Monday, July 14, 2014

Sprained Ankle Blues

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?' said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.Ten hours the first day,' said the Mock Turtle: 'nine the next, and so on.'What a curious plan!' exclaimed Alice.
That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: 'because they lessen from day to day.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Lessons. Sometimes we forget what we've learned and have to relearn them. Sometimes we learn them the hard way. So said my wife to me this past weekend as I sat around the house beating myself up over having suffered another ankle related setback to my plans for running world domination.

Just before noon last Friday, I received notification that I had been selected in the lottery for the trail marathon at Stone Cat later this November. Less than four hours later, I twisted and re-sprained my bad (left) ankle carrying a pop-up shade tent across an uneven dirt parking lot. Stepped in a ditch and felt the roll and plummeted to the ground in front of a bunch of co-workers at a company outing. Smooth move for sure.

Luckily, we had plenty of ice for all the beer, and more than one person had ibuprofen. So, I sat down and iced it, popped some pills and added alcohol to dull the pain. It was a fun outing despite the fall.

Saturday morning I awoke and assessed the damage. Definitely sprained. Purple-blue bruising on the outside just below the ankle and along the tendons running up toward the calf. Nowhere near as bad as last year's severe sprain, which left my foot looking like an eggplant for a time. I'm grateful it isn't as severe. I'm also grateful that I already have everything I need for recovery - crutches, a walking boot, air cast, lace up support, ace bandages, etc.

I'm also armed with something I hope will help more than any of the accessories: memories of last year's injury.

When I got hurt last year, I was angry. This sort of thing happened to other people, not me.. I am a bad-ass ultra-marathon runner. A running machine that had strung together a streak of 500 days in a row of running at least a mile. I'd run through blizzards, insufferable heat and nagging injuries. But I couldn't run through this. It killed me. I began plans for weight training and added more core to my workout routines just to feel like I was doing something.

Slowly I was able to walk again without the boot. And then I could tried a little jog with the lace-up bracing. It went well and I began to start running again shortly thereafter. I was still in pain, I was still dealing with the injury, but I was out there again. Running. I foolishly believed I was good-to-go and resumed my typical running routine. I trained for a half-marathon and came near close to PR. It was day 101 of a new streak.

Two weeks later, I twisted my ankle in the woods. A day after that, I ran again. And continued doing so for the next 140 or so more days. I'd twist it every now and then, but still go out the next day. It wasn't until I ended the streak in March of this year that I'd finally acknowledged the benefit of rest and recovery days again.

But truth be told, I was itching to get back to running more and more. I missed it. I kind of missed the streak. It had become part of my identity, and I couldn't wait to get back out more and more on the trails. I had been lifting over the winter, and decided to give that up and get back into running a bit more. So through April and May I made the transition. In late May I ran the 25K at Pineland, and my foot complained after 11-12 miles or so, but I gutted it out anyways.

A few weeks later, I landed awkwardly during a mountain run on Wachusett. I actually listened to my body and took a week off when it hurt to flex the foot. That was last month. After my week off, things were still tight but I was feeling OK about things and decided to run a bit more. Also, decided to toss my name in the lottery for Stone Cat. I figured, it's good to have goals for later this year. Great timing!

. . . . .

So here I sit, ankle still bruised and painful. For the better part of the weekend, I actually did manage to stay off it and rest for once in my life. I've been icing, and elevating, and compressing, and all that good stuff. It's working. Each morning it is a little less painful and I know what I need to do to recover.

More so than knowing what to do, this time around, I plan to actually do it.

Last year, I was arrogant, and went back to running as soon as physically possible, without a second thought. I was surfing this weekend looking for different stretches and strengthening exercises to do while I try to recover, and I came across an article in Runner's World talking about this very thing, and there was a section in there that nailed it for me. Talking about transitioning from simple weight-bearing exercises to walking, the article states -
Next come simple weight-bearing exercises, like leaning against a wall, while squatting. "Then you progress to the point that you can walk and then run," says Ivins. 
That's when most runners probably quit. And that is probably why some have recurrent trouble or continually weak ankles.
Yup. That's exactly it. Even though I knew that I should be doing the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist for balance and strengthening, I also knew that I could run again and that was all that mattered. Never mind things like improving balance and mobility, or strengthening the stabilizing tendons around the ankle.

I could run again!

And now, I cannot. In hindsight, I was pretty dismissive of the physical therapist. She told me I needed to work on strengthening the ankles, and I ignored it as soon as I could run again. I'm sure my attitude came across in our sessions too, as I remember her saying sarcastically at one point -
You sound like you've got it all figured it out then.
Maybe not.

In any event, the Stone Cat website says that it's 117 days away this morning. I e-mailed the race director to explain my situation and to ask about cut-off times. While there are no official cut-off times, she said I should plan to be out on my second loop by the time the 50 milers are on their third. Also, they've had some marathon finishers take up to 9 hrs, and I could probably hobble it faster than that. So, I don't feel so bad about the registration. Right now I'm planning to walk most of it and just enjoy the trails, the aid stations and the atmosphere on race day, which is pretty awesome.

Did I mention bacon at the aid stations?

. . . . .

And so the plan is to take the rest of July off and do nothing. Absolutely nothing for a few more days. Then I'll begin with the gentle rehab exercises and stretching. And strengthening. And balance. And all the other stuff I neglected last time. Eventually by next month - walking some distance. And then gradually reintroducing short run intervals. I know that I won't be in the shape I want to be in by race date, and I'm working toward being OK with that.

So the plan is to take it slow. To be patient with the foot. To patient with myself. To take the time to heal and not worry about arbitrary goal races or times or anything else that really doesn't matter. I need to be unlike my self from last year.

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” ― Marcus AureliusMeditations
Until, I can, will you do me a favor?

Run, run, run.