Death by a Thousand Cuts: Overuse Injuries

“Forget about the orthotics,” I said to my friend Gary.  “I need to know where I can get a good deal on a walker.”

He laughed with me, not at me:  we’ve both been through the injury mill.  Endurance athletes of a certain age have lots of miles on the body.  And despite our best efforts, it starts to break down after a while.  Overuse injuries are not my friend, but I’m beginning to learn to live with them.

After hearing about my latest ride on the overuse injury merry-go-round, Gary had suggested that I get orthotics for my running shoes.  For years, I’ve felt as though I had a crack on the top of my left foot.  It would hurt after a long run, or a longer foot race – half-marathon or longer.  I ignored it, figuring it was just one of those little aches I have to deal with.  You can’t run to the doctor every time you stub your toe.

But over the last year, it’s gotten to the point where I pick my way down trails.  Uphill?  No problem, the harder the better.  Run back down?  BIG problem.

All summer and fall, I focused on rehabbing my right leg.  For years, I’ve had chronic, debilitating pain that hobbles me to the point where I can’t fight in the last third of a long footrace.  Therapists have pummeled my IT band into submission, worked over the hamstring, the whole nine yards, and it comes back each year.

At Joint Care Physical Therapy, a physio diagnosed the root of chronic pain:  my right leg is forward in the hip socket, it’s not quite as mobile as it is for regular people.  He said that runners and dancers are subject to this condition.  After six months of basic, repetitious exercises, I’ve been able to run comfortably for the first time in years.

But only uphill.

While I ameliorated my immobile hip, my foot began to bother me more and more.   By January, I was walking even non-technical downhills rather than running.  At my usual interval spot, the hard gravel maintenance road in Hedden Park, I’d max out my heart rate going up, but tread gingerly back to the bottom.

Several years ago Gary, a hard core skier with multiple Worldloppet events under his belt, coped with a psoas injury.  I’m thinking, how does one mess that muscle up?

When the psoas healed, a bad back followed.  Foot problems ensued right after the bad back.  More back problems followed, then arthritis.  Formerly fit and active, Gary seemed laid low by continuous injuries, one right after the other.  Each time he suffered another ailment, I scratched my head and wondered how on God’s green earth one human being can have so many rapid fire injuries.  But the same thing is happening to me.  I haven’t had a full season of running races in several years.

“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” I said.  Gary laughed again.

In a way, I’ve been lucky.  Yeah, I fell on roller skis and fractured my wrist, but I was up and around pretty quick from that.  Hit by a car 20-some years ago, I walked away with only bruises and a swollen knee.  I’ve never had the kind of catastrophic crash that Jonny Bold described.

But I’ve never been able to run long races on back to back weekends, as Tom deHaan did.  When he ran Wakely Dam and the Escarpment Trail Run on consecutive weekends a couple years back, I was dumbfounded.  My body wouldn’t allow me to do that.  For years, I thought I wasn’t tough enough.  Now I know it’s something different.

For now, I haven’t run in almost two months.  Skiing, roller skiing, cycling, pool run, elliptical trainer…..  Yeah, the elliptical trainer.  Watching paint dry is more exciting.  I’m looking at possibly a third consecutive summer of missed racing opportunities.  For now, all I can do is take calcium and wait.