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I had my first pain free run in five months. And I’m very happy right now.
In March, I hurt my back. This was my first real running injury since I started running marathons in 2003. I’ve had some ankle twists and some knee bruises from all the trail running I do, but nothing that kept me off my feet for more than a month. This time I lost five months ; the last time I tried to run was two months ago.
I didn’t get serious about figuring out what was going on until half way through July in Alaska when I realized I just wasn’t getting better. My pain on a daily basis never got below a three (on a 0 to 10 scale) and I often was in the six to eight range. If you saw we get up out of a seat in the last five months, you knew I had a lower back injury. The pain gradually settled at the very base of my spin in the middle of back – it was localized, but sharp and chronic.
So I stopped running completely, increased the amount I was swimming up to a couple of times a week, and started the process of getting professional help. My first big goal was to rule out something serious, so I decided to get an MRI. That took a while (doctor visit, referral, scheduling). I had two different doctors read the MRI – each told me that there was an issue, but there was no need for surgery and steroid injections would likely be useless. So, I started the “sign up for physical therapy process.”
In the mean time, my general practitioner gave me a prescription for vicodin. I’m very afraid of drugs and have always avoided them. I don’t remember if it was a movie I saw about drugs in elementary school (I saw movies on sex but never was afraid of it), my parents, or something else but they’ve just never been my thing. I am a Vitamin I users and I used it for a while to try to manage my chronic gout, but eventually gave up and went on Allopurinol. I’ve had other prescription medicines over the year, but I’ve stayed away from anything illegal, even our friendly herb which is basically legal in Boulder. So the idea of taking a narcotic sort of freaked me out.
I was in so much pain after the US Open (and sitting on the stadium seats for two days) that I went ahead and took one pill. The bottle said I could take four a day, so I figured one a day would help without being dangerous. Amy and I flew from New York to San Diego and I took a second one. On Friday I flew to San Francisco for the day and took a third one. When I woke up on Saturday morning I was pain free for the first time in five months. So I decided not to take another one on Saturday.
On Sunday when I was sitting at my computer I started to stand up and had an extremely loud “pop” happen exactly in the region where the pain has been. Amy heard it from across the room and immediately shouted out “are you ok.” My back then went into a spasm – something that’s only happened a few times – and for about ten seconds I couldn’t talk or breath. But, when it stopped, I still had no pain.
I flew back to Boulder Monday morning. I decided not to take any more vicodin until I had at least a pain level of three again. As the week passed, the pain didn’t reappear. On Wednesday I saw a spine specialist who works with athletes as part of the PT referral process. I spent 30 minutes telling him the story from beginning to end and then we went and looked at the MRI together. He again confirmed that surgery was unnecessary and – more importantly – that the MRI showed a few clear signs of distress that would explain the chronic pain, but that steroid injections would be useless. We did a few diagnostic things and then he gave me his hypothesis.
He suggested that it’s likely that the small amount of vicodin I took broke the pain cycle I had been stuck in. Once the pain was gone, my body was able to move in certain ways that resulted in a natural adjustment (the big pop) of an area of my back that was stuck. Having it adjust naturally was much more effective than if I’d gone to a chiropractor. It had never occurred to me that this would happen, but when I think about the number of times my back adjusts in other spots when it gets out of whack this made perfect sense to me.
I’ve now had a week of no back pain. I haven’t taken anything – not even Vitamin I – in a week. I went for a few swims this week and a short run today. I feel great.
For everyone out there that has been patient with me, offered suggestions, and provided help over the past five months, thank you. Who knows whether this really solved the problem or not but this is the first time in a while that I’ve been optimistic about it.
Well – the 2010 marathon season is upon us. As I prepare to head out for a three hour run, I decided to finalize my 2010 calendar.
2009 sucked for me – I didn’t complete any marathons on my way to doing a marathon in every state by the time I’m 50. Mild injuries, several colds, fatigue from work and travel, and general lack of rhythm are my excuses while a temporary failing of my iron will is the real reason.
Out with the 2009 lameness – it’s a new year and we’ll try again. My best year was 2008 when I did five marathons so let’s up that by one and do six this year. Here are the one’s I’m currently planning to do.
- 02/28/10 – New Orleans, LA: Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon
- 04/11/10 – St Louis, MO: GO! St. Louis Marathon
- 06/12/10 – Marathon, IA: Marathon to Marathon
- 08/21/10 – Rachel, NV: E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon
- 10/17/10 – Detroit, MI: Detroit Free Press / Flagstar Marathon
- 12/11/10 – Kiawah, SC: Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon
I’m always game to have friends tag along and run with me so feel free to reach out if you are so inclined. And – I’m trying to figure out what kind of new special 2010 charity thing to add on to my existing sponsors Return Path and Pixie Mate so I’m open to suggestions. And – as always – a super huge thanks to my amazing coach Gary Ditsch at Endurance Base Camp for putting up with me.
See you in a few weeks New Orleans!
I find trail running to be a magical experience. I live behind Eldorado Canyon State Park just outside of Boulder and have a plethora of trail runs that I can start and finish at my house such as Eldorado Canyon Trail, Walker Ranch, Rattlesnake Gulch, Fowler Trail, Dowdy Draw, Mesa Trail (and all the branches), and South Boulder Creek Trail.
I’ve run them all – many times – in many different permutations. Since Amy and I own a lot of property that is adjacent to Colorado State Park land and Boulder Open Space, I’m very respectful of staying on the trails as it makes me crazy whenever someone comes off of the Eldorado Canyon Trail or Rattlesnake onto our land.
I have a standard 60 minute out and back run on Fowler trail. I used to be able to stretch it to 90 minutes if I ran on Denver Water Board land up to the private property boundary. With the opening of Goshawk Ridge I now have a great new 90 minute loop. In addition, the trail system now connects up with the Spring Brook Loop and all the Dowdy Draw improvements. I think I just got another 15 or so miles of trails to play around with, along with links to other trails that I previously had to run on the road to get to!
One of my favorite things about trail running is the serenity. After about five minutes on the trail, I don’t even notice that the world – outside me and the trail – exists. No cars, few people (I saw more deer today than I saw people), occasional wildlife (including – er, eek! – snakes), and periodic magical and mystical surprise moments.
I also don’t ever care about my time or pace on the trail run. I just run. I’ve never met a hill I couldn’t run up, but I’ve met some that I had to walk down because of my “racehorse ankles” (Amy loves to chide me about my thin ankles). I don’t look at my watch – I just pay attention to my breathing and heart rate.
I’ve had a hard time getting in a consistent gear since running the Huntsville Marathon. I had some great runs at the end of 2008, but then twisted my ankle hard in mid January and have been struggling to get in a groove for the last few weeks. After the last few runs, I’ve found that groove. And – I’ve found some great new trails. Thanks Boulder Open Space!