When a Runner is Not a Runner

Throwback to warm weather running

The past 8 months have been a test of my commitment to running.  I have been off since that mid-July massage, intended to help my muscles, resulted in a hamstring tear that sidelined me for the rest of the summer.  Now there was probably something brewing anyway but the massage tweaked something and I could not run for the rest of the summer.  In September, I made what now seems to be a superhuman rebuild to run Chicago,  only to tear my hamstring days before the marathon.  In mid-December, I was cleared to run again by 3 medical professionals: my sport medicine doctor, my chiropractor and my physiotherapist.  Strength was good and my cardio was fine, but running just didn’t feel right; I had no power.  Sure enough, an MRI at the beginning of January showed that I had less than 50% of the hamstring, a tear that meets the Ischial Tuberosity.  I pulled myself off the road again on January 15th.

It has been another two months since that diagnosis has been made and it is going to be another 6 weeks (April 16th) until I have a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection.  Who knows how long my recovery after that will be?  I am guessing that it will be another two months, which will bring me to sometime in June – if I am lucky.   And if that is the case, that means that it will be almost a year since that first injury, the catalyst that sent me into this dark hole that I just can’t find my way out of, a year since I have really, truly run.

During the past two weeks, I have thought a lot about my status as a runner.  Am I?  By definition, a runner is “a person who runs” and that is something that I am not doing.  I think about running all the time; I dream about running again and chasing my dreams; I read about running, talk about running and support people who are running.  But I am not running.

When I finally got my appointment date for the PRP injection, I was thrilled.  But the waiting, the recovery time and the uncertainty of knowing whether I will actually help strengthen the tendon have turned to frustration and fear.  What if it doesn’t work?  What if I won’t be able to run again?  What if????

The what if’s are always going to be there.  But until I have answers, I have to squash them.  I need to focus on the things that I am able to do: keep up my cardio and conditioning: bike, yoga, swim, weights; be a mom, a wife, a dog-mom; coach; love my job.  It should be no surprise that every single one of these things connects me to running.

Today, I am not running.  I am an injured runner.  I am a runner not running.  But until  I am told otherwise, I will continue to dream about running and racing again and focus my fitness towards the goal of pulling on a running skirt and lacing up my shoes again.  I am defined by running and always will be.

The Grass is Greener on This Side of the Fence

Throwback to a cold tempo: January 2018.

This is the first winter that I haven’t run in a long time and, truth be told, I am not complaining.  I do not miss the piles of laundry which come with 2 base layers and 4 tops from every single sub-zero run.  Nor do I miss the trails of frozen snot that are stuck to my jacket.  But I do miss the feelings of power and satisfaction that come after finishing something that, to most, seem unhumanly possible.

A few years ago, my friend, Erin, drove past as a few friends and I were just heading out for a run.  It was a mere -19 below and she yelled out her window “You’re crazy!  You know is 19 below, right?”  Since then, she has also become a runner and, on our Snow Day this week, when 2o-25 centimetres led to road chaos and school closures, she headed out for her run – in temperatures hovering below -25C.  From my side of the fence, she looked crazy.

A few days later, when temperatures were even colder, my heartrate jumped when I saw friend Walter bolting along the road.  His face mask was covered with condensation turned snow and frozen snot.  Only a runner can understand the excitement that comes from seeing another running doing something that the general population would describe as insane.  I sent Walter the friendly double-honk, waved, and cheered him along.

During this week’s deep freeze, I have often thought that I am glad that I am not running.  Then I qualify that thought with an “almost.” Had I been running through the fall, I most certainly would have been running in this seemingly coldest winter ever.   I would have embraced the cold, struggled with the footing and finished feeling mighty.  And I would have complained about the laundry too.

Instead, this year, Tammy the Hamstring and I get to drop into a downward dog at the yoga studio, where temperatures are 30c.  As we get ready to leave, covered in a hot, sticky sweat, and someone opens the door, the cold rushes in and I watch the steamy air turn to an Arctic breath.   For a brief moment, I think “I’m glad I’m not running,” pick up my shorts and tank, and head home.

And almost every time, on the drive home, I wonder if I would be running in this cold.  Would I take a day or two off?  Would I turn to the treadmill?  Would I crosstrain instead?  And every time, I have the same answer: I would most certainly be running.

But the fact is I am not running and, while I miss it, I really don’t miss running in the cold.  This winter, I am happy to have my little escape to a hot, humid studio – and my little pile of laundry.

Feeling Like a Rock Star

Every now and then, out of the blue, someone makes me feel special.  I end up carrying those feelings with me for days or weeks, maybe even longer, and they end up driving my energy.

On Thursday, as a group of Grade 7’s was leaving my Math class, one of the boys stopped, looked at me in the eye and said, “Thanks, Mrs. O’H.” I was caught off guard because he doesn’t usually talk to me at all.  But what came next was even more of a surprise.  “You’re a good Math teacher.  Ya.  So thanks.”  And off he went.

I really don’t know where that comment came from.  He isn’t a top student and he never comes in for extra help but he works hard.   I guess Math is starting to click for him.   Regardless, he made me feel great and, let’s face it, I’ve been feeling down in the dumps since I got my MRI results back so I needed  this “feel good” moment.

My second rockstar moment came on Saturday when I went for my ultrasound.  The technician looked at my history before she started so that she knew exactly what images she needed.  “How did you tear your tuberosity?” she asked.  “It’s a running related injury,” I answered, only to find out that she had the a similar injury and is just starting to run again after being off for a year.   So, of course, during the ultrasound, she spoke about her running, cross-training, and rebuilding – and she suddenly stopped.  “I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I should be focussing on you.  I mean, you’re here for your ultrasound and I’m busy talking about me.”  I insisted that I didn’t mind; I love to talk about running.  Besides, it took my mind off the whole procedure.  But she continued anyway.  “You look really fit and fast.  How far were you running each week?”  I could only laugh.

We chatted some more, mostly about the Chilly Half Marathon and Around the Bay.  We both really want to run Around the Bay this year because it’s the 125th anniversary, but her mileage isn’t high enough yet and I’m just not running.  I asked if she thought about walking the 30 kilometres instead and her face lit up.  “I never even thought about that!  I can do that!  I’m sure I can!”  I suggested that she try walking the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington at the beginning of March and, if it went well, then she would still have time to register to walk Around the Bay at the end of the month.

As we were finishing up, the technician asked, “Should I know you? I mean, are you famous?”  I just laughed. “Only in my dreams,” I replied.  “Well, you are so motivational.  I am so happy to have met you today.  I really hope that you are going to be running soon.”  And that was that.  We parted without exchanging digits or handles, but as two runners who found a commonality and connected.

Meeting this technician was a gentle reminder of how supportive the running community is and how much I need to be a part of it.   It’s made me realize that, despite everything, I still need to get involved with the running scene either as a volunteer or a coach (or both) as I work my way back to being a healthy runner.

Until that happens, though, I am going to continue to bask in magical moments like these that leave me feeling like a rockstar.

 

 

 

When the Wind Changes Direction

Don’t you love that feeling when you are out for a run and, after fighting the wind for miles, you turn around and let the wind blow you back home?   Other times, we aren’t quite so lucky and turn around to find that the wind that we thought we were running into was the tailwind, which means that running back is going to be that much harder.

Emotions can be like that too.  Almost anyone who lives with a teen has experienced the noise which can follow them home from school, similar to the sounds of an explosion after a 747 has crash landed in your living room.  As adults, we are better at controlling our emotions.  We can run with the feeling of the wind being on our back for months or years on end until, without any warning, a plane crashes into our home and leaves us feeling broken.

Last night, I got my results from the MRI of my hip.   This was requested months ago, at the end of October, and I finally had imaging done at the beginning for January.    Since I had started running again, I thought about cancelling it, but my husband and son both said, “Why not?  It’s only going to give you more information.”  So I went ahead with it, hoping that I would find out exactly why it still hurts when I run.

I got what I wanted – and more.   First, I learned something new; there is a tear in the labrum.  The doctor says I don’t need to worry about that because it isn’t an area that is bothering me.  Secondly, I got more information about my old friend, Izzy.  While I thought that Izzy had moved out, she is lying low and creating havoc.  There is inflammation between the gluteal insertion at the tuberosity, which is diagnosed as enthescopathy.  This seems to be caused by osteo-arthritis, which is starting to show in the hip, and by overuse from running.   And, even though I thought I was getting better, the tendon at the ischial tuberosity is still partially torn.  It involves less than 50% of the tendon which, to me, sound like it is between 25-50%, or the results would read “less than 25%.”  So, in a nutshell, my hip is a bit of a mess.

It isn’t the hip results, though, that are weighing on me.  I also got some unexpected results.  A round structure was found in an organ.  I’m not ready to talk about it yet, other than to say a more detailed ultrasound is in the near future.

Dr. Elliott and I looked at a treatment plan for my hip.  First, I am off running, and he thinks it will be another 3 to 6 months before I will be able to again.  We decided to go ahead with Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy to strengthen the hamstrings so he sent in a referral to the specialist at McMaster Hospital.  Hopefully, I can get an appointment soon.

This was a lot of information to digest.  In some ways, I am not surprised by the hip results.  I feel better knowing  why running has been  hurting, why it doesn’t feel right, and why I have been so hesitant to push myself.  It’s not because my muscles are waking up; it’s because there are some structural weaknesses.  I’m glad that I followed through with the MRI as now I have a concrete plan to correct the aches and pains that we know about and, I hope, eliminate the other concern.

Last night was the first night that I crawled into bed before 10:00 in a long time.  I needed a quiet spot, a place to rest, a place to think.  Like the plane before it crashes, I felt myself start to shake while fighting to maintain control.  And then I cried.  By the time I got out of bed this morning, I was over it.  For now, I will salvage what I can and do what I am able.

This is a new day, filled with questions and hope and I am reminded of the words “Focus on the things you can control, not on what you can’t.” Today, I will focus on me, my thoughts and my actions.  I will focus on finding inner strength and moving forward – one day at a time.

 

 

 

Oh, What a Feeling!

After finally being able to run consistently, every other day, for the past 3 weeks, I have a renewed energy.   I can’t get too excited since running still hurts, but it isn’t the “Ow, I am broken” kind of hurt that I had all fall; nor is it the “I’m so out of shape” feeling that we often get when we have been off for a while.  It’s a stiffness, a type of knot, a sensation that I really can’t describe.   I like to think of it as a “healing pain” to remind me of Tammy and Izzy, my unruly tenants who moved in during the summer and fall, and of all the work that I have been doing to evict them.  It’s a message to not push myself just yet – to be careful.

At my chiropractic visit on Saturday, Sandy asked how my legs and hips were feeling.  “It’s just my glutes,” I told him, “and the very top of the back of my thigh.  I feel like I have gone for circle.”  In July,  I went for a massage because those were the two areas that were bugging me, but that treatment led to a chain reaction of a tightness, pain and tears.  “That’s it?” he replied.  “That’s good.”   “Well, my quads were killing me earlier in the week, but that’s because I am an idiot.”

You see, I am running but it isn’t enough – in terms of distance or intensity.  I need more of both. While I love that I am back on the road and running, I don’t feel like I am getting much out of that time healthwise, so I am keeping up with the lunges, bridges, planks, cycling (windtrainer) and yoga that I have committed through the fall.   Somehow, through my determination to get stronger and a touch of bad planning, I somehow managed to do everything within 24 hours.

On Monday night, I hit yoga class (warmed up with my bridge routine) at 6:00 and rode on my windtrainer after that.  Tuesday morning, I did my 360 lunges at school, ran 5K after school and had a chiropractic treatment at 6:00, 24 hours after my Monday night yoga class.  Then, to top it off, I rode for an hour before going to bed because it seemed like a good idea at the time.   When I woke up the next morning, my legs were sore!  But it was a good kind of sore, the kind you get when your muscles have been pushed and are tired, the kind of sore that feels better as you move around through the day, the kind of sore that feels great!

I haven’t had that feeling in months.   Sandy laughed after he heard my insane description, especially with the treatment details in the middle.  “You are obviously doing everything you can to get stronger and that’s okay.  It’s okay to feel sore.  Just overdo it.”

I don’t think there is a chance that I could ever repeat that Monday/Tuesday- at least, not in the near future.  But the satisfaction of thinking about what I did makes me smile.  It’s made me realize how far I have come in my overall fitness in the past 7 months and it gives me hope for chasing dreams and crushing previous times.   It makes me feel great!  So I won’t say “never again.”  We’ll see how long it takes me to lose my mind again.

Setbacks

On Thursday, I had a follow-up visit with Dr. Elliott.  At this point, I think that Tammy and Izzy have moved back to their respective homes and are following the rules.  But my right leg remains slightly tight through the upper hamstrings and that has me on my guard.

I am fairly certain that this tightness is not running-related but parenting-related.  Last Saturday, I took some marking with me to my son’s soccer game.  As I do at every game, I looked at the hard metal bench and thought “No way am I sitting on that,” so I stood like I usually do.  But marking while standing is tough so I entertained the idea of sitting on the turf.  “Nope, my pants will get dirty.”  So I went into a squat and marked until I heard the whistle.

“Have I really been squatting for twenty minutes?”  Slowly, I started to get up and I realized how tight my right adductor had become in that twenty minutes.  Part of me was impressed that I was able to hold a squat for that long and another part of me was doing some pretty serious name-calling.

On Tuesday morning, I went out for an easy run and I could feel the tension in my adductors by the end of my first mile, along with a general tightness in what I thought was the top of the IT band. Just after I decided to turn around and head back to school, my Garmin died. “It’s a sign,” I told myself. “This run was just not suppose to happen.”

When I saw my chiropractor, he explained that my glutes are starting to work again so my adductor and tensor fasciae latae, which is next to the IT band and below the pelvis, are working to support them.  Saturday’s super squat irritated them; yes, I overstretched.  A few days later, when I saw Dr. Elliott, he said the same thing.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” I told him.  “I’ve been doing everything right.  And, then, something stupid like this happens.”

“You just need more time,” he answered.  “Hamstrings take a while.  Just be patient.”

Patience.  I thought I was but it looks like I have to find some more.  I need to take a deep breath, sigh and a step back for a little while longer.  I am not willing to take any chances and, at this point, another week or two off will not make a difference.  So I am looking for positives:

  1. I have more time for my family.  My oldest came home from school yesterday; my youngest has a birthday this week; Christmas is coming.  Even though it means I am not running, I am grateful for the time I have with them.
  2. I should be back on the road by next week.  This is a huge advantage as I will be off work and have time to start slowly, stretch, and re-establish some running routines before I go back to work in January.
  3. The end is near.  I can feel it.  In 2019, I can get back to chasing my dreams.

But I won’t just be chasing them.  I’ll catch them, find new ones to go after and chase them down too.  2019, I am coming after you.

The Waiting Game

I like to think of myself as a patient person.  As a teacher, working with kids, I have to be; patience and understanding are parts of the job.  And as a mom of two teenage boys, patience absolutely has to be at my side.  But when it comes to me, I have always felt that Patience is not my friend. But over the past 9 weeks, I have learned to accept that “it is what it is” and to do what is right, not what I want.

When I saw Dr. Elliott in November, he suggested that it could be a while before Tammy and Izzy move out for good.  “Hamstrings can take a while.  It could be 8 weeks; in a worst case scenario, we’re looking at 6 months.”  We talked about my starting to run again when things feel right and made a follow-up appointment for next week, which happens to be 10 weeks after Izzy the Ischial Tuberosity was torn.

Meanwhile, I have continued ART twice a week with my chiropractor.   Two weeks ago, Sandy and I noticed that I wasn’t wincing when he was working on my hip and leg.  At one session, he dug into the muscle so deeply that he broke a blood vessel on his thumb, which he described as a badge of honour; I felt nothing.  Before I left, we talked about my returning to running as I appeared to be clinically fine, but I wasn’t mentally ready.   Taking the time off to heal has been difficult and, while I felt that  I was stronger and Tammy and Izzy were under control, I hesitated.  I was willing to wait until my follow-up with Dr.Elliott.

But after another week of pain free treatments, I was ready.  Nervous, but confident about being able to run.  I waited a few days for the right conditions – daylight, warmer, and dry roads.  Last Wednesday afternoon, Mother Nature was on my side and I headed out for 3 miles.  And guess what?  It was painless!   I ran slowly but comfortably, averaging an 8:43 pace.  By no means were things perfect; after all, I hadn’t run since the beginning of October.  But I ran continuously, my stride felt good, my hips felt strong, and I was running.  It was a start.

Happy to be running again.

Today, ten days later, I have run four times with each being better than the one before.  When I saw my chiropractor on Thursday, he said my hip was “perfect” and booked my next appointment for a week later.  I am optimistic, but cautious.  As excited as I am to be running again, I do not want to jeopardize the time and effort that I have put into healing, only to make a rash decision that could sideline me again.

Since October, there have been moments of frustration and there have been tears, but tears are a part of recovery.   Keeping Patience at my side and accepting my injury have also been a part of my healing.   Over the next few weeks, I need to continue to focus on doing the right thing while I start to build my mileage again – with Patience.  Together, we will get to where I want to be: running, running fast, and chasing my dreams.

 

Product Review: Noxgear Lighthound Vest

Waiting in her Lighthound vest.

Last November, my husband came home after walking Zeda and commented on a light that another dog in the neighbourhood was wearing.  “It’s great,” he said. “You can see it all the way down the street.  I want to find out where she got it.”  A week later, we had a Noxgear Lighthound vest for Zeda and a Tracer 360 vest for him.

Keeping visible as we walk by a busy plaza.

I was in complete favour of putting the Lighthound on Zeda.  We live in poorly lit community.  If we stay in the residential section, I know how hard it is hard to see us as I have trouble seeing pedestrians, dogs and cyclists too.  When we walk on the busier main roads which are better lit, we have to deal with drivers who rush to turn left or right and don’t expect to see someone walking in the dark .  It can be especially dangerous when we pass the Tim Horton’s and the McDonald’s drive-throughs.

Shadow walking

Every morning, Zeda and I are out for her morning walk – always in the dark and sometimes as early as 5:00 – and every morning, she wears her vest.   We change the colours around to match my mood and her collar, which makes it fun.  The lighthound has kept her (and me) safe. Drivers see us and always (and I mean always) give us the right of way; this never happened before.

I cannot say enough good things about Noxgear.  Their product is excellent and their customer service is top-notch.  If you are out and about with your furbaby in the dark, I highly recommend you get one.

PS: I now have a Noxgear vest to run in too, but that is another post.

 

The Power of Lunges

When I first saw Dr. Sajko at the end of August, he directed me towards lunges.  “Do a box drill,” he said.  “Run to the park and you’ve got your box.”  And he proceeded to show me three types of walking lunges: straight, my front leg angled out at 45 degrees to strengthen the adductors, and cross-overs to target the gluteus.  “Use the box.  Do one on each side of the box.”

The next day, I jogged to the soccer field and saw several boxes: the full field, the half field, the penalty box… “Which one should I use?” I wondered.   I decided to use the width of the whole field, jog along the length for recovery and repeat.  By the end of the workout, I had done 6×60 sets of lunges and my legs were fried.  Once I started running more, I cut back on my lunges but started again (this time indoors) after the Chicago fiasco.

After getting the results that show a tear, I asked Dr. Sajko if I should still be doing my lunges.  “Why not?” he asked.  After explaining my fear of stretching out the area where the tear is and injuring it more, he explained.

Think of the tear as a lifesaver.  As you suck on it and as one part gets thinner, so does the rest.  It works the opposite way when a tear heals.  You’re building up muscle around it and as the muscle gets thicker, that will fill up the space at the end of the tear.  Eventually, the whole area is filled..

The weakest part of Izzy the Ischial Tuberosity is at the V’s of my fingers.  If the tear is going to get worse, that is where is it is going to happen.  So building muscle around that area is going to fill in the tear until there is no empty space, help close the tear and strengthen the tendon.

Making time to lunge before school starts.

 

I was secretly hoping that I could take a break from lunge-days.  Truth be told, though, I do like them; everything about them from finding the time to doing them (and properly) can be a challenge, and I always finish feeling great.  Just don’t tell my chiropractor.

 

 

Tammy Goes To The Doctor

After getting back from Chicago, I knew that Tammy the Hamstring needed to see a Sports Medicine specialist.   But getting an appointment wasn’t easy.   I had to go through my GP, which was a two week wait.  Then, I had to wait another 10 days before I could see the sports doc.  I joked that by the time I would actually see him, I would be almost healed.

Tammy and I drove to Burlington on Friday to see Dr. Elliott at his sports medicine clinic to try to find out what is setting her off and turning her a real pain in the butt.  While waiting, another patient recognized me.  “Cynthia?” she asked.  “It’s—.  So  how is retirement treating you?”

“Ummmm…I am not retired.”  It’s a week later and I still don’t have a good comeback.

It’s a good thing that I have already established a relationship with Dr. Elliott from a previous injury years ago as my first interaction on Friday was with his resident.  When she called for me and I got up from the chair, I stumbled because my hip was sore after sitting while waiting.  She laughed at me and I felt put out.  I wasn’t clumsy; I just have something going on with the right side of my pelvis which is why I was there in the first place.  She took me into the examination room and began to ask questions, one of the first being  “Give me some examples of when it hurts.”  So I did until she cut cut me off: “Okay, I get it. You’re in pain.”  Somehow, I managed to bite my tongue.  After more discussion, she suggested a cortisone shot.  I was, again, taken aback, wondering why she would jump to an injection without examining me first.   When she got around to doing that, she commented “Wow, you are really skinny!  No, you are really skinny!”  I still can’t find the right words to explain how I felt: shocked, angry, upset, annoyed….None of them were positive.

My confidence was restored when Dr. Elliott walked into the room.  He wanted imaging – hooray! – and requisitioned an ultrasound of the entire right side of the pelvis.   As I expected, he wants to see what is going on inside so that we can proceed with treatment.  Meanwhile, he said, I have done all of the right things.

Dr. Elliott suggested that I may be dealing with bursitis, but there may also be a tear somewhere; hamstring tears, he told me, take about 3 months to heal.  Meanwhile, there is obviously a lot of inflammation so I walked away with a prescription for anti-inflammatories.

Getting closer to solving this puzzle has left me feeling positive.  The worst case scenario is a tear and, if so, I’m more than halfway to three months.  I am still not convinced that there isn’t a stress fracture, though, and I am waiting for an MRI.

The logo from the clinic sums up my feelings.

As crazy as it sounds, I am looking forward to racing in 2019.  I have already targeted Robbie Burns at the end of January, crossing fingers that I will be back on the road by mid-December.  Once I get the first set of results, I can decide if I should register.  Meanwhile, I’ll continue with yoga, increase my time on the windtrainer and, when I am feeling gutsy, get back into the pool.  Once this is all over, I should be ready to slowly rebuild my base and get back to chasing my dreams.