It has been two years since I first thought of training for the half marathon. I was having the best running year of my life. Earlier in the year I scored a personal record in the Monument 10k. I was getting faster and healthier, and had learned how to work around issues that help me up before. In one month I had covered fifty miles! That was a huge accomplishment for me.
Richmond has a wonderful training team run by our local running club. I figured with the help of these people who know best, even I could cross the finish line. Unfortunately, training isn’t a once-size-fits-all kind of thing. Each team’s coaches can help tailor the program to the individual, or help with cross-training ideas. But they can’t help if you don’t ask. Or, more accurately, they can’t help if you don’t know you need help.
At week seven, about halfway through the training program, I developed this crazy pain in my right shin. I stretched it out like everyone said to do. For the next week I did the famous RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Except without the compression, that’s just weird and kinda time-consuming. Oh, and the elevation. Who has time for that? I mean, I propped up my legs at least once an evening during my TV shows, and put ice on my shin at least twice a day. When I remembered. The ‘R’ is RICE, rest? Yeah, I got that one.
The next week I ran the first mid-week run later in the week and skipped the Saturday morning training team run of 8 miles to give my legs some more time to recuperate. Saturday and Sunday was spent doing more of the required REST, and there wasn’t really enough time on the weekdays to do 8 miles, so I split up the long run. Monday I did four miles in the morning and hobbled off to work. Right after work I pounded out the other five miles in the neighborhoods around my house. My friend had surgery that day and I was headed over to her house for the evening to give her some company. That didn’t leave a lot of time for the forgiving treadmill at the gym, or seeking out some soft trails further from home. Did I forget to mention that most of my fifty miles were on pavement? Hunh…
Needless to say, when I got to my friend’s house I could barely walk up the starts from the pain in my shins. Yes, both by this time. She commented that I didn’t look so good and shouldn’t be hobbling like that after a run. Nah, I told her, it’s nothing. It will go away tomorrow. I didn’t have time to stretch after all.
A couple of days later I took off for the first mid-week run of three miles. My wife sat on the front porch steps with the dogs and waved me off. I made it to the next corner before stopping. Something was definitely wrong. The pain was definitely not shin splints. I hobbled back home after a miserable quarter mile shuffle.
It was time to go to the ortho doctor. The next day I was given crutches, a diagnosis of possible stress fractures (plural), and set up with bone scan appointment for the following week.
During the bone scan, I was injected with some radioactive dye into my blood stream so the machine could follow the course of blood through my body. Since white blood cells heal the body, they gravitate en masse toward any site of injury. I was able to watch these little black dots flow all through my body and arrive at two very specific spots on my lower legs right where the intense pain was. The longer I watched, the larger these clouds of black dots became, hovering around my shins trying to heal them. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me what I was seeing. I had stress fractures in both of my legs. There wouldn’t be any half marathon for me.
It has taken me a full two years to get even close to where I was in 2014. I’m easily two minutes per mile slower, but I’m also much more cautious. I don’t run when tired or ignore pain. I also use dynamic warm up before running, and stretch out completely after my runs. Every run, no matter how short, is followed up by some quality time with my foam roller no matter how good it hurts.
This year I’m determined to finish more than just my first fifty miles injury free. I plan on finishing the half marathon and wearing that beautiful medal with pride all weekend. In order to do that, I’ve got to get to the starting line.