Marathon Week: Coping With Injury

As I countdown the days before my second 26.2 mile trek, I’m going to reflect on some issues/experiences I’ve had during my preparation for the Flying Pig Marathon on May 2nd. This winter did a number on me. It really wasn't a harsh winter, but the February snowstorms kept me off the streets and on the treadmill for almost the entire month. As I mentioned before, I chose a running plan this year that called for only three runs a week. I felt that I was in good enough shape to make it work out. But since I was doing that treadmill running, I was unsatisfied with my progress.

The weather changed quickly (as I remember it was snow and 20 degrees one week, mid-fifties the next). Once the weather broke at the beginning of March, I felt like I needed to make up for lost time. I hit the Eden Park hills pretty hard. I was running them well, picking up time. But then I had a run where the back of my leg felt sore. Ignoring it, I went for my scheduled long on a crazy rainy Saturday. I ended up hurting myself.

I read everything there is online about Achilles Tendinitis. The tendon is a different beast as blood doesn't flow well to tendons, so the only sure-fire fix is rest. I scaled back my running for a couple of weeks, hoping it would improve, but it didn't; I started to doubt whether or not I'd be able to run the marathon at all. In desperation, I visited the orthopedic specialist to see what was up. X-rays were negative and he assured me it was just a mild case. He actually told me I was getting old and, in addition to warming before/icing afterward, I should pop 2-3 ibuprofen before going on a run. This was welcome advice, as many articles I had read online warned against taking anything at all. I now felt empowered to give it a go. I got an ice pack to wear after runs, took some Advil before hitting the road, and I was hanging in there.

The one thing I was trying to do was to get my leg warm before heading out. I wore thick socks to bed before waking up to run, but it wasn't helping. I resorted to analgesic rubs, which made our home smell like old man, but still wasn't satisfied. Then I remembered this stuff I used when I played soccer in college that was ideal; after back-to-back games, it virtually eliminated any soreness. But it came in an unlabeled tub so I never knew what it was. The same trainer that was on staff at CCU when I played is still there and he told me it was called Atomic Balm (props to the marketing department on that one). My father-in-law did some online research and located the only store in Cincinnati that sold it. This tube of goop has saved my marathon. It heats up my leg and keeps it warm for hours. I am now the ultimate unpaid spokesman for Atomic Balm.

I'm not going to lie, the leg still hurts some. Hills are uncomfortable and, around mile 14, it gets a little tight. Still, I believe my tendinitis is not extreme and I won't be harming myself long-term by making this attempt. Nine days ago I ran twenty miles and I feel fine now. I've restricted my training to the elliptical machine at the gym since then to rest the tendon. All I need is to get this one run in on Sunday and it'll all have been worth it.

Unfortunately, because of this injury, there's no likelihood that I can best my time from last year. But I think I learned much more about myself as a result. I'm willing to admit that I'm getting older, and that I now need to take better care of my body than I used to. And I learned that whereas I used to view training as merely the opportunity to keep in shape, I'm actually starting to like running for its own merits.