Addiction is a very serious disease and I would never joke about it. It can result in harm to self, harm to others, and death.
At the risk of inspiring you all to start citing Hamlet, I will say this: I am not addicted to running.
However, I do abuse it. (Running, not Hamlet.)
How do I know? Because the past several years have been characterized not by a steady routine of running, but by intense periods of training interrupted by months of injury, rehab and basebuilding. I am not physiologically deformed; there is no reason for these chronic injuries other than my own unwillingness to stretch and cross-train properly. I am a problem-runner the way frat boys are problem-drinkers (except I’m way less offensive, not nearly as clichéd, and my habit results in puking with much less frequency). I am a problem-runner because I participate in the activity to a degree that I cause myself harm (today, that means plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and swollen soleus muscles that make me want to weep in pain whenever they are touched), but I can still stop running and take care of myself when it becomes obvious I need to do so. (If I was a running addict I would not be able to stop training, no matter what.)
Here are other injuries I’ve worked my way through over the years, in order:
- Tight ITB, which caused sharp knee pain–2006 (training for Arizona Marathon)
- Strained hamstring, caused by sprinting up a hill during a NYRR race in Central Park–2007
- “Pinched nerve in my heel” (self-diagnosis)–2007 (training for Disney World Marathon)
- Heel pain/knee pain–2008 (training for NYCM)
- Sprained adductor brevis (right)–2009 (training for London Marathon; race deferred)
- Strained adductor brevis (left)–2010 (post-London Marathon)
- Strained adductor brevis (right)–2011
- “Pinched nerve in my heel” (which I now realize was the beginning of plantar fasciitis)–2012 (training for Houston half-Marathon)
For now, we will not discuss the fact that all my injuries started appearing once I began training for marathons.
A week ago Monday, my podiatrist took one look at the x-ray of my feet, gave a few squeezes of my arches and pronounced his diagnosis (PF and AT). He wrote me a script for 8 weeks of twice-weekly PT appointments, sold me a Thera-band foot roller, told me to take as much Aleve as I wanted*, and frowned at my high heels. Dr. Abramow, you are a kind man with warm hands, but don’t EVER frown at my high heels again.
Yesterday was my first appointment with the physical therapist. Fabian. I love this guy. He was my first-ever physical therapist back in 2006, and he is great at what he does: talented with the diagnosis, an excellent listener, patient, encouraging. He has a New Agey, sensitive guy vibe that is nicely balanced by his affection for swearing, kickboxing, and inflicting pain as the gateway to healing.** I wish he had a taller, skinnier single straight brother with short hair and a job that paid six figures. In the absence of that, I will let him “massage” my soleus muscles even though it’s so painful it makes me gasp and cry. TEARS people, he pressed his forearm up my soleus 3 x 5 times per leg and when he helped me sit up I was crying. He wasn’t hurting me to hurt me; that’s just how fucked up my muscles are.
If I wasn’t so interested in getting healthy to run again, I would be offended by his severe judgmentalism. First, he pointed out that my right hand is way larger than my left. WTF, dude, the injury is like, BELOW MY KNEES! Then he said that my soleus muscles were cement, my hamstrings and glutes were superweak and underdeveloped, my quads were tight and too strong, my ITBs were “jacked up the ass,”*** and my knee caps were dangerously immobile. Oh I need therapy, alright–psychotherapy to bolster up my athlete’s ego he just knocked down.
Fabian refused to stretch me out. He said that he was giving me two weeks of massage to loosen the muscles before they’d even stretch me out and give me exercises. Great! I thought, Massage! Yeah well, “massage” meant he timed me for 16 minutes on the foam roller, gave me a little Theraball to stand on for 30 seconds x 5 per foot (each time on a different tender spot), and then proceeded to hammer my soleus muscles with the Stick and his forearm.
I want my Happy Monday runs with MP back. The West Side Highway Rec Path never looked so good. Instead, this Monday I did the elliptical for 30 minutes. By the end of it, my left foot was burning.
Today, I had the temerity to ask my feet to carry me around from home to subway, subway to work, and desk to coffee machine. The resulting pain was so sharp I limped into my afternoon meeting with Mike Greenberg. (He’s HOT. Strangely, he was not moved to swoop me up and carry me to the conference table when he saw me limping. Again, I must exclaim: WTF dude.)
But despite all this pain and dark humor, there’s good news:
- I do not feel like running broke up with me and started dating a hotter chick, the way I did when I got injured in 2009
- Honestly, I was a little burnt out after training for Houston and I am not overly bummed about this forced break in running
- It’s too cold to run outside anyway; now I don’t have to force myself to
- I get to sleep in on weekends
- I get to sleep in on weekends
What I really mean to say is, for the first time ever, I am able to keep an injury in perspective, and see it for what it is. This is part of being a runner; it’s not the end of my story as a runner. It’s a helpful lesson; I had been willful in my training, in denial about my body’s ability to recover without stretching and cross-training. Also, it’s an opportunity to stay up late, drink more red wine than usual, and get some reading done while getting in my cardio. The elliptical isn’t all bad. Yeah, I have a problem; but I also have the solution.
*2 in the morning, 2 at night
**Also, he lives in my neighborhood!