Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pain and Panic

Not to expose my inner-nerd but Pain and Panic are Hades' bumbling sidekicks in the Disney movie Hercules. Don't judge. I was thinking about how when a runner experiences pain they must determine whether it is good pain or bad pain. If I am experiencing good pain I can relish and enjoy it and if it is bad pain I usually end up panicking. When it's bad pain, it often requires a doctor's visit in which I pay someone a lot of  money to tell me to stop running. So I've stopped visiting doctors and try to self diagnose.

I'd say I'm usually pretty good at self-diagnosis, just really bad at self-treatment. This is, of course, because those highly paid doctors who tell me to rest are usually right. Over the years I've gotten really good at pain management through dealing with shin splints. The "nice" thing about shin splints is that they come on gradually and if you know what to look for you can take precautionary measures to ward off the pain or keep it at a tolerable level. After years of pounding the pavement, trail running became my solution to shin splints.

Then came an ordeal with sciatic back pain. I managed the pain with stretching but didn't scale back my training. In fact, I amped it up and trained for my first marathon and scheduled surgery for the week after. And as you may know from watching me race or reading past blog entries, that didn't end up too well. I had to quit at mile 18, crying on the side of the road, crushed with disappointment. The thing was, I thought surgery was going to be a quick fix. Not so.

Though removing a small mass that may have been pressing on my sciatic nerve alleviated some pain, it did not erase it entirely. As I sit here writing, the pain seems small but maybe that's because I've become so used to it. It reminds me that I'm alive and active. The problem is that now I feel possible side effects in other areas of my body. For example, sometimes my cheek becomes numb when I run and now I experiencing pain in my foot. I have a new foot pain that came up suddenly and I have no idea what it is. It feels as if someone stepped on my second toe and left a deep tissue bruise (there is no toe-stomping in my recent memory).

When I experience new pain, I usually ignore it. I can mentally block out most pain, the problem is that pain is your body's way of telling you to stop what you are doing. If I ignore a pain that lingers for a few days, then it's possible that I'm going to do lasting damage. Right now, though, I can't really scale back the training because I'm running a trail marathon on March 9th and hopefully a 50k on June 1st.

On Monday, something very encouraging happened. It was snowing and a woman came in to the store wearing running shorts. After finding out that her and her husband(?) had come up from Salida, I decided to throw out that I was planning to run a trail marathon in Salida and she exclaimed, "That's my marathon!" We chatted about the race and I asked her how she got into race directing. She explained, "Well I'm an ultra-runner and do you know what the Hardrock 100 is?"

I tried not to get too excited because every time I meet a potential runner at the store I hope for this kind of interaction. Usually I hear something about how trail running is too dangerous because of the rattlesnakes or people don't believe me that running 100 miles is actually something that people do. Well this woman, Rickie, has kissed the Hardrock nine times and has done many other races as well. And then she gave me a lesson in pain management. She was in town before heading to the airport to get knee surgery in Mexico!

Somehow I was just so encouraged by the fact that she had managed significant knee pain throughout countless ultramarathons and then somehow managed to find a reputable doctor in Mexico and was planning to be back on her feet walking normally in six weeks. Let me just add that the race she is directing is in just over 5 weeks so it's not like she has much of a choice.

Pain is an important part of life and I'm just going to keep on living hard. On Sunday I did 16-17 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain over icy trail in 3 hours 10 minutes. I guess it makes sense to be in pain after that. If anyone reading this knows anything about foot injuries, I would appreciate the feedback:)

Here's a link to the race website! I promised Rickie I would talk it up!!
Run Through Time Marathon

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