Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: A Running Injury

At the end of last December, I sat on my couch on a sleepy winter break morning thinking about goals for 2019. Cliché as it is, I love making resolutions, the more concrete, the better—read this many books, attend this many concerts, do 20 push-ups a day. But I’ve become increasingly aware that more “shoulds” are the last things I really need. 

So I simplified: two lists, of things I wanted more of (music, friend time, one-on-one time with my husband and kids, writing, prayer, sleep) and less of (worrying, complaining, procrastination, obligations). I wanted, badly, to add something like “and run x miles this year”—a goal to meet and exceed, a target to blow out of the water. Something, my inner voice, I guess, intervened with a better thought. Maybe try something physical you actually need to work on. How about, “This year I will listen to my body and act accordingly”?

I wish I could say I had. In the spring I had a couple months of ideal running, brisk dry days where I snuck in miles wherever I could find them. I ran more, and ran faster, and entered more races. Physically and mentally, I felt pretty amazing. Pesky injury prevention advice I’ve heard before—that I’ve given others before—like “only increase your mileage by 10 percent each week” would flit through my mind, and I blithely ignored it.

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I was feeling great…until I wasn’t. Over the summer little things started happening. Pain in my knee that would flare at random, then vanish. Off-and-on soreness along my inner shins. Tightening in my left calf that would appear mid-run and dissipate a couple of miles later. I noticed it all, but I love to run. I didn’t stop for a very stupid reason: I just didn’t want to.

On what was supposed to be an 8-mile out-and-back on a late summer Saturday, a stretch along the river with a friend I rarely get to catch up with, my calf soreness escalated to a hot pain that worsened every quarter mile. I tried to salvage the run, but stretching didn’t help and walk breaks made no difference. I had no choice but to quit. I couldn’t even limp home; my friend had to pick me up in her car. When I finally went to physical therapy, the diagnosis was calf strain—microtears. 

More than six weeks later, I’m still not back to running. It’s been a real two steps forward, one step back situation over here. I rested, foam rolled, iced, took ibuprofen, did my prescribed exercises and warm-up drills—and then during what felt like a no-big-deal walk doing errands downtown on a rainy morning my calf pain suddenly flared again. I went back to an earlier stage of recovery exercises, spent a couple of weeks getting back to a pain-free state, and then very gradually built up to a mix of running and walking advised in PT.  All was great for about a week. And then on a walk with my daughter along the Ben Burr Trail under a ceiling of gold and green and rust-colored leaves, suddenly there the pain was again. 

Where I am now is my least favorite phase: no running, limited walking. I’d wanted to run during the ideal months of September and October. I’d planned to run on my youngest child’s first day of kindergarten (free at last!) and on my October birthday. But my body is not concerned with any of that. It’s been sending a simple message: “I need more of a break than you’re giving me.”

“Hush,” I said. 

But bodies won’t keep quiet forever. “You can’t ignore me,” mine said. “You’re lucky to even have me!”So, maybe I’m finally learning. I’ll get back to running whenever my body says I can. I’ve only got one of those, and it’s not ready yet. Whenever it is, running will still be here. 

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