Injury & Tough Choices

Time for tough choices. This week I finally had to acknowledge my injury and make a plan for recovery. It’s unfortunate that this is happening right after I decided to document my training journey to the world, but hey! Injuries are part of the journey too.

The Injury

Since very early in my training, I’ve suffered from pain in my left knee and hip. Through some reading and conversations with other runners (shoutout to my Tribe), I’ve determined that it’s quite likely iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). When the pain first started, it was very acute, shooting through my knee. At that point, I was still running in sneakers that I’ve used for….oh, probably 7+ years. So my first correction was getting fitted at a local running store for new shoes.

New running shoe helped a lot and the acute pain quickly died down. But twinges and aches remained throughout my training, especially after long runs. In the past few weeks, as the hip pain has become increasingly irritating, I’ve been hunting down ITB stretches and strengthening maneuvers. With a combination of skipped runs and extra stretching, I’ve tried to self-treat ITBS without taking off significant training time.

But it’s not working. Last week I completed only 2 runs: 5 miles on Tuesday and 6 miles on Friday. I did yoga every day that week, plus some ITB-focused stretches. But yesterday, on an easy 1.5 mile walk, my hip ached. So I decided it was time for more drastic action.

Causes

ITB syndrome can result from any activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly. This can include wearing worn-out shoes, running downhill or on banked surfaces, running too many track workouts in the same direction, or simply running too many miles.

Runner’s World

We’ve already established that I have replaced my shoes. At this point, they have ~150-200 miles on them, so there’s plenty of support left. I run on a variety of trails, mostly flat ones now that I’m in Florida, so that rules out most of the surface issues. Finally, there’s the possibility of running too many miles. This is a strong possibility, although I have been following relatively standard training programs. Since my 10k at the beginning of April, I’ve been running a 5 mile tempo, a 3 mile easy, and gaining 1-1.25 miles on long runs. I don’t think that’s gaining mileage too quickly, but I might be wrong.

What Runner’s World doesn’t say, which I’ve seen other places, is that ITBS can be caused by an imbalance in your hips and by weak glutes, core, etc. And it seems like that might be my problem. I have not been supplementing my runs with strength training, although I periodically practice yoga. My core strength is….not very impressive. My glutes are probably just as bad.

Recovery Plan

So instead of hoping this will go away with some stretching, I’m committing to a real recovery attempt. Here’s the plan:

  • No running until May 31 at the earliest, maybe June 7
  • yoga practice every day
  • Core/Strength training 3x/week
  • lots of foam rolling

The hesitation between May 31 & June 7 isn’t really about recovery time. I’m supposed to travel to a convention the weekend between and I don’t want to resume training on unfamiliar streets while I’ll probably be sleep-deprived. If my ITB feels great by May 31, I may resume light running (1-3 easy miles), but nothing hard until June 7.

(You may be asking yourself, “What about PT?” I have nothing against getting checked by a professional. Unfortunately, we just moved across states and switched jobs, so health insurance and finances are all over the place. I’d rather avoid the hassle right now. But if I can’t see significant improvement with my laywoman’s recovery plan, I’ll definitely seek out professional help.)

Discussion

Obviously, it’s not a lot of fun to have an injury. For 3-4 months now, I’ve thrown myself into training, constantly running further or faster. I’m a little scared of my own lack of drive or willpower. That maybe I’ll take a break from running and won’t be able to start again. I’m also afraid of losing the gains I’ve made so far. My goal to run a 50k by the end of the year requires a somewhat tight time frame. And I’m waitlisted for the Barkley Fall Classic–if my name gets pulled for that, then I’m on a very, very tight schedule (it runs mid-September). I’m scared this setback will put those goals in danger.

But I definitely can’t keep training with this pain. And I know that the smart thing is giving my body a chance to heal. I plan to throw myself into strength and mobility work with the same drive that I bring to running. Then, in a few weeks, hopefully I can return to running with a body that’s better prepared. With the pain gone, I know I’ll be able to attack the trails with more power. I’m holding on to that vision to get me through this.

And I’m also a little frustrated with myself. I could have prevented this by getting new shoes when I started. Or by doing strength and mobility work in addition to running. But there’s a reason I didn’t. I know myself and I know that I’m easily overwhelmed when I add too many things at once. If I hadn’t used those early weeks and months to build my love of running and my confidence in my body, I wouldn’t still be doing this. I would have crumpled under the pressure of pushing myself in too many areas.

So I’ll take this lesson now. Use this injury to rest my body, to work the areas I don’t pay attention to, and to build a strong foundation for better running. Here’s to recovery.

What about you?

How do you deal with injuries? Any advice for healing ITBS? Tips for coming back from recovery? I’d love to hear from some more experienced runners! (Or sympathy from new runners! I could use that too 😀 )

 

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