Friday, April 26, 2013

Dealing with Injury - don't be a doorknob

Back in March, I had probably one of the most awesome weeks of my life attending the LPC Triathlon Camp in Florida. Certainly it was the most awesome in terms of learning just what I was capable of.

Other than a few scrapes and bruises, I made it through swim sessions, 140ish miles of biking, and a wonderful 10 mile run (and a bunch of shorter ones). Really, I was feeling on top of the world and raring to go when I got home.

And then I tripped over my suitcase. I was at a hotel, my bag was on the ground, and in the middle of the night I tripped over my suitcase and ended up with a terribly painful fourth toe.

I couldn’t walk without limping pretty badly.  Running was out of the question. Swimming was out for a while because the thought of jarring my toe (either flip-turning or getting out of the pool) made me sick. So, I went from 100 miles an hour to almost nothing. I saw my trainer twice a week and I was doing a bit of biking (on a stationary bike), but that was about it.

I knew rest was important, so I coddled my, elevation, the works. It was just a toe, so I figured there wasn't any point in going to the doctor. I just decided to give it a few weeks of rest.

Okay, fine. I'll be honest. The truth was that I didn’t go because I didn’t want to hear my toe was broken and I really should be avoiding running for 6 weeks.

And my method seemed to work pretty well. At least until, when my foot was feeling better, I decided to test it on a treadmill over Easter weekend. This was a full two weeks later. That run felt pretty good, so I decided slow and steady would be fine. So the next day I tried another short run…and just about died.

Not really, of course - but whatever I did was too much and knocked me back almost right to where I started. I was limping again. My toe hurt. Even the ball of my foot hurt.

With my first race coming up (the 5k Race to End Homelessness…see two posts previous for my race report), I knew I needed to go to the Doctor. I now needed to know if the toe was broken because if it was, I knew I couldn't race on it. I also realized that I needed help figuring out the right way to get back to running.

Much to my absolute joy, the Doctor said the toe wasn’t broken. Instead, I’d strained a ligament in the toe. Verdict: It would take a while to heal fully, it would ache for a long time, but I could run on it. The doctor suggested taping the toe to another one (Buddy taping) – and just running on feel. If it was achy, fine. If it hurt – stop.

Now – 4 weeks since the Doctor visit, my toe is almost fully healed. I am still taping it (it is still tender at times so I know it’s not quite perfect yet), but I finally feel good enough to pick my running back up again. I proved that with the most recent 10k I did.

So what’s the verdict of this story?

  • If you get injured – and it’s still bugging you after a few days (after generous amounts of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) – go to the doctor. I was afraid of what I was going to hear (probably a very common issue with athletes), so I avoided it until I realized I had no choice.  If I’d been told it was a ligament strain right from the get-go and had taped it right from the beginning, maybe I’d have recovered a bit faster (probably not much faster…but still).
  • Be careful ramping back up – I thought I was going easy when I did a second run the day after testing my foot/toe the first time. Apparently, what I thought was easy was definitely not, since I got set back at least a week. After seeing the Doctor, I was smarter about it. I ran the 5k in Florida without a watch, knowing I’d stop or slow if I felt I needed to. The next two weeks, I only ran 3 days a week (which is my usual), and kept the pace very easy. I did one 10k run before my first 10k race, and it was at a very easy pace. I mentally went into the Yonge St. 10k with the belief I was using it as a test run. If I needed to go slower, then I would. After doing that successfully – I am only now stepping up my training by introducing longer runs and speed work. So, take the time you need to make sure you don’t hurt yourself again.
  • Be willing to adjust your training plan - I have a bunch of races planned this year – from 5ks to a marathon and triathlons. After getting hurt, I realized it was better to take my April races easy – than to push hard and get re-injured.  So I adjusted. I signed up for similar races in May, so I could use my April races for training/testing. 
  • Don't be a doorknob - Sure, you can be worried about “what if?” when you get hurt…but don’t let the worry keep you from finding out the truth about what’s wrong. It’s not the X-files. Better to get the truth and go on from there.
I’m a klutz. I expect I’ll end up with more bizarre injuries (hopefully not before big races). Here's hoping I don't forget not to be a doorknob in the future because I love what I am doing right now. I’ve learned that I love running and training and racing. If I’m going to keep doing these things for a good long time, then I need to be smart about what I do when things go wrong.

Similar to going to camp to learn triathlon techniques, when it comes to recovery from injury, I need to pay attention to the people who know best…and not Google Search (Of course I didn’t use that when I first injured myself…cough).

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