While boasting about how strong you can become from strength training and how the difficulty of hills is all in your head, I got a pretty strong and painful reality check two weeks ago – my knee problems resurfaced.
And just like that my optimistic runner bubble popped, and I became a cranky pessimistic bitch (harsh but true; my fiancee can vouch it was like living in a minefield). On top of knee pain that kept me from running and made me walk down the stairs sideways, all of my other running insecurities came crashing down:
- I have my first half marathon end of March and what’s my longest run? Oh, yea, 9 miles. On the treadmill. Thanks, Snowmageddon.
- I don’t think I’m fast enough. During my speed workouts I sound like Darth Vader. Why can’t I breathe? Why can’t I be fast like the cool kids?
- How come I can leg press over 300 pounds but I can’t complete 15-lb bicep curls without my arm muscles burning? When people Google images of a T-Rex how far up the search results list are photos of me?
- I’m not losing weight. I think I’m getting a belly. But I’ve been eating healthy and working out. Has MyFitness Pal been lying to me? Thanks, “Pal.” Should I try a diet like Paleo? Or maybe that will conflict with my dinosaur body since it’s from a different era. Maybe I should work out more? But I have a full-time job and temp work and laundry and the dishes are dirty AGAIN and I’m supposed to be planning a wedding cuz I’m getting married or SOMETHING or at least I was before I just went crazy on Jason again because now I’m a cranky pessimistic bitch but I’m trying to remind myself that I’m fabulous so fabulous I can’t walk down the stairs straight RRRAAWWWRRRR!
So I tell myself to focus on something else at the moment that will keep me active – my new hobby, racquetball. But then the haunting memories of having my tushy whooped by a 9-year-old in the tournament the week before makes me throw up my tiny T-Rex arms to the heavens and cry in frustration because not only do I currently suck at running, I REALLY suck at racquetball, and I can’t wrap my little arms around my body to hug myself in consolation.
Ok, so once I calmed down with half a box of tranquilizers, I realized I needed to use my knee pain to my advantage, which sounds like a complete paradox, but I’m an English major, so I was OK with this. It also seemed like a good topic for my blog – everyone has those weeks where the crap hits the fan, you run into the wall, the T-Rex realizes he can’t give hugs, whatever cliche phrase you’d like to use for everything sucking.
First, focus on the most immediate problem – my knee pain. Usually my knees get inflamed and start hurting, especially the more I get into my half marathon training program. I combat it with patellar bands, a giant pillbox that rivals my Grandma’s containing array of anti-inflammatories, and strength-training. And my secret weapon: the chiropractor.
Yes – chiropractors have more than just your back. They are experts on all sorts of bodily injuries and are great at treating the cause of the problem, not just the symptom. Several people just say ice it and take ibuprofen. My chiropractor figures out what is causing the pain and tells me what to do for it – a specific stretch, more exercises that focus on building up a certain muscle or muscle group, what I can still do while it’s healing.
Turns out my patellar (the knee cap) and the tibia (the bone below the knee cap) were separating a bit and not tracking properly, hence the sharp pain on the inside of my knee cap, which was from the ligament being rubbed every time I bent my knee. He popped everything back in place (re-adjustment) and calmed down the inflammation with the ultra-sound machine (not just for checking on babies! Although my knees were pregnant with pain). This is what I usually do when I go in – my knees ache, something’s not quite in alignment and causing pain, he readjusts and does the ultra-sound. But usually the pain is more generic and during my run or after – not all the time. This time it hurt when I just walking across the room or bending down to clean up a hairball (great excuse to make Jason do it).
Doctor’s Orders: little to no running, lots of ice and anti-inflammatories, stretching, and still staying active with exercises that kept the knee moving but didn’t add to the inflammation. By not using my knee at all, it would get stiff, I’d create bad habits by moving differently to compensate for it, and my body would continue an inflammatory response.
Well, it sounds more scientific and makes more sense when he says it – he’s got the schooling and vocab to pull it off. That’s the best I can describe it as. In layperson’s terms: TAKE IT EASY. I needed to take a much-needed break from running.
Not gonna lie – if I had read this blog during my knee pain, I would be somewhat skeptical. I would definitely appreciate its advice, but in my mind, I still would be like, “Yeah, right. Not working out is being LAZY. I have so much training still to DO. And other activities are NOT as satisfying as running. I gotta work off that beer SOMEHOW.”
But I knew from past experience that just carrying on makes injuries worse, and by not changing my routine, I wasn’t going to see any progress. So with great reluctance I took the two weeks before my first half marathon easy and it actually strengthened my relationship with running, and I came out of it with a first half marathon of the season time of 1 hr 52 minutes (and I could walk straight down the stairs afterwards!…mostly 🙂 ).
So what to do when you’re on a break from running? See other people, of course! I used my injury to take the time to focus on my weak areas – my upper body. While the knee was out of commission, I did the hour-long Arms and Back P90X workout, making those biceps work with various push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and all kinds of craziness. I will have the body of Wonder Woman instead of a T-Rex! Although, I’ve always had a fondness for dinosaurs, and I really do have short little arms. I also did a lot of walking and marveled at the feeling of moving and breathing at the same time.
As for my diet and weight, I tried to remember it’s more about how I feel, how my clothes fit, and that several factors influence the number on the scale (time of the month, water, building muscle, etc). On days when I’m not training as hard, I just need to watch my calories; on hard training days, I need to make sure I’m getting enough calories so my body can recover and I can continue to progress. But like with training, if you don’t switch up what you eat, you can’t expect better or new results.
To help with my running rut, I picked up a book about the Paleo diet that my mom highly recommended, The Paleoista, and I’ve been checking out Eat to Perform’s blog, which comes from the perspective of a cross-fit competitor who wants to perform well, maintain a healthy weight, and make dieting simple instead of a complex list of what you can and can’t have. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you make the same thing or go to the same snack over and over – but reading more can give you new recipe ideas or find that great energy-boosting meal. I’m so glad I discovered the power of Chia seeds from the book Born to Run.
When your love affair with running no longer seems magical, you’re feeling the strain of over training, you’re disappointed by a lack of progress, or your motivation is down, that’s when it’s time to stop and take a little break. Even if it’s just one day where instead of forcing yourself to run, you sit down, relax, and enjoy not being caught up in the blur of balancing your training and your life. Use the time to reflect on what needs work – are you experiencing pain that needs time to heal? Is there a weak spot you’ve been neglecting? What’s getting boring that you can’t stand to do anymore?
The get together a new game plan. Research new workouts or recipe ideas. Actually do something you see on Pinterest instead of wishing you were that cool. Surf iTunes and find new power songs to pump up your run or just modify your playlists to give it something you haven’t heard in awhile. Walk one of your running routes or walk to the store and enjoy taking it slow and the scenery you usually fly by.
But while you are injured or tired or just not feeling the fun of the run, it’s hard to think positively. Those first few painful days were really frustrating. Will I be able to run again? How much will this mess up my training schedule? What can I do to keep my self from becoming a cranky pessimist? I didn’t feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But remember you’ve overcome obstacles before – remember what it felt like to not hurt and how good you’ll feel after a few days rest. Think of the rest as recharging your batteries – you’ll have a much stronger workout after fulling charging your battery instead of constantly running it down at half capacity. And keep yourself occupied with new activities and ideas, so you you can distract yourself and fill that void running left.