Friday, March 6, 2015

Turning the corner on my injury

The last time I ran more than 4 miles was nearly a month ago, on February 7. Although I have shared the news with my friends and on social media, I haven't written about it here. Maybe if I don't write about it it isn't real?

But it is real, and of course it's my own fault. The following paragraph is probably best skipped, but it explains how I got to where I am now. I first noticed my sore hamstrings sometime last fall. The pain started on the left leg and gradually migrated rightward and upward. Back in October, I was racing all-out in an effort to qualify for the first corral at Bloomsday in May. I raced a 5k every week, and after the first couple of races, my hammies were so sore that I couldn't do any speed work midweek. I backed of the speed work first, then backed off the racing (good moves), then decided I should be doing regular squats instead of front squats during strength training to better target my hams/glutes (perhaps a good move, but done too rapidly). I backed way off on the squats, then tried gradually ramping the speed work, and felt okay but not great -- I could still feel some of the same issues in the hamstrings.

That got me to February 7 and the Uwharrie 8 mile trail race. I had signed up for the race on a bit of a whim: Entry is via lottery and I figured I wouldn't get in to the race so what was the harm in trying? Of course I got in, so I had to do the race. For a better description of the actual event, see Chas's post on the 20-mile race here. My race, for all practical purposes, ended at Mile 2.5

I started the race okay, hitting the uphill start hard. But when the trail leveled out, I felt I should be giving a similar effort and staying with the other runners. Bad move. I need to remind myself early and often that I'm not a good downhill trail runner, probably due to a deadly combination of age and klutziness. I fell once and felt a tweak in my right glute, but nothing to stop me from running. Then, about 2.5 miles in, I stumbled hard and onto some jagged rocks. As I crashed to the ground on my left knee, I felt my right glute tighten.

There was a bloody gash on the left leg, but the real injury was on my right leg. Here's what my left leg looked like when I got home:


In almost certainly a boneheaded move, I decided to limp on ahead rather than turning around and walking to the road at Mile 2. There were spectators there who could certainly have given me a ride back to my car, but I chose to continue, getting passed by what felt like dozens of runners every mile. Eventually I picked my pace up to a slow jog, but every time I tried to run faster than around a 9-minute pace, my right glute told me to slow down. Amazingly, I did not finish in last place! I was actually 88th out of 197 finishers, averaging a 12:50 pace for the race.

Two days later I decided to try a slow recovery run, but I was unable to go even 100 meters. I took a week off of running and made 1/10 of a mile the next time I tried. I could walk and bike without difficulty, but running was impossible. I was gaining weight because I wasn't putting in anywhere close to the equivalent workout I could do running. I decided to try swimming and took out a membership at the Y so I could use their pool. I could swim, too, but I still was gaining weight and didn't seem to be making any progress running.

Even the cycling seemed to be cursed: I went on a planned 20-mile mountain bike ride in Columbia, SC (to escape icy conditions closer to home) and my chain broke after 6 miles.

I'm now in the middle of 3 weeks of travel to wintery climates, so I haven't had many more chances to ride outside. I've been hitting up elliptical machines in gyms from Spokane to Virginia to Minnesota.

I also did something I never thought I would do: I went to a chiropractor. This actually seemed to help a little bit (or maybe it was just the time off of running). I tried running in Spokane and made it a half mile. The next day I went a mile. I could do it, limping along, with a tolerable bit of pain in my right glute / hamstring. The pain wasn't getting better, but it wasn't getting worse. I could barely run 10-minute miles on flat terrain.

After a couple days home and more chiropractor visits, I ran two miles, with similar pain levels.

Then this morning, back on the road in Northfield, Minnesota, I had a bit of a breakthrough. My run actually wasn't as painful. I ran 1.5 miles to a gym, did my usual bit of strength training plus 15 minutes on the elliptical trainer, then headed back to my hotel. I was feeling even better now that I'd warmed up and decided to go for my first post-recovery 5K. I finished in 29:26 (not counting the 70 minutes I spent at the gym). That's actually not a terrible 5K time - it's a 9:29 pace. Well, it's pretty terrible for someone who not long ago was kicking himself for not breaking 19:00 in a race, but it's semi-respectable for a recreational runner.

I might honestly be on the road to recovery now. I want to make this one stick, so I'm even going to do something else I've never done before: Adopt a mantra. My mantra will be the following:
You only want to make one comeback
In other words, I don't want to rush it; I want to take my time and do this right, so I don't have to do it all over again, only slower. This time I'm going to stretch, roll, and massage, even when it doesn't seem like I need to. I'm going listen to my body during runs and make sure to stop running before it hurts. I'm going to supplement my running with sensible strength training and cross-training, again, not doing anything to hurt myself. I'm dropping out of my next two planned races, and I'll be prepared to drop out of more races if I'm not confident I can do them without re-injury.

But I will come back, and I'll be every bit of the runner I was before. I love running too much to stop. If that means slowing down, that's fine, but I'm not ever going to stop.


  1. Sounds like a plan! Being injured it very tough, specially when running is such a huge part of your life, but taking your time and coming back stronger than before feels amazing! You'll be back at your lightning speeds in no time :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. Your blog is one of my favorites, and I've been wondering where you've been! Hope you heal well and at your own pace. Take it slowly, and congratulations on getting back to a 5K!

  3. Accidents such as these are somewhat normal for runners, but knowing that you aren’t able to do the things you like because of it is truly a bummer. Anyway, it’s great to know that you’ve consult a chiropractor about the matter. It’s good that you have tried other alternatives to recover from your injury. Thanks for sharing this with us, Dave. And I hope things are doing better for you nowadays.

    Minda Mazer @ Belden Village Chiropractic & Wellness Center

  4. Your story is truly inspiring for anyone who is recovering from any injury due to playing sports. Patience is virtue, so it’s a good thing that you are taking your recovery slowly. At the end, giving yourself a break would really be beneficial for you, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be back better than ever after. It’s been several months after your injury, have you gone back to your usual running routine? I hope you recuperated well, Dave!

    Madalyn Oconnell @ SHC Denver

  5. Men usually will keel over and die before we go to the hospital or seek help. I know because my last injury I tried to recover myself. Going to the chiropractor was a good move, I would not have done that, I would have been suffering. I am glad you are going to recover since running seem s to be your life.

    Tyron Tanaka @ Low And Canata