And in the 5th year just shy of month number 3, after a string of running, for the most part, injury-free for at least a mile every day… I got injured!
In hindsight, I actually I felt this sucker coming about a month ago, only at that point it felt no different than any other ping or pang you push aside and run through.
This time that ping was more than a pang or even a niggle. It was an injury that just recently flared to something more severe.
It happens. It’s par for the course of long distance running. I have been relatively injury-free through nearly 30 marathons, three Ironmans, and even two world championships. My time has come.
Either way, please don’t feel bad for me. These things happen. It’s a great opportunity for me to focus more on cycling and swimming and resting my running legs and body from the pounding so that I can come back, whenever that might be, even stronger, even faster, and with even more lofty goals.
To the doctor I went.
Summary: Doctor thinks that I have most likely strained deeply the soleus muscle in the calf or a muslce or something behind it but deep within the lower leg just above the ankle. The other issues he seemed much less interested in. I’m not sure I buy it just yet. But I have some “tests” to try to perhaps yield a bit more information.
With this doctor’s visit, I don’t think I learned so much about what the problem is as I did what it isn’t. He does not think I have any sort of stress-fracture, which is usually the culprit when so much pain is involved and usually the end-all type of injury that forces a runner to the sideline. This is usually the case. But he said that he think my issue is the, or related to the, soleus muscle, which often can take a very long time to fully heal. He said it can be “maddening,” but there’s not all that much you can do since it’s a muscle that gets so much activity all day long.
This is sort of why I’m not so sure his prognosis is accurate, as I can walk fine. I only start feeling the deep pain with the pounding introduced with running. It could be related, which he said, but I don’t think it is the muscle.
He mentioned a few other things but at this point there is no special treatment. He said that to heal it, best bet is to stay easy on it. I don’t have to stay completely off it, but he said quite honestly, “It’s a good time to work on your swimming and biking… Only easy runs. Over time you should see that the pain will eventually subside and you’ll slowly start testing it more and more. Just be careful on those tests, and ramp up as it will allow.”
Another fascinating point for me, which is something I had once known but quickly forgot…
Back in the year 2000 I had a very nasty accident where I severed the Peroneal nerve in my left leg just below the knee. I instantly lost most of the feeling and movement from that point down in the leg. After nearly 6 hours of surgery to graft a healthy nerve in place of the severed one, which when cut snapped back like a rubber band, and after a full year, I finally started getting some movement back. I had what you call drop foot. I could push my foot down, but I could not pull it up, nor could I twist it to the left side, as if pushing it out duck style. Over the next two years I slowly — and I mean slowly! — gained back 85% of the movement I had lost and, maybe, 10% of the feeling I had lost. Since then it has been slow and steady, gaining so little. Today I have gained back, maybe, 30% of the feeling lost and nearly 95% of the movement. It is among the reasons I kick the ground when I’m deeply fatigued, like on mile 20 of the Ironman marathon, or on the last 3 miles of a 50K.
What I learned again is how lucky I was to even be able to run at a high level (for me) again, that I was even able to toe the line of an Ironman, that I lived in Boston with one of the worlds best nerve surgeons who was intriged enough to take my case (the surgeon has worked on my professional athletes — Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, Red Sox and a host of other teams from other cities.
After I told this doctor what had happened, he tested me in all sorts of range of motion ways and other things. He was beside himself at how functional I had gotten my leg and foot back to. I knew this. I knew that my “chances” were good to get some feeling and most of the movement back, but I also knew that it was a complete crapshoot on if I could ever perform at a high level. I still struggle playing soccer, with the cutting back and forth toppling me over, for I don’t have the ability to stop a fall in mid tilt to turn it into a cut back, but I was able to strap my foot into a bike and ride. And that coupled with me being so active in soccer and running when the injury happened, coupled with my willingness to get moving again after surgery to test my limits, coupled with having the top nerve doctor around is why I type this words today.
I was lucky.
And so in his quest to learn more of the handiwork done by the surgeon, he tested me in may ways. He explained that their are three primary muscles in the foot. One helps move the foot, one the four digits, and the last the big toe. Interesting is that I have gained back most of the function in the first two but very little in the last. In fact, I cannot move my big toe up, as in pulling it up. That, for me, is the last part. He has hooked me up with a PT to help me get back as much as possible, because I still have a muscle disparity. One very close look at my left leg while reveal that it is indeed smaller in muscular stature and strength than my right.