made several phone calls. I wanted one who specializes in sports massage but also has a background in athletic therapy. Location is important (it has be close to home) as is timing (must have evening appointments). In the end, I found Amanda, who has a degree in Kineisology, a Masters in Athletic Therapy, is a registered massage therapist, does acupunture, works with several amateur sports teams, works two miles from home, and is hard to book an appointment with. She sounded too good to be true. After three weeks of waiting, I finally went to see her on Thursday.
I ran early on Thursday morning instead of later in the day, showered, changed and “Oh, wait! I need to shave my legs!” After all, I wanted to make a good first impression and not show up looking like Godzilla’s long lost cousin. So I showered, shaved, changed, and headed out the door.
Before we started, I filled Amanda in on my needs and my previous experience to make sure that she would not go too deep into my muscles. My needy spots were obvious: my hips, my glutes and my neck (the evil aftermath of spending most of June marking and doing reports). My calves, though, are “jacked.” Jacked. I spent all winter joking with my co-workers that I was going to be jacked by June because I would run at lunch when they went out for coffee. Ta-da! Jacked, I am.
I was glad that I ran in the morning because I didn’t really feel like it at night. I felt great but I thought that a run would end up feeling sloppy so I ended up vacuuming my entire house instead: floors, couches (found 35 cents!) and beds.
I’m not completely sold on massage therapy and I am watching my body as it responds to Thursday’s session. One glute, specifically the piriformis, is noticeably tight and sore, which it wasn’t before, so I skipped today’s long run as a precaution. I’m hoping that it is just my body’s way of reacting to the pressure put on it and I’ll be back to myself in another day or two. I’m staying positive that this will pass, and I am keeping the other two appointments that I booked because you’ve got to love a sports therapist who calls you “jacked.”