The Road to Recovery is long and winding.

It’s confession time:  I cheat on running.  I don’t just run, I also play soccer.

Recently I was hurt during soccer.  That led to cheating on running with  spinning.  I’m not sure if it’s still considered cheating if you can’t actually run though.

In the semi-final match of soccer play-offs, an opposing player decided my knee looked like the ball.  I sustained a hard hit on the inside of my right knee.  I walked it off for a whole bunch of reasons that could all be summed up in one tidy sentence:  “I was stupid”.  Keeping the “I was stupid” theme in mind, I proceeded to go in for a tough challenge and connected with the ball at the exact same time as an opposing player.  I was limping.  A smart person who valued running would have left the field at that point.  I was stupid.  I went for one more attempt at the ball (just needed to see if my leg would work), made contact and promptly cried out and dropped like a stone.  I was stupid.

Many ice packs later and an eventual visit to a physiotherapist revealed that I was broken.  The verdict: a torn MCL and Pes Anserine Bursitis.  The first kick resulted in the bursitis.  The second hit resulted in the torn MCL, just like this one.  Bye bye running.  The bursitis completely froze my hamstring.  I could manage about 10 degrees of flexion before crying like a baby and yelling “MERCY!”

I had worked really hard this summer to improve my race times.  I was 0.08 seconds off a PR for my 10K (and if I had realized it during the race, I would have busted my hump to achieve that PR).  I had one more race planned for the season: a 10K.  A second chance to hit that race target!  And with one (2…okay, 3) small steps/kicks it was all gone.

Bye bye running.  Hellloooo spinning!  I had hopes of keeping my cardio up so that I could still race the 10K.  My Physio thought it was possible.  Indeed, I did regain a great deal of mobility by week 5.  I was told I’d be out of commission for 6 weeks and the race was exactly 8 weeks away from the date of the injury.  By week 5,  I couldn’t run farther than 2K without experiencing severe discomfort.  I found that running didn’t exactly hurt so much as it resulted in a great deal of swelling afterword (which did hurt, in case you were wondering).  Spinning on the other hand, spinning did not hurt before, during or after.  Spinning did not initiate an intimate relationship between me and my icepack(s) like running did.

Spinning became my go-to activity.  I tried running every so often.  It was a challenge to get to the 5K mark.  I missed it.  I missed running in the way that you can only miss something when you can’t do it.  I pined after it.  I promised that when I could run again, I would run every day.  I kissed any hopes of running my last planned 10K race good-bye.  I made do with spinning.

Before you start wondering when this doom and gloom fest is going to end and think about visiting another blog, just hold on!  Today, 9 1/2 weeks after I got hurt, I ran 5.82K.  It isn’t the farthest I’ve run since I was injured.  It was the fastest!  I sustained a 5:39/km pace.  I’m back on track.  It’s been slow going.  I still experience some minor swelling if I go too far.  I have to carefully manage my distance.  I have to stretch diligently.

I appreciate cross-training (spinning) ever so much more now, for its ability to make me a better runner and its ability to keep me active when I couldn’t run.

I appreciate running more now that I haven’t been able to do it. (How is a girl supposed to manage Hallowe’en and all of the chocolate that comes with it, without running?)

I appreciate the layer of paper towel between my skin and an ice pack to prevent frozen skin. 😉

Tell me – have you ever been injured?  How did you cope?  What did you do to keep yourself active?

Dealing with the heat.

There’s an interesting little article here about running in the heat.

I’ve learned that it’s coolest at 5am.  That seems like a heck of an early hour but it is the coolest time to run.  Check out the hourly forecast on The Weather Network to plan your run in the heat.

Running in the summer means you have to pay special attention to your hydration level.  Drink water.  Drink more water.  Have cold water ready for you upon your return.

Which leads nicely into this frequently asked question: Do I need to bring water with me when I run?

If you’re running 5K or less and you’re properly hydrated, no.
If you’re running farther than 5K and you’re at all worried about your hydration level, carry water.

I personally don’t carry water with me unless I’m running farther than 13K.  I don’t know why that’s my magic number but it is.

Everyone is different and it’s important that you use your best judgment.  Heat and humidity can sap you even if you are well hydrated at the start of your run.

For some runners, training is ramping up or will ramp up throughout the summer months. There may be some internal pressure to get the training done. Remember that no run is worth dehydration. I’ve said it before – it’s better to miss one or two days than it is to miss a week (or more). Find a treadmill if it’s too hot and/or humid. Check out your local community centre to see if they have a “pay as you go” option. Local gyms will have drop in fees but they can be pretty pricey. Get creative; there are lots of options out there.

Have fun and drink up!

Chafing. How bad can it be? Really bad.

I think chafing should be one of those words that when you say it or type it, a short blast of ominous music plays.  Otherwise it just seems like a dish you heat food in. There is one thing that running and chafing dishes have in common.  They both involve heat and moisture.  Ay, there’s the rub.  And that’s the last piece of the puzzle for running: friction.

Put more succinctly, rubbing (friction) + heat + moisture = chafing (pain).

You may or may not have seen pictures from a recent marathon of some poor guy who really didn’t know that it’s not a good idea to run 21 km (half marathon) or 42 km (marathon) in a cotton tshirt.  Missed that photo?  Let me show you what you’re missing:Don't Let This Happen To You! I’ve been reading the Sookie Stackhouse series of books (from which True Blood is based) and I can’t help but think this poor dude looks like gigantic vampiric fangs attacked him. He would probably be in less pain if that was the case.

Nipples on men are a common area for chafing.  Other areas to watch: around the band of your bra, inner thighs, under arms and feet.  Note that when chafing usually happens with feet, that turns into something completely different and equally crippling: blisters.

So, how do you avoid chafing? Here are my key rules that have kept me chafe-free for the most part:

  • Avoid cotton.  Invest in a technical style shirt that will wick away moisture.  This type of clothing doesn’t have to cost a lot.  Winners and Costco can usually be counted on to provide a good shirt at a reasonable price.  Same for shorts and socks, bra and undies – avoid cotton!  Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin.  The repetitive motion from running will cause the fabric to rub and voila: chafing.
  • If you’re blessed with quads like myself, once you find shorts that are comfy, buy more than one pair if you can.  Or at least take really good care of the ones you have (wash after every wearing either by hand or on a delicate cycle and hang to dry) so they’ll last.
  • If you’re a guy, consider putting something like Vaseline or Body Glide on your nipples before your run.  If you’re not too hairy and can stand it, consider applying Band Aids over your nippes to protect them.  Just make sure they’re waterproof so they stay put while you sweat.
  • If your inner thighs rub, consider putting some Vaseline or Body Glide on the affected area before you run.
  • If you’ve got a mole or anything that you need to cover, go for the Band Aid solution, again making sure the Band Aids are waterproof.
  • If you’re trying a new piece of clothing, test it out before you wind up in a situation where you’re half way through your run and your skin is burning.  If you have any doubts about the comfort of a piece of clothing, don’t wear it.  This was my mistake on a run last week.  (If anyone is looking for a Champion brand running skirt, size Medium, I’ve got one for you.)

Listen to your body.  If you feel a hotspot, adjust whatever you can to take the friction away.  My first experience with chafing was on a long run.  At the 12K mark of a 15K run, I finally stopped chatting with my running partner long enough to realize one of my legs of my shorts had ridden up and had been like that for who knows how long.  I know how long.  Long enough to do some real damage.  Even though I adjusted my shorts and they stayed put for the remainder of my run, my skin looked like this (note: not my skin; some other unlucky devil’s):Ouch.

The thing about chafing is that it repeatedly reminds you it’s there.  When the water from the shower hits – ouch.  If it’s in an area where you sweat: ouch.  If it’s in an area where clothing normally sits/hugs (think: bra band): ouch.    Hopefully by now, I’ve convinced you that there are a lot of reasons to try to avoid getting chafed.  And now you understand why I think the ominous music should play when chafing is mentioned.

Okay so you’ve done everything right and yet somehow, something went wrong.  What to do?

Clean the area.  Put an ointment like Polysporin or Vitamin E (ointment, not cream!) on it.  Dress it with a piece of gauze if it’s going to rub and it’s really bad.  If it’s in a place that will be aggravated by further running, hang up your shoes for a day or two unil the area heals.  Analyze what went wrong and make a note not to repeat it.

Happy trails!

Shin Splints, IT Band Pain, Chafing, More Chafing and a Wolf Whistle

I started out rather innocently on a 10K run tonight, unaware of what lay in store for me.  If only I knew then what I know now.

It looked like it was going to rain before I left (and indeed, it had been raining intermittently all day) so I pulled out my old shoes.   I’m training for a 10 miler and have a heavy training schedule.  I didn’t want my “good” shoes to get wet because I wanted to wear them the following day.  Mistake #1.  I chose to wear a running skirt that I don’t normally wear.  Not only do I not normally wear it but I NEVER wear it for anything longer than 3k.  Mistake #2.

I fell into my normal routine: 5 minute or so warm-up and off I go. If you were inside my brain you would have heard this:

– Run, run, run, run, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.  Hey.  Shin splints?  Hunh.  Weird.  I haven’t had those for eons.
– Wait a sec.  That tightness over the side of my knee?  That’s my old IT band issue flaring up?  What the heck…???
– Okaaayyy.  Now my shorts (attached to the skirt) are riding up.  That’s not cool.  They’re really rubbing.  I’m really sweaty.  Like “sweat dripping off my elbows and the tops of my hands are wet” sweating.  This isn’t feeling good.  They’re still rubbing.  Yank shorts down. That’s better.
– Keep running.
– Man, my shins hurt.
– Wolf whistle from passing car.  Oh hey.  I look good at least.  Or was that my neighbour?
– Oh my gosh these shorts are really rubbing!

And that was it.  The perfect storm had come to a chaotic focal point and I stopped running.  Let’s dissect the drama and see what went wrong so the same thing doesn’t happen to you.

Shoes and Shin Splints

I should have stuck with my newer shoes.  Even though my new shoes are a month old and even though they’re the latest version of my old shoes, I swear Saucony changed the model enough that I’m still getting used to them.  I think the switch back (plus a general muscular tightness) brought on the shin splints.  So, let’s say this happens to you – what do you do?

You can try a couple of things.  First of all, try running a little more slowly.  A lot of time shin splints are a result of starting out too quickly.  The muscles just aren’t warm enough to perform.  If that doesn’t work, try stopping and stretching.  Shin splints may be a result of a muscle imbalance.  Most people have stronger calf muscles than shin muscles.  Also, if you’re a girly girl like I sometimes am and you’ve just spent the entire day in heels, your calf muscles have shortened and your shin muscles have been lengthened all day long.  Stop and stretch your calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus).  Try to stretch your shin muscles (tibialis anterior).  The latter can be tricky because it’s just a tough muscle to stretch.  Resume running and take it easy.  When you get home, ensure that you stretch and if you’re shins are sore or continue to hurt throughout your run, make ice your friend and introduce it to your shins.

If you suspect that a muscle imbalance may be the root of your shin splints (stronger calves than shins), you can try this little exercise to strengthen them.

Take off your socks (assuming you’re wearing any).
Place a towel, all spread out, on the floor in front of you.
Place your feet flat on the towel.
Keeping your feet as flat as possible, use your toes to scrunch the towel up, gradually pulling it towards you.
You should feel the muscles in your shin working.
Keep going until all the towel has been pulled forward. Stop. Spread the towel out again and repeat.
This is much easier on a tile or wood floor than it is on carpet.
Some people find it convenient to put the toilet lid down, park themselves on the toilet and do this in the bathroom. Whatever does it for you.

IT Band Pain

I dealt with some iliotibial band pain for a while.  I’ve been diligent about stretching for the past year and a half and as a results have almost forgotten that little bit of fascia that messes so many of us up.  I get classic IT pain.  It feels less like pain (I stop before it gets that bad) and more like a tightening around the outside of my knee.  It’s almost an uncomfortable tingling.  In hindsight the tight calf/shin muscles and shoe mix-up probably contributed to that reappearance of pain.  Also, I haven’t been very diligent about stretching this week and after the weekend’s activities (a 5k race, a 15K long run and a 90 minute soccer game), I should have been (and should be now) stretching in every free minute I have. In my opinion, stretching is the best preventative measure you can take to prevent issues with your iliotibial band. If that doesn’t work, try massage or a foam roller.

Chafing.  Chafing deserves a post of its own.  It seems rather innocuous and then blammo…after running for 3 years, you’re chafed and you have a lot more sympathy for the dudes with bloody nipple streaks down their shirts.

The moral of the story is, sometimes runs don’t go as planned.  It happens.  What’s that saying — “Why do we fall down? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again another day.  Do not keep going if the pain/discomfort is going to cause you to miss more training.  I pulled the plug on this run because I knew from recent experience that chafing, depending on where it is, can stop you from running for a few days.  My philosophy is that it’s better to miss one day than it is to miss one week.

Foam Roller: If it doesn’t kill you, you’ll love it.

I heart my foam roller.  I also hate it.  I attended a seminar once where the speaker demonstrated using one.  He made several comments along the lines of “You know you’re in the right spot when it makes you want to cry” and “ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch”.  Having been introduced to the foam roller a few months previous, I could empathize with his pain.

At this point you may be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”.  Voila:

foam roller

You can use a foam roller as a tool to help massage sore muscles and fascia.   It uses your own body weight and so, is very effective.  They come in various sizes and diameters.  The one I use is 3 feet long and about 6 inches in diameter.  A foam roller can provide relief for sore muscles and also aid in injury prevention by maintaining mobility and flexibility.

I discovered this little torture device when I had issues with my iliotibial band.  Before I learned about the roller, I tried the stick.  It left me with the same pain plus bruises (in the shape of the beads on the stick – neat!  Not!).  Next, I tried stretching.  I consulted with yoga instructors and tried more stretching.  Then, I tried heat.  I tried ice.  I finally visited my doctor and was sent for physiotherapy.  Physio tried heat.  Physio tried cold.  They also used ultrasound to try to break up the fascia.  The results were barely noticeable.  Then (insert dramatic pause here), I discovered The Foam Roller.  I read about it at a fabulous running forum: runningmania.com.  I hunted one down and the rest is history.

You may recall from an earlier post that I had lost my motivation to get my butt off the couch.  In an attempt to get back on track, I plunged right into a new routine and as a result I can’t walk down stairs without looking like I’m broken.  My quads feel slightly shredded.  My butt keeps reminding me it exists with just about every motion.  Partly out of fear of whether or not I will be able to move tomorrow,  I pulled out Big Blue (my roller is blue) tonight and tried to get some kinks out.  Apparently I’m a little more messed up than I thought as nearly every square centimetre brought new levels of pain.

The great thing about using a foam roller is that you use it for as long as you can tolerate it, as many times as you want (or don’t want).  I managed to get to both IT bands, both quads and my butt and then cried “mama!” and called it quits.  Having said that, I must say that this self-induced pain is the best pain I’ve ever experienced.  Not because I like pain.  Afterwords, my muscles feel looser; my flexibility is restored.  Think of it like really deep tissue massage from a massage therapist.  It hurts but it feels good too!

How do you use it?

Place it on the ground.  Choose a body part.  Let’s go with your quads for simplicity’s sake.  Lie on your stomach, with the roller positioned just at the top of your legs.  You should be on your elbows.  Slowly pull yourself forwards with your elbows, causing the roller to move towards your feet.  When you feel a tight spot (ie. pain), hold it.  Hold it for as long as you can or until you feel the spot dissipate.  If you’ve ever had trigger point massage, it’s the same idea as releasing a trigger point.  If you want to increase the pressure, stack on leg on top of the other.  By decreasing the surface area on the roller, more pressure will be exerted on the leg that is in contact with the roller.  A picture is worth 1000 words and to that end, check out the links below for visual demonstrations and some more technical explanations about how they work.  Oh, where can you get one?  Check out fitnessdepot.ca or your local fitness store.  If you decide to get one, make sure it’s really firm.  I’ve used soft squishy rollers and they just don’t give you the pressure you need to get results.

Foam Roller Exercises
I don’t necessarily agree with everything the “fitness expert” in this video has to say but her demos are good.  Click here.

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