Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Earthbound

I've been a runner since I was 15.

I started in anticipation of joining the track team. Ever since that year, 1980, which was a few years into a running boom in this country, I've rarely taken breaks from it. The only time I can truly recall is back in '96, when I had mono. I was out of work for a month, and obviously didn't do any running either. All I wanted to do was sleep.

When, in my mid-30s, I no longer wanted to run outside all winter, I joined a gym and hit the treadmill, A couple years after that, I bought my own so I wouldn't have to travel anywhere after work. I bought a new one a few years ago, after running hundreds, maybe thousands of miles on the old one.

I've been fortunate to be mostly injury-free, with one exception--my right calf. I strained it twice. The first time was in 2001, and I think I only missed a couple workouts before I was back on the road. There was a more serious tear in 2009, in which I actually heard the infamous pop, the moment at which part or all of the muscle separates from the achilles tendon. In my case it was just part of the muscle, but I didn't run for close to six weeks. For a compulsive runner such as myself, it was torture. I counted the days. I missed most of a summer due to that injury, but I was back up and running after that lengthy hiatus.

Now, eight years after that last injury, I had pain in the same muscle again, and it forced me back off the road. I took a 2 week break, then tried again. Took another 2 week break, then tried again. Then took 4 weeks. After that, I tried to ease my way back into a routine, as if the muscle wouldn't notice. After a couple months of running once or twice a week, I realized it wasn't improving. So six months ago, I stopped completely. I've only run short, slow workouts about once every month or so, to see how it feels. After my latest attempt last weekend, the muscle still doesn't feel like it's ready.

I'm mystified this time. I've been to the doctor about it. He sent me for an ultrasound, to check for a blood clot. The found none. Yet here I sit, still unhealed completely. I do feel better than six months ago, but whenever I take to the road or treadmill, it seems like the injury is just there, below the surface, ready to rise again and put my comeback on hold. I've rarely known such frustration. We have such advanced medical technology, but it is apparently powerless to tell me how much longer I need to wait before I can safely run again.

I know this is an injury that can't be rushed. If it's not ready, the only thing that will help is more rest. In the meantime, I'm not getting my cardio, and have been exploring ways to get it without running. I've looked at other machines, such as ellipticals and rowing machines. After trying one out recently, the rowing machine feels like a good alternative. You do use your legs on it, but I can get by without using my calves too much. It's the option I'm leaning toward right now.

In the meantime, I remember the charger I used to be. Suiting up and heading out even if temperatures were close to freezing. I ran outside one December evening about 5 years back and wondered why my hands were steadily going numb, despite the thin gloves I wore. I shook them throughout the route and gradually they warmed. When I got home, I checked the temperature. It was only 15 degrees. I was so focused on the workout that I didn't check conditions first.

I've gained some weight, and have to watch my calorie intake even more closely. Perhaps the rowing machine is the answer, and will give me a good outlet. My next medical appointment is in May. If I'm not running by then, I will discuss options with my doctor. Perhaps a referral to an orthopedist, and some physical therapy. If nothing else, this injury has taught me some patience. But I do miss it. Running has been many things to me. Stress release, treatment for my heart murmur, a mood raiser and a decent hedge against anxiety. A constant companion and refuge since my early teens. I'm not ready to bid it farewell just yet.

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