My first Did Not Start, and why it was a good thing

I’ve been a little bit MIA in the past few weeks!  I’ve been struggling with motivation because I’ve been injured, but have not handled it in the best way, if I’m honest.  Instead of working through the problem like a rational, adult human being, I complained about it and then had an almost completely sedentary month full of junk food and bad moods.

Source
Source

I’m still not entirely sure what the problem is, but what I do know is that I can’t run without shooting pains in my left leg.   A couple of weekends ago, I was due to run a 5k and instead I ended up with a big fat DNS – Did Not Start.  However, I think this was absolutely the best thing I could have done, and I want to take some time to talk about WHY.

Pam, what’s wrong with your leg?

I don’t know.  I wish I knew, but I haven’t managed to figure it out yet.  Let me take you through what’s happened in the past 5 weeks.

April 11th – 17th.  A few days before my half marathon.

A few days before my first half marathon, I started feeling a dull ache in the back of my left leg.  It wasn’t particularly painful, or severe, but it was noticeable enough that I was worried about running on it.  I decided to get it checked out, and visited a physical therapist.  He recommended that I DON’T run the half marathon, and take 2 weeks off until the pain disappeared.  He advised the issue was my hamstring, and treated it with ultrasound, heat and ice.

 

Well, of course I ran the race.  Despite the advice, I couldn’t bear the thought of doing all that training (and documenting it so publicly) and then fall at the last hurdle.  Strangely enough, I could feel a dull pain in my hamstring for the first few miles but by mile 4 of the half it had completely disappeared!

 

April 18th – 24th.  One week post half marathon.

After the race, my leg felt fine.  However, I still had another session of physical therapy booked so decided to go along anyway.  I had similar treatment – ice, heat, ultrasound and some exercises.  Now, this is where it gets strange.  After this session, I went from  having no pain at all to not being able to walk without shooting pains on the side of my left leg.  The pain was MUCH more severe than before, and in a different location (moved from the back of my thigh to the side of my knee).  I was limping when I walked.  Running was DEFINITELY out of the question.  I decided to find another physical therapist and get a second opinion.

did not start
The cruel irony of having an entire gym of free weights and squat racks to yourself when you’re too injured to use most of it. Not fair!!

 

April 25th – 29th: Two weeks post half marathon.

By this point, it had been a week since I’ve run and I was incredibly frustrated.  I found another physical therapist and she advised that my hamstring wasn’t the problem, but instead it was my knee giving me issues which was causing my quad to work ineffectively.  She said I had weakness in my hips and by strengthening those, the rest would follow suit.  My treatment with her included heat, ice, strengthening exercises and sport massage around the knee area (OUCH).  My leg started to improve, after a few sessions I had no pain while walking but I still had a sharp pain every time my foot touched the ground when I tried to run.

 

 

At this time, I started doing my own research into what the problem could be, and Doctor Google was suggesting that my IT band might be the culprit.  Your IT (Iliotibial) band is a thick ligament than runs down the outside of your leg, from hip right down to your shin.  IT band syndrome is a VERY common injury in runners, and is basically an overuse injury which comes from the repetitive motion of pounding the pavement.  The band can become tight or inflamed and cause movement of the knee to become painful.  Sounds like what I’m experiencing, right?

Image source
Image source

I was convinced the IT band was the issue.  However, I could tell the hip strengthening exercises were helping too so I continued with the physical therapy.

 

April 30th – May 6th.  Vacation time! 

Vacay!! I was on a road trip with my friend Sarah (you know, the one I talked into doing c25k), starting in Nashville and then driving down through North Carolina and South Carolina to end in Charleston.

chimney-rock
I’ll take stunning views of North Carolina for 400, please

Now, this is where I made a mistake.  I ran the Run Rock’n’Roll 5k in Nashville at the start of our road trip (exactly 2 weeks after my half marathon), and tried to push myself too and get a good time.

Newsflash: both of these things were stupid ideas!  

I strapped up with a knee support and compression socks and went for it, on a very hilly route.  I could feel the pain throughout the whole race but just ignored it and kept running.  I did take several walking breaks too, but I think the damage was already done.

Did not start
I totally didn’t take a block of ice from the post-race Gatorade stand and ice my injured leg… Full race report will come later this week!

 

I’ve had issues with my leg for 3 full weeks by this point, and I’m still feeling pain in my leg.  However, after the Nashville 5k the pain moved to my calf only, nothing along the upper thigh or knee area.  How strange!

It’s worth mentioning here too that by this point I ONLY have the pain when I run, nothing from walking or sitting – however as soon as I put my foot on the ground to run I feel sharp pains radiating along my leg.

did not start
Running was out, but hiking wasn’t! Shame it rained for almost our entire trip…. didn’t stop us from getting out there though!

4 days after the 5k, I tried a run on flat ground in Asheville, NC, aiming for 3 miles.  I managed 1.5 miles and then had to stop because I could feel the pain was getting worse – and it had moved back to the side of my knee again.  By this point I was feeling so distressed, so frustrated that my training was completely derailed.  I have my next half marathon on May 21st and I couldn’t run more than 1.5 miles.  I tried to keep my spirits up but was becoming very demotivated.  Nonetheless, I continued with my hip strengthening exercises and prayed for a miracle.

Trying (and failing) to run in Asheville NC
Trying (and failing) to run in Asheville NC

2 days later, I tried another short run in Charleston, SC and managed a mile.  It felt slightly better but I still had that sharp pain every time my foot impacted the ground.  I had another 5k race planned for the following day back in NJ and decided to just go for it – I had managed the 5k in Nashville so what’s the worst that could happen?

May 7th – 3 weeks post half marathon.  Did Not Start.

Two weekends ago, I was due to run a small, local 5k along the Hudson river.  Flat, fast and looked to be a lot of fun!  I woke up early, got ready and drove the 45 minute drive to the race, along with my friend and my husband.  Sarah and I were running this one together too, and we collected our race bibs together and waited for the race to start.  With 30 minutes or so until the race started, I focused on stretching and trying to get my legs into action!

Just before the race started, I ran the short distance from registration to the race start – less than 0.1 miles – and could feel there was something seriously not right with my leg.  I was wincing with every step.  However, I was there and really wanted to run the race!

I thought about two scenarios in my head:

What might happen if you run the race?  

Potentially nothing, I could be fine.  Potentially, I could injure myself even further and seriously put myself out of action for the rest of the summer and derail the start of my marathon training, all for a small 5k race that I had no targets set for.

What might happen if you  DON’T run the race?  

I’ll be disappointed, as I’ve never DNS before.  I’ll be frustrated that I couldn’t run the race.  However, as this wasn’t one of my most important races for the year, then it isn’t really the end of the world. 

Weighing up both these options, I decided not to run.  As disappointed as I was about it, it was better to NOT run and regret it, than to RUN and injure myself further.   After making the decision, I walked off the course and then sat in my car and cried, like a big drama queen!

There was one good thing about my DNS though – I got to act as head cheerleader and photographer for Sarah who completed her second 5k with an AMAZING time, almost hitting a sub 30 5k!

Daydreaming Sarah - the undisputed queen of mid-run poses
Daydreaming Sarah – the undisputed queen of mid-run poses

May 8th – May 15th.  The week that I didn’t move

After my Did Not Start at the 5k, I headed to the doctor to see if there was anything else I could do to help with recovery.  Actually, I called up the doctor while Sarah was still running the 5k – it gave me something to do while I was waiting for her to finish!

The doctor gave me a course of muscle relaxers, and a referral to an orthopedic specialist.  The entire week consisted of NO EXERCISE AT ALL, rest, ice, compression, foam rolling (the pain!  OMG the pain), muscle relaxers and generally feeling very sorry for myself.  I didn’t cope very well with not being able to get out there and run, and instead of doing non-impact sports like cross training, I just did nothing except sit on my sofa and watch junk TV.  Not really the best approach, especially since this goes against my own advice in previous blog posts.  Sorry for being a hypocrite!

 

What I’ve learned from my DNS

I’ve survived my first Did Not Start, and I think I’m better for it.  Although I didn’t handle not being able to run very well, the fact that I didn’t try for over a week has really helped my leg to heal.  Yesterday, I had my first pain free run in over 5 weeks, and it made me so happy.  I only ran 2 miles, and kept it sloooowwwwww, but oh my GOD did it feel great to be able to run without shooting pains across my knee and IT band.  Now, my focus is on gradually working my way back up to more mileage, but doing it in a smart way:

  • STRETCH, STRETCH, STRETCH – no slacking on stretching.  Dynamic stretches before running, static afterwards
  • WARM UP AND COOL DOWN – no skipping.  At LEAST 5 minutes of brisk walking or x-training before I start to get the heart rate up, and walking afterwards to gradually bring the heart rate back down
  • FOAM ROLLER – THE FRIEND YOU LOVE TO HATE – If you run, and you haven’t got a foam roller yet, then get a foam roller.  It really helps loosen out those tight muscles and prevent further injury.  I’m planning 10 minutes of foam rolling every evening from now on to try and prevent injuries before they happen
  • STRENGTHEN THOSE HIPS – Thanks to my physio sessions, I now have lots of hip strengthening exercises to hand, and will be keeping these up
  • MIX IT UP – I already do lift at the gym, but not really consistently.  I always prioritize the running.  From now on, I’ll be sure to do more than just running, I need to be using other muscles too to avoid injury!  I’ll be looking at options for yoga or something similar too, as I think this will be a great addition to my schedule.

 

So that’s it.  I’m back, I’m ready to bombard everyone with tedious running stats again, and I’m feeling good!  I have the Brooklyn Half this weekend, and I REALLY REALLY want to run it, but I haven’t decided yet.  If I do run it, I’ll be doing a run/walk and probably won’t make the 3 hour cut off, but I’m ok with that.  I have another 6 months of running and training before the NYC Marathon in November, and I’d rather miss races now than miss the marathon.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for today.  Until next time!

What’s your experiences with sports injury?  Tell me your stories in the comments! 

Pam x 

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