Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Running Update

winter running in 2016
Running still isn't a part of my life right now, and it's taken four full months to fully accept and embrace the time off and rehab I've been doing on my knee, hips and glutes. It was so very hard in the beginning, in fact I don't think I've ever been more frustrated or felt more out of control. I went from running five times a week including 10-17 mile long runs on the weekends (with no significant injuries over the past year and a half of consistent training or the past 15 years of casual runs and races) to nothing over the course of about a week. To be totally honest, it was devastating. I love running. You can read some reasons why I love it and read some race recaps in some of my previous posts, here and here

It was the very end of July that I noticed a bit of a twinge in my knee, after I was home from my runs, not during them. It was pretty minor so I took and extra rest day and figured it would resovle itself. Then by the first week of August, it grew more constant, still only after I completed my run, I felt no pain while running. At first, I was optimistic. I thought if I took a week or two off and foam rolled and stretched the crap out of it, I would be fine. I was weeks away from running the Run Fest Marathon in Anchorage and had felt great during training up to that point. My racing schedule over the summer had been rocky mostly due to moving from Palmer and the homeless-limbo we were in the first couple of months we were here in Homer, but my runs had been consistent and were truly a life-saver for getting through the stress of all the changes we were going through as a family.

I quickly realized, however, that my knee wasn't improving from rest, and that simple things like squatting down to be at my kids level and lifting my leg to reposition myself in bed were getting more painful, not less. I started to get really worried. I found a doctor in Homer that could fit me in that day and had them look at it so I could get a referral for physical therapy. The doctor thought it was a tracking issue, which is very common for women runners. My quad was doing too much and pulling the tendon behind my knee out of alignment, and my glute muscles on the same leg were underdeveloped and not activating correctly. Unfortunately, the PT I had been recommended by several friends and the doctor wasn't able to fit me in for two weeks, so I waited. I tried going on a run about a week in, but felt pain only five minutes into the run and made it two miles before I realized I had to quit then to keep from making it much worse than it already was.  

last run that I felt great on, July 2016
last run, ever (for now)

So I got my bike out and started riding everywhere, but that hurt my knee too, especially going uphill. I replaced running with walking, just to get outside and stay active, but I was starting to get really worried. I had made so much progress over the last year and a half and was feeling edgy and grouchy all the time. I felt bad for my family because of my constant sour mood, but also like no one understood how hard of a time I was having or how deeply upset I was. When I was finally able to see the PTs, they officially diagnosed it as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, which is often called runners knee. They said basically what the doctor had said, except in more detail and that my case was pretty severe, since I was having pain almost anytime I bent my knee while my quad was engaged. I was warned that damaging it further could be permanent, and that as it was it was going to be months before I would run again. 

As I said earlier, this was utterly devastating to me. Even now as I type this the tears are flowing. Running has been such a gift to me, a part of me that is mine only, something that I feel proud of and makes me feel disciplined and like I have a small part of this crazy life under my own control. Even though I usually had the kids with me while I ran, it was something I did just for myself, it was my 'me' time and I loved it in a way I can't even put into words. I went to PT and did the exercises but many otherwise great days were often ruined during August and September by feeling that hated pain in my knee when I squatted down just so or walked downhill a certain way. My emotions were a mass of conflict, on one hand I was having a giant pity party for myself and on the other I felt guilty for allowing an injury to have so much control over my life and the lives of Steve and the kids as a result. 

I worried about losing strength and speed and endurance, and I worried about gaining weight from inactivity, since all I could do basically was walk. Biking and most hiking aggravated my condition and I couldn't even swim all of October and November because I had surgery on my chest in September and couldn't get the incision wet. We were also living in our Airstream and trying to make decisions about our building plans and thinking about our winter plans, so I was really overwhelmed with stress and looking back now realize I was probably more depressed than I allowed myself to admit. Cookies and ice cream were like the only thing that made me feel better (temporarily, of course - feeling overfull and not being hungry for real food led to even more guilt) and I ate more sweets in two months than I did in the previous two years combined. So of course I gained about 10 pounds pretty quickly, and then felt utter misery at knowing just what I had feared was happening - but also knowing that I was making things much worse by my emotional eating. 

By December I had actually started to accept that my knee was going to need a lot of time to get better, and that running just wasn't going to happen for a while. The holiday season was actually a blessed distraction for me, and I started to feel a lot better than I had before - so much less self-pity than the previous months. But the holiday baking led to more emotional binge eating and I noticed my clothes, which had already fit a bit tighter, were now in many cases just not fitting at all. Despair is the only word I can think of to describe how I felt. My heart hurt so much, and I felt that the unfairness of having an injury had such a long-term rehabilitation period in some way justified treating myself with more sweets than was healthy.

Christmas was a turning point of sorts. As I went to parties and dinners and cookie decoration parties and ate more than felt right, I still knew in that back of my mind that I was ready to get back to treating my body the way it deserved, by making healthier choices both in regards to food and self-dialog. When I got home from visiting my family in Anchorage, I decided to cut out foods with added sugar for a while as sort of a reset, and I've been doing immensely better. It's actually hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was eating peanut m&ms by the handful (but my sisters will attest to that fact, ha). 

Skiing has also been a life-saver for me. If I'm careful about my form and keep up on cross-training and my PT exercises and foam rolling, I don't notice any extra strain on my quad and knee, and I've been able to get out three or four times this week to hit the trails and build the muscles in my glute and hips that I need to fix the physiological problems that are causing my knee pain. Of course I greatly anticipate the day that I will be able to begin running regularly again, hopefully this summer. My knee is healing slowly, but it has improved so much since August and September, and I try to remember that whenever I start to feel frustrated. 

Writing this has been so therapeutic for me, and I hope that those who read this to completion are able to find something to relate to in my story. We all struggle with something, and many times we choose to mask it from our friends and family and bear the load alone, all to protect ourselves from some imagined judgement. But I wanted to be open about this because I think it's important to share ourselves with each other, even the hard, sometimes ugly things. Thank you for joining me as I share in this little online space I've set up, it means so much to me. ♥

Skiing this week with my babies

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