From Painful to Pain-Free

I am very pleased to report that I’ve been running pain-free for about four weeks. I give enormous credit to Doyle & Taylor Physical Therapy in Annapolis and also have to admit that a reduced weekly running schedule (3 days) combined with diligent strength exercises and stretching have allowed me to resolve the sources of my hip pain. I’m not entirely convinced the pain is gone for good but I am most definitely back to my normal running pace, comfort level and optimism. Before I dig into the pain-free runs, I do need to recap the calf pain that was a result of the Big Cottonwood marathon. That pain is fortunately no longer fresh in my mind but I do need to write about it, if for no other reason than to help other runners who may stumble upon this hopefully before they end up in the position I was in. As part of training for the downhill marathon, I focused on quad strengthening…and that was it. Fortunately, the quad work paid off and I really suffered minimal quad exhaustion or pain. Unfortunately, the mountain decline (and perhaps my form) took a serious toll on my calves. By the end of that Utah 26.2 miles I was in severe crippling pain in both calves. Loooooooong story short, it took 12 solid days of almost entire rest before I could run without calf pain.

Shooting, Seering Calf Pain

Walking on flat surfaces was as though I’d just gotten off a horse. I didn’t dare wear heels. Going down stairs was embarrassing and nearly impossible; I’d hold the rail, turn sideways and go one step at a time, grimacing with each step. Slow jogging for more than 0.15 miles caused such excruciating pain I thought for sure my calves were going to explode and burst all over the road. No amount of massage or foam rolling worked; both hurt. I was convinced I’d torn all the muscles in both calves. Fortunately, some friends with a bit more logic than me explained that was highly unlikely. And so, after 12 days of rest (no idea why that was the magic number), I was able to run again, completely normal (minus the hip pain) as though nothing had ever happened to my calves. I share all of this as a friendly warning–if you are headed into racing an unknown terrain, elevation, climate or area, be prepared for the unexpected. Train as diligently as you can, incorporate strength training for sure, read about others’ experiences from that same race, and do everything you can to mentally and physically prepare for the unknown.

Pain-Free for Now

The thing about having had pain and now being pain-free is that I’m acutely aware of every little twinge and tick my body is making. I’m not generally a paranoid person and I’m not a hypochondriac. I’ve felt lucky to have been pain and injury-free for the majority of my running career. I know my higher pain thresholds so when I do still feel a little ripple of something in my hip or glute area I am classifying it more as an annoyance than anything else. I’m trying really hard to believe that I am healthy and good to go and to not obsess over every little sensation.

But, the problem is that because we (me and the PT team) were never able to re-create what caused the hip pain in the first place I don’t necessarily know what to watch for to see if something could trigger its return. Here’s what we did learn and treat (and this is my recall, definitely not the proper medical terms):

  • My pelvis was out of alignment (which PT fixed)
  • One leg was trending longer than the other (which PT fixed/adjusted)
  • My sacrum was insanely tight (still an issue)
  • My lower left back muscle and glute muscle were CRAZY tight (which PT worked on a lot and still could use ongoing massage and treatment)
  • My posture is horrendous likely contributing to compensation issues
  • I hold my 1.5 year old son and other heavy loads mostly on my right causing my left side to get all jacked up

The right massages and stretches significantly improved all of the above issues and I’m now extremely conscious of my posture (though not always as quick to fix it as I should be). Some of these things could have been the cause of my pain and some the symptoms. There is certainly the chance that my awkward running form–my legs tend to kick out and I pronate a bit–also contributed to the initial pain, but we don’t know for sure.

The most I know is that I’m thrilled to be running pain-free again and I now take the time after every run to stretch the way I should. I am sticking with a three day a week running schedule, preferably every other day, and strength training in between. All this was a hard lesson to learn, and very humbling.

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