Friday, October 9, 2009

Feeling Knotty

Maybe I've been smart about it. Maybe I've just been lucky.

Somehow, someway, I've been able to avoid the myriad of injuries that tend to plague runners training for a marathon.

Until now.

During the last miles of Sunday's half-marathon, I felt a tightness in my left calf. I didn't give it much thought, although I did stop to stretch it at one point. The feeling is difficult to explain, other to say it's a tightness in my mid-calf that seems to have developed into an overall ache.

It didn't cross my mind much after Sunday's run. Stretching is definitely my weakness in training (among my weaknesses, I should say), so I'm used to tight muscles and some stretching breaks. I chalked it up to bad preparation on my part.

I hopped on the treadmill (yes, the end of summer is here) the other night after work. I was chugging along at a pretty good clip. As usual, I waited for my legs and body to work out the kinks during the first two miles and hoped to get into a rhythm.

That rhythm eventually came, but the pain in my calf flared up as the miles continued. I slowed the pace from about 9-minute miles to 10-minute miles. Around mile three, I could feel my body starting to compensate for the pain. My stride became uneven and almost limp-like. I stopped, stretched and gave it another go.

I made it another mile before I stopped, not wanting to cause any damage if I had the early stages of an injury. I remembered the words that many people have told me: Listen to your body.

I was able to squeak out a few miles on the stationary bike. (Boy, it reminded my how much better I like riding outside. Those five measly miles seemed to go on forever, even if the monitor display showed 20 minutes at the end of the ride.)

With my calf pain clearly stuck in my head now - I couldn't get past of the thought that I have a 22-miler ahead of me on Saturday and I wasn't able to manage four simple miles - I reached out to Coach Jack for advice.

He asked me a series of questions and, over the phone, was able to get a pretty good idea of what was happening. He surmised that I probably tweaked it (not the technical term) a bit during the half-marathon and it was getting more aggravated as I ran on it.

He commended me for taking steps to deal with it early, before it turned into a tear. I didn't like even hearing that word. He was pleased to hear that the pain was focused on the center of my calf, not near any of the connection points at my heel or knee. Probably a knot buried somewhere in there, he said.

He prescribed a version of RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation. I recruited my Trusty Companion (I think he's beginning to wonder what exactly he signed up for when we met for coffee nine months ago) to give me a somewhat painful, but much-need massage along my calf muscle.

Following Coach Jack's instructions, he pressed his thumbs along my leg, moving from my heel upward. (Always push toward the heart, Coach Jack said.) Along the way, TC definitely hit a knot - and although I grimaced in a bit of pain, it felt good as he put pressure on it to release it.

I followed the massage with a rest on the couch with a bag of frozen peas serving as a perfect ice pack. Not bad, three months of marathon training and this is the first icing I've done.

I'll likely follow the same regimen tonight. Another massage will feel good (sorry, TC!), especially because I'm supposed to run a few miles tonight to see how the calf feels before making a decision tomorrow's mileage.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the Big Day - well, second biggest day - with the scheduling calling for 22 miles, the last long run before tapering down the miles to Marathon Day. Shawnna and I planned to meet in the morning and run the first 22 miles of the course. And for a change, the forecast even calls for sun!

It's daunting, but I was looking forward to getting the big miles out of the way and ending my distance training on a strong, positive note.

Now, I'm not so sure.

I'm worried about pushing it - not only because I'm afraid of making a sore calf worse, but I'm also nervous about having a bad day and putting a negative punctuation mark at the end of this training schedule. With Marathon Day only three weeks away, I won't have another shot at getting it right.

My plan is to see how tonight's run goes, meet Shawnna in the morning and just see how I feel. Honestly, the way I feel now, it's doubtful I'll get the 22 miles in. I hope to get a few, pain-free miles in - or at least some miles with pain that doesn't escalate.

And if The 22 doesn't happen, hopefully I can make up some of the miles next week - although I need to be mindful of the fact that the last two weeks should be spent tapering down, not challenging myself to do more miles.

I know the calf issue is nothing serious. As I told Coach Jack yesterday, if it happened a month ago I would hardly be concerned. But to be facing even the slightest injury at this point - when Marathon Day is so close and I should be spending this time gearing up for my longest run before the taper - is frustrating and a bit scary.

I guess my best option now is to take the smartest, safest route, follow my prescription of massage, ibuprofen and bags of frozen vegetables and keep everything in perspective.

Now isn't the time to freak out.


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