In my past couple of race reports (for the Aspen Valley Marathon and the Great Cranberry Island Ultramarathon), I’ve talked about having some pretty serious pain in my left leg that had me worried about even starting either of those races. I’ve been pretty fortunate to mostly avoid injuries despite the number of marathons that I do and the number of miles that I run; the only long-term running injury I’ve had since I started running in 2009 was a stress fracture in my right femoral neck (hip). To be fair, that one was pretty serious – I couldn’t run for 8 months – but besides that and the occasional ache or pain, I’ve been very lucky compared to a lot of people I know.
As a result, if I have some type of pain after a run, I don’t usually worry about it. I just assume it will go away. The thought of going to my sports medicine doctor generally does not even occur to me . After my race in Aspen, I basically suspended all running activity before GCI in hopes that my leg would be feeling better before the race. It wasn’t. It probably doesn’t help that my new job requires me to walk around all day (usually I end up with 5-10 miles on any given day), but either way, I was hoping that just not running would be the cure. I was wrong.
My leg hurt so bad in the car on the way to Maine the day before the race that I actually just called and made an appointment with the sports med doctor for the day I would return from my trip. Because it was the last year ever for GCI, I really wanted to do that race before I went to my doctor and potentially was told I wouldn’t be able to run for awhile. When I told my mom I was going to the doctor, she said “Well, that’s nice, but are you actually going to listen to him if he tells you that you can’t run?”
Good point. I found myself conflicted, because I know myself pretty well. If it was an injury like shin splints or a mild calf strain or something that I could run through while going to physical therapy or something, I would probably end up overdoing it and pushing harder than I should. I’m not very good at doing things in moderation, so if I can run a little, I’m probably going to end up running a lot. However, I also knew that if there was something seriously wrong with my leg and I was risking making it a lot worse or turning it into a permanent injury, then I would not have a problem sitting out for awhile. I actually told my friend Chuck that I kind of hoped it was something “legitimate” so that I would be forced to let myself recover. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but like I said, I know myself pretty well. See, look how mature I am, Mom!
When I went in to see my doctor, I really didn’t know what he would tell me as far as my injury was concerned. What I did know was that I trusted him and his opinion about my recovery. My doctor is a 2:15 marathoner himself and a local legend. After a pretty lengthy exam and some x-rays, I got some pretty surprising news.
I have a broken fibula, stress fracture-style.
I honestly did not expect to hear that. I think I was surprised because in addition to the sharp pain I’ve been having on the outside of my leg (the fibula, apparently), I’ve also had some associated soft tissue/muscle pain in my calf, so I think I was expecting more of a soft tissue diagnosis. However, my doctor said the soft tissue issues were a result of my leg working harder to support my fibula and keep it from getting worse.
So of course, I asked my doctor what that means for my running and for the race goals I have coming up. First of all, I get to wear a pretty fashionable fracture boot. I also have to take a month off of running, maybe more depending on how it heals. He was encouraged that I had come in relatively quickly (2.5 weeks after the pain started) and that I had cut my mileage back a lot besides my races, so he said that should help the healing too. That means I’m not running the marathon I had scheduled for August, the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon in Nevada. It also means that I’ll have to adjust my goals a little bit, since I will not be in shape to break 4 hours at Omaha in September. Instead, I’ll start training again after I’ve recovered and shoot to break 4 hours at the Kiawah Island Marathon in December.
I think my mom thought I was going to jump off a bridge when I found out, but I’m honestly fine with the outcome. I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if I wasn’t prepared to hear what he had to say, and although I was surprised by the diagnosis, it is what it is. Although I’ll definitely miss running, if there is any month of the year that I wouldn’t mind skipping, it’s definitely August, so there’s that. Plus, I only have to miss one marathon, which really isn’t so bad. I’m able to bike to keep in shape as long as I don’t stand up in the saddle (puts too much pressure on the bone), so I’m rekindling my relationship with Lucille, my bike. He also said I could swim, but I’d honestly rather not work out at all, so no.
It’s pretty easy to see how this happened, when I think about it objectively. I dramatically increased my training mileage while also increasing the intensity at the same time. I ran extra miles that my coach didn’t assign – sometimes an extra 40 in one month. I’ve never really done speedwork before, so upping the intensity and adding a ton of mileage on top of that probably wasn’t my best move. I guess I just got so excited about the progress I was making that I took it too far and ran more and ran harder than I should have. Meh, I’ll learn some day.
So, I guess that explains why the marathon and the ultra hurt so much. When I told my doctor that I had done those (plus all the walking for work) since the injury, he just laughed. He knows me pretty well and remembered when I did a half marathon with my broken hip and he said “Of course you did! You’re one of the only people I know who could finish a marathon and a 50k on a broken leg.” I don’t know if I’m one of the only people who could, just one of the only people who’s stubborn enough and would. Some things never change.