The Obsessed ex-Fortysomething Runner: Discretion, valor, and running

no regrets re running.jpg
This is a common saying among runners, and of course, the general sentiment is a good one. It doesn’t happen to me very often, but there are those days when I just do not feel at all like running. Yet, invariably, after putting on running clothes, lacing up, and heading out, I start to feel good . . . and within a mile or two, I find myself wondering, “What could I have been thinking, possibly skipping this run???”
But obviously, it can’t be the case that no one ever regrets a run. If you twist your ankle on the run, pull a muscle, or get hit by a car, you’d probably regret that particular run, even though the specific mishap wasn’t necessarily foreseeable. Or rather, it’s foreseeable (it’s certainly not inconceivable) but unexpected. It may well be that, even after the mishap, you might think, you don’t really regret the run in the sense that you made the right decision to run since you can’t live your life avoiding all the “what ifs.” But at the same time, you wouldn’t have gone for that run if you knew in advance that you’d get injured.
The question is, are there some times when you can reasonably foresee/predict a high likelihood of accidental injury?
– Let’s say it’s near freezing outside and drizzling. Running road could soon turn into slipping on black ice. Without access to or interest in a treadmill, this might be a good time to skip a run. (Fortunately, Portland doesn’t get many days like that. Imagine if you lived in the Midwest!)
– You have a lingering pain that just won’t go away. It could be DOMS, or it could be an injury. Continuing to run on a stress fracture will just make recovery take longer — or worse yet, cause the stress fracture to become a full-fledged fracture.
So . . . speaking of stress fractures, is there any common injury that runners fear more? The prescribed remedy is usually an air cast and no running or weight-bearing activity for weeks.
No running for weeks? You know how I would feel if I were told that?
But as Running Times Magazine notes:
Many runners toy with injuries, hoping they’ll go away. But with stress fractures, that’s a bad idea. “They can progress,” [Dathan Ritzenhein] says. “I had one that turned into an actual fracture through running on it. It looked on X-ray like someone had broken the bone, about halfway [through].”
This explains that advice that if you even suspect that you might have a stress fracture — or a stress reaction, which is a precursor to a stress fracture — stop running immediately and get it checked out:
Tim Noakes, author of Lore of Running, lists four symptoms of a stress fracture: 1) it comes on without warning; 2) there is no other obvious explanation; 3) you can sometimes find a spot on the bone so tender that pressing on it will produce a pain he describes as “exquisite” or “nauseating”; and 4) it fails the “hop” test, which means it hurts if you hop on the injured leg (don’t try this if you suspect a hip stress fracture).
A few years ago, during my son’s soccer practice, I ran laps around the large field. The grass was long and the terrain was uneven at the edges. I ended up running 5+ miles at just slower than my half marathon pace, and it felt fine. However, that night, I noticed a tender spot on the top of my left foot. More probing identified a specific point that when pressed, produced a sharp pain. Googling suggested that this was quite likely the navicular bone — a not-infrequent location for stress fractures among runners.
Oh no!
I skipped my planned run the next day and instead did non-impact activities (stationary rowing, stationary cycling). The tender spot didn’t trouble me at all during these, nor when I was walking around. That seemed inconsistent with a stress fracture.
The next day, I did nothing except make an appointment with my primary care. The day after that was the day of the zombie apocalypse run. It wasn’t exactly the wisest decision, but I went ahead and ran that. While I was there, I checked with the on-site medical personnel from Accelerated Sports Medicine; I didn’t have them actually examine my foot, but from my description of my symptoms, they didn’t think it was a stress fracture. The zombie race went fine, and I didn’t feel any pain during the run (though maybe I was giddy with the experience of terrifying survivors).
My primary care doctor didn’t think it was a stress fracture, ordered x-rays anyway (which were negative — but that doesn’t actually rule out a stress fracture), and gave me the okay to go running.
(Honestly, I was surprised at the okay. I had figured that I’d be told, “it’s not a stress fracture but why don’t you take it easy for a couple of weeks.”)
I was too skittish to start running again, though. The problem was that while walking around, rowing, etc. didn’t cause me any discomfort, there was still something wrong with my foot. In the mornings, I felt some tightness or aching at that spot, especially if I flexed my foot. Strangely, non-impact working out or walking made my foot feel better, which generally is backwards from a stress fracture. And that tender spot was still tender.
After a week, it seemed like my foot was getting a bit better, but I was still perplexed as to what exactly the problem was. I posted my symptoms at Fitocracy and asked if anyone had had these before. Some thought it might be a stress fracture (noting that a negative x-ray isn’t conclusive) but then one person said he’d had the same problem and thought I’d sprained my “EDB.”
Googling EDB revealed that there is something called the extensor digitorum brevis muscle. (As an aside, isn’t it funny how runners end up learning all kinds of exotic sounding body parts and injuries?)
The extensor digitorum brevis runs through the part of the foot where I had that tender spot, and one of the symptoms of an injury to it can be tightness or pain when flexing the toes that it controls (all but the little toe). As with muscle injuries, rest and ice was the prescribed remedy.
Naturally, all of this happened while Portland was having one of the mildest and most glorious that I’ve ever seen. Everywhere I went, I saw people running . . . and I so wanted to be one of them. But instead, I forced myself to go to the gym and slide back and forth on the Concept2 rowing machine or pedal over and over on the stationary bike.
And then, two weeks after I first noticed the tender spot, it had subsided to the point where even probing it produced only a very faint ache. I finally felt confident enough to go out for a run. And afterward, my foot was fine. The tender spot wasn’t any worse for wear.
As hard as it was to wait, I’m glad I let my EDB heal by avoiding impact exercising. I can’t say that running earlier would’ve delayed my recovery, but it seemed pretty clear that not running was the high percentage move.
About Matt Rasmussen (1599 Articles)
Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching the Olympics, sampling craft beers, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.
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