There's always more to learn

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Paying attention to Pain

The weather this spring in Wisconsin was wonderful. It warmed up early, the roads were clear, it wasn't too windy...before long I was taking my bike Ruby out nearly every day for at least 20 miles. After months on the trainer, it was glorious to be outside in the breeze and the sun and the fresh air.


Biking every day let me enjoy more of the local beauty and it also helped me ignore nagging tightness in my right hamstring and my left knee. During the late winter and early spring I had been doing more running, specifically track speedwork and hill repeats, just for fun and to see what I could accomplish. (This was before Covid, when we thought there were going to be races in 2020.) Hills had never been my friend, but I was hopeful that with gradual increases in time and distance, my body would cooperate and adapt. As the weather warmed up, my hamstring and knee started to bug me more and more, so I switched to the bike. Then the Y closed, and I was on the bike even more. Eventually, it caught up with me.


By late July, the hamstring was forcing me to cut my rides short. My average power was decreasing with every ride, I couldn't hold a fast cadence, and off the bike I was hobbling around like a 90 year old woman. I switched to walking.


This wasn't the first time I ignored an injury too long and ended up sidelined. I got a stress fracture in my foot during one of my first marathons. If I had been honest (and also not so naïve) I would have acknowledged that my foot was hurting more and more during the last few weeks of training. But I ignored it in favor of my race goal, only to pay for that with a long recovery. Six or so years ago I had a stress fracture in the ball of my foot. This was a nagging problem for months but I convinced myself it was tendonitis. Eventually I had it x-rayed which confirmed the fracture. I wore a brace and stopped running again. That summer, I got Ruby, which has helped keep injuries at bay for a good while.


Last week I was out for a walk in the afternoon and noticed some discomfort in the ball of my foot. I recognized the feeling, yet my brain instantly went to work on generating excuses. "I my calves are tight", "my socks are creating friction", "I should roll my arches", "I need to rotate my shoes". The reality? I've ramped up my mileage again, not a lot, but some, and my body is protesting.


I coach our son's middle school cross country team. Every year there are kids who suffer shin splints, knee pain, and side aches. I try to teach the kids the difference between the natural discomfort that comes with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and pain that is your body telling you something is wrong. It's a fine line. Kids tend to error on the side of caution, stopping when things get uncomfortable. I'm the opposite, often running despite sharp sensations and gait-interrupting tightness. I know better, but sometimes it is hard to do better.


Will I wise up and ease up this time? I'm trying. Balancing the emotional pressure to push every day with the logic of backing off and switching it up to facilitate healing is surprisingly difficult. I have to keep reminding myself, every day, that going easy now will set me up for success down the road. It's just such a slow process. I know that so many people have suffered much bigger setbacks than a little tendonitis or muscle strain. Reading those stories helps me keep things in perspective. I also know many people who struggle with chronic pain and illness who would love to be able to go for even a mile walk. I am blessed, I know. Maybe I can reframe my pain as a reminder of what I am able to do, rather than becoming so frustrated by what I can't.