Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Change of Plans...

Bummer.  After nearly two weeks of mid-foot pain after the Antelope Island 50m I had an MRI this past Friday. 

Stress fracture of the lateral cuneiform, bone contusion on the calcaneus, peroneus longus tenosynovitis, and mild achilles tendinosis.

Of course the only real game changer in that set of diagnoses is the first one.  The stress fracture: bain of the runner's existence and inevitable harbinger of 6 weeks + of no running whatsoever and then a gradual reintroduction of stress to the bone.  The imaging gives clues to the likely etiology.  I had entered the race with a slight achilles injury which flared at about mile 12 or so, forcing me to alter my biomechanics and foot strike.  The rearrangement of my gait, compounded over the course of a fast 50 mile race (in the context of having done very little specific training for this type of running) provided an overload of stress on my foot resulting in breakdown.  Seems like a good hypothesis at least.

It's interesting how quickly so many things can shift.  Just days prior I had been pounding up and down Mt. Wire and Mt. Olympus, telling myself that my foot was indeed getting better and it was nothing to worry about, that the Zane Grey 50 was still in the cards for me in a couple weeks.  I disregarded the fact that every step brought on a wince and my foot hurt to touch.  Running hard involves in large part the ignoring of bodily distress signal, or at least the recasting of this signal in a different light.  I've run through plenty of injuries in the past (for better or worse) so wasn't thinking this one was going to be very different. Now, suddenly I had a broken bone, a heavy plastic walking cast, a crushing sense of disappointment, and a lot of time on my hands.  The stark, honest rupture of calcium hydroxylapatite matrix and some tough existential questions.

As I re-equilibrated over the weekend, lounging about, doing housechores and spending time with family, I thought to myself, baffled: "so this is what being a normal person is like."  It's amazing how differently a Saturday goes when you aren't spending 5 hours running.   I might actually be a productive person if I didn't spend such large amounts of time either in aerobic exertion or basking in the hazy, contented afterglow.

Yup, not that big a deal in the larger scheme of things.  But the sense of loss highlights the tenacity with which running entwines itself amidst one's meaning-making machinery.  There are other factors at play here to be sure that help explain the malaise: the fostered dependence on one's endogenous opioid system (the associated squirts of dopamine and the withdrawal thereof), habituation to routine and expectation, the social outlets afforded, competitive goals.  And there is this: running has become an inextricable part of me.  It is a reflection of who I am, my means of connection and exploration, a domain to test myself and grow, an expression of love. 

With cycling out of the question for now I've been trying to make friends again with the pool in all her chlorinated claustrophobia.  Water running is likely the most mind-numbingly boring activity of all time, surpassed perhaps only by swimming itself with its insular immersion, redundancy, awkwardness, and peculiar cadre of lycra-clad, large shouldered, strangely-non-athletic looking mammals who, for some bizarre reason, have forsaken the sublime mountains just outside the window in favor of this overcrowded cesspool of chloramine vapors.

In sum, it is mental training par excellance.

Without the same gravitational forces to overcome and because of the compressive forces of the water which increases venous return, to achieve any semblance of a workout pool running you need to hammer at what feels like significant intensity.  Even so, heart rates are around 10% lower for the same aerobic efforts.  The plus side is that without any eccentric muscular damage you can do intervals every day without risking injury.  And so it is: Monday- 10 x 90 sec. with 30 sec recovery, Tues - 6 x 2:30 with 30 sec recovery (interrupted by Masters Swim class, arg!), Wed- 12 x 2:30 with 30 sec recovery (to make up for Tuesday's poor showing).  I read an article about Paula Radcliffe destroying herself with marathon pool running sessions and vomiting on her way home as she came back from injury and have made this my new goal over the next 6 weeks.

I've also resumed doing pullups in earnest.  While this has little if any specific impact on maintaining running form it at least provides a handy outlet for short-term goals.  Having neglected my upper body for the better part of 4 years my lats and biceps are as flaccid as Claire Meuse's (my grandmother).  My inaugural showing resulted in a pitiful 15 pullups: a far cry from the legendary 5 sets of 10 pullups of 2008 , but at least it is a starting place.


  1. Really sorry to hear about your stress fracture, Ben -- hope your rehab is swift. Your comments about pool swimming are hilarious. Any access to an AlterG treadmill in your neck of the woods?

    --jason T.

  2. Dammit! That sucks. I've never contemplated running in the pool and now that I've read your description it's likely I never will. After I fractured my femur I was humbled by the rowing machine, I think I lasted 15 mins on my first try.
    Hope you heal quickly.

  3. Ben, good job in bringing some philosophy in your analysis of the situation. Good luck to endure the chloridic experience... I've been lucky to avoid such pool regimen for 10 years, but I relate to your comments, I can't stand the smell and confined environment. Reading your post I'm thinking there is a market for a stand alone and dedicated running pool to which I'd add a large screen where we could display images of someone running on a trail to give a sense of movement and outdoor freedom. Ok, let me patent the idea... ;-)

  4. Oh lordy, I just caught up on your life after being directed here from your Facebook page's status update. Dear lord, you are farking hilarious, even maintaining such a keen sense of humor when your foot is no good. I hope the healing continues to go. And, I applaud you for your most recent post for the knowledge you demonstrate of Pleistocene life (and death). Jeez dood, heal fast!

  5. Thanks all for the kind words. The doc said 5 weeks in a boot. I made it 2.5 weeks and called it good so I think I'm healing well.