I haven’t posted anything since November. Frankly, things have been up in the air for me since the end of my fall marathon training season. As in, literally the moment it ended. I crossed the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon around 1:30PM on Sunday, October 25, 2015. I’d just run the Baltimore Marathon 8 days earlier and finished Marine Corps about 10 minutes slower than Baltimore. I’d run a ridiculously consistent marathon. I was trying not to be a superhero– all I wanted was to finish what I had started. Unfortunately, mind and body is sometimes a two-party system that does not want to compromise.
Post-Marine Corps Marathon, after I had slowly hobbled my way up the massive hill in Rosslyn, Virginia where I live, I was literally crawling on all fours around my 471-square foot apartment. I could not stand. I couldn’t put weight on my right leg, and I felt nauseous. I felt so weak that I was legitimately concerned for my health. I knew I needed to eat but I couldn’t. I could not move because it hurt like hell– actual hell– to move. I lay on the floor, then I dragged myself into bed, which took about 5 minutes to get from the floor to my bed because it hurt so bad. I lay there for 2 hours and just prayed that my body would forgive me.
Around 4PM, my friend Patrick texted me that he was at the Chipotle down the street from my apartment. I knew I had to go because I needed to keep moving after the marathon to keep my muscles from stiffening up and I really needed to eat something. Chipotle is about half a mile from my apartment, and I was dragging the whole way there. I probably should have taken an Uber– I should not have been walking. This hobble was really concerning, so much more different than typical post-marathon aches and pains. It felt like something had snapped deep in my hips. Any slight twitch felt like I was being stabbed.
For the next two days, I hobbled everywhere. Turning over in bed felt like sleeping on a knife. I kept telling myself it was post-double marathon stiffness, and I bargained by telling myself I would take two weeks instead of one off. In my scariest moments, I was regretting my decision and questioning everything. Wondering if something was very seriously wrong with me. On Wednesday, after a colleague caught me clutching the office walls as I walked around the office, I booked an appointment to see my primary care doctor. She performed a series of tests, which I passed pretty easily. Flexibility was intact, IT band was tight to the touch, and mobility in my joints seemed stiff but not painful. I was booked for an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture in my hip. That came back negative. The doctor’s office didn’t have crutches for someone of my height (what the f*ck!?!!) so I continued to hobble everywhere I went. It’s embarrassing to seem like you’re in good health and yet have to hobble all over town. Especially DC. How did I go from running 26.2 miles in just over four and a half hours to barely being able to walk a block? It was psychologically messed up. And I was not handling it very well. I cursed myself for being so stupid.
WTF is a “labram”?
Two weeks after the marathon, I was booked for an MRI by a sports medicine doctor who needed to know for sure if I had a stress fracture in my hip. Getting an MRI is an awful experience. I’m not claustrophobic, but having to hold absolutely still for that long is an experience I never, ever want to repeat. On top of which, it took about a week and a half to get the results. When I followed-up with my doctor on what the MRI was able to confirm, I learned about a new injury: a hip labral tear. The MRI could not confirm if there was a tear in my hip labram present and, regardless of whether there was a tear, my course of treatment would be the same: 6-8 weeks of physical therapy. I needed to strengthen my core, hips, and glutes. There is a surgical option to fix a labral tear, but that could lead to complications like osteoarthritis. All I could think about was a) I am way too young for this, b) I have the Dopey Challenge in January, and c) here we go again.
I got my “diagnosis” the week of Thanksgiving, nearly a month after Marine Corps. Since then, the stabbing feeling had pretty much totally gone away and I was instead in a rather constant state of discomfort. I can’t totally describe what I felt this whole time, but it was not pain. Every once in awhile, I would get a weird dull ache somewhere deep in my glute, but the pain rarely breached a 3. I was not allowed to run, and my physical therapist kept me benched until about mid-December. I have to tell you, for as much as some runs have hurt, muscle atrophy hurts even more. You have no idea how much it hurts to sit and do nothing– it’s painful. But I got bored of the spin bike, I felt like upper body exercises were random and ineffective, and beyond that, there was just not much I could actually do. So I sat around. It was depressing. I’m truly lost if I can’t run. I usually structure my exercise around running. Run 3 miles, go to Body Pump. Run 6 miles, do yoga. I’ve even run 10 miles and followed it up with 2 hours of paddle-boarding. I’m not a champion; running is just what I do. It is who I am.
A Hard and Humbling Lesson
On top of which, November and December were very hard months for me to get through. When I say running is my life, I mean it. It is how I stay sane after a long day at the office, how I unwind and relieve stress, where I get my sense of confidence and self-assuredness. Running on the trails is where I think, dream, pray, dance (yup, dance), and even cry. Running is more to me than just exercising. I guess I also sort of wondered if maybe my priorities got misaligned following the Baltimore and Marine Corps Marathons. After I got injured, I missed out on weeks of seeing the fall colors on my favorite DC trails. I honestly didn’t think I would overcome whatever this labral tear was to be able to realize my dreams, like finishing the Dopey Challenge and using my training success in 2015 to finally finally qualify for Boston. I didn’t know if I would even be able to keep running for as long as I intend to, and I intend to run for the rest of my life. I honestly wondered if I had set myself back so far from running two marathons in a week that running would literally never be the same for me. I almost regretted my decision to run Marine Corps, but I also realized that I couldn’t blame my decision for running one more marathon for causing my injury. The point is that, as I grow older, building and maintaining strength will have to become a bigger priority for me. If it wasn’t this race, it would be another race. It was time for a wakeup call.
Running the 2016 Dopey Challenge
I started physical therapy on November 24, about 7 weeks before the Dopey Challenge. I started running– and by running, I mean run-walking on the treadmill–on December 9, about 5 weeks before the Dopey Challenge. I barely ran 10 miles in the weeks leading up to the race. I put my focus on building strength because I knew I was about to wreak a shitload of havoc on my body and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for it. My goal was to just take every day one day at a time; just get through the races and take everything slow, easy, and steady. I realized that a lifetime of not being able to run, should I exacerbate my injury with this challenge, was not worth sacrificing for this weekend. There was always another chance to run Dopey. At this point, I just didn’t want to waste the $1,900 it costs for registration, airfare, hotel, park tickets, and food. And Dopey is the kind of race where you need someone to run it with. It is in your face and brutal, waking up for 4 days in a row at 2-3AM to run 48.6 miles. It hurts. So I just wanted to get through that while I had a running buddy. Speaking of whom, having a running buddy who understands where you are and is in sync with your goals is critical. My friend Telisa was embarking on her own double-marathon between Dopey and the Houston Marathon the following week, so she was fine with taking everything at my pace. That at least helped me feel like I wasn’t just throwing in the towel– it’s hard for me to be on a race course and not take it seriously. But I had someone there to check my ego at the starting line.
My finishing times for each of the races were abysmal. For me. Over an hour for the 5K and just about 6 hours on the marathon. I stopped a lot for character photos and I also ran-walked most of every race to play it on the safe side. I have to coddle my ego a little bit on the time and say that it’s kind of disheartening to be at mile 20 of a marathon when, just 3 months earlier, I had finished at that time. But I also look at it this way: I ran 48.6 miles in 4 days after about 2.5 months off from running. I did what I said I would, and I finished. I did what I only knew I could do and I was proud of that. And the best part was, I had no hip pain afterwards. I also had a really great time. It couldn’t have ended better.
The good news is that I am no longer going to physical therapy. I still have a long way to go before I am back to normal, and part of it is because I feel like this whole thing changed me for both the good and the bad. On the bad side, I’m scared to try again. On the few runs that I have been on, when I feel like I want to charge ahead, the words “hip labral tear” flash through my head like a news ticker. Because of that, I feel myself holding back out of fear that I will get injured again.
I also still have the uncertainty of what actually happened to me. Do I have a labral tear or not? The MRI is not designed to determine that– I need an MRA to confirm. I have to decide if I want to go back and ask for the test, and I can’t decide. I still get that weird ache in my glute after running sometimes, which leads me to believe that I might have it. Knowing for sure will help me move forward one way or another. It’s the kind of injury that I will have to manage by using the strengthening techniques I learned in PT. And it will help me refocus my running goals. Not knowing makes me feel like I will always run with that uncertainty, and that I will structure my running life around it instead of realizing my full potential. I don’t want to constantly be in fear of this.
On the good side, I have been making strides toward getting stronger. I bought the “Believe Training Journal” to help me keep track of the little things I do, like how many pushups or clams shells and reverse clam shells I do. I’m doing more Pilates, which my PT advised that I get involved with. I have been able to run again; to have that amazing freedom in my body, to hear my feet on the pavement and the wind in my face and the feeling that everything in your body is doing just what it was made to do. I have missed that the most throughout this entire experience. I will never again take it for granted.
My next race is the March 20th United Airlines New York City Half-Marathon, my second go at this race. Because I did so well last year, I’m in a higher corral with a predicted finish of 1:55 and an average pace of 8:47. I want to earn that higher placement. I have a goal to beat my nearly 3-year old half-marathon PR of 1:57, which I came within :39 seconds of beating last year. I think if I focus on building strength and gradually increasing my mileage, I can do it. I know I can. As macabre as it may be, I might even wear my hospital MRI bracelet on my wrist during the race, too.