There’s a hitch in my get-along…a cautionary tale

If you read my blog regularly (and God bless all three of you 🙂 ) then you know I have been having some recurring issues with my Achilles tendons: I stressed them pretty good back in May and June, when I crash-trained from 10K distance up to half-marathon in only 6 weeks, and then ran that race barefoot on sand – don’t look at me that way, like you NEVER made a spontaneous decision that, in hindsight, you knew wasn’t your brightest moment! (Besides, that race is still my PR for that distance, so it wasn’t all bad…right?) It took two months to regain my confidence in running anything over 2 miles; I then immediately began a 6-month plan aimed at a sub-4 hour marathon, starting with building a solid base, and then gradually upping the mileage and intensity. I am now two months out from the Chevron Houston Marathon, and facing a new set of issues, each one leading directly to the next – and possibly causing some radical changes to my plans. Let’s look at the progression:

  1. My wife’s cancer treatments are over and done, and she is in full remission, praise the Lord. But, while she was doing radiation the first part of this year, I was missing a LOT of work, and our finances took a pretty dramatic hit – wiped out all our savings, ran up some debt, dipped heavily into my 401K, etc…no reserves, nothing extra.
  2. I suffer from mild-to-moderate bipolar disorder, and I HATE all the medications I have ever tried, so I pretty much just ride the roller coaster and cope the best I can; sometimes are better than others, and this summer was not the best I have ever had…not the worst, but not good.
  3. The combined stresses began to show up in my performance at work, and led to my employer becoming increasing dissatisfied with me, adding more stress; this played a part to my being placed on suspension and referred into the company’s Employee Assistance Program for counseling (there were other issues, too); successful completion of the program  was a condition for returning to work, failure would lead to termination…easy choice to make, huh?
  4. While attending counseling, I had to find other income, so I took a ridiculous  job installing office furniture at 40% more hours and 50% less pay. The bills got further behind, and there was even less for non-essentials. I continued running, staying the course on my marathon training plan, because by now it was my only link to sanity and my primary means of coping with myself; my counselor recognized the value and supported my decision. I was now into the upward curve, running 4 days, 25-30 miles a week. Unfortunately, one of the “non-essentials” in our budget was new running shoes, so I just kept going in the same pair I have been using all year…to the tune of about 600 miles. I knew they were pretty much shot, I could feel it – but the alternative was to just quit running…and that was off the table for me. I sucked it up when my ankles and heels hurt, started taking NSAID’s daily, iced after every run, began using KT Tape every time I ran, cut workouts short when it hurt too much…but I kept going.
  5. The back-breaking straws were the last two long runs: the Houston Half Marathon, three weeks ago; and then the 15 miles the following week – for the first time, I had pain not only in my ankles, but now also in my right knee – bad enough to make me limp, and not be able to walk up stairs without hanging on to the bannister. The knee pain faded in a day or two, but came right back with the next run…and quicker each time. I began skipping workouts or cutting them radically short, hoping to “heal” a little in between, or “train through it”.
  6. I finally bought some new shoes, but not the top tier model I really need; I got a very inexpensive, much less cushioned model because it was the best I could afford – I could not continue with the shoes I had – but I just don’t think they are going to cut it…brand new, they feel just about the same as the worn-out ones.
  7. Yesterday I was supposed to do a double pace workout on the TM, with a 5K easy run in the middle. I did the first set; just made it through 5K – with a couple of stops to rest and stretch – but could not do the last set…had to stop within the first 30 seconds because the knee would not go any further. Something had to change.

This morning I could barely walk when I woke up, but I made it to work and got through the day. I also emailed my running coach and explained what was going on, asking for advice on how long  I need to take off from running, and what she thought of dropping back from the full marathon to the half – I am that shaken off my confidence right now. She replied pretty quickly, and advised me to take a week off, and schedule a visit with a sports-medicine doctor to see how bad it really is; also to ask for a referral for PT, to get advice on stretching and strengthening exercises to help with recovery; we should wait on a decision about dropping to the half until the doctor has a look. Great advice – wish I could take all of it, but that may take some time…

I completed the EAP counseling, and went back to work this week…that means I get a paycheck NEXT Friday. I will receive my last (partial) check from the furniture job this Friday, but we are juggling utility disconnect notices, bank overdrafts, and day-to-day expenses, so that won’t go very far. Doctors appointments; physical therapy; deep-tissue massage; new, quality running shoes – all the things I need to stay on track, or to keep running, period – these things will just have to wait, maybe three weeks, maybe four…we are in survival mode right now, and I can’t look that far into the future yet. So where does this leave me? Not running, that’s where!

I am going to take Coach’s advice, as much as I can, as soon as I can, and I will not jeopardize my body any further than I already have…because that is what I have done, no question about it. It also means that I will accept this with as much grace as I can muster, and keep my eye on the bigger picture – if I drop to the half, if I just let the time goal fall away and try to finish 26.2 in one piece, or even if I don’t run it at all…so be it. I don’t like it (and if you have ever been in a similar position, you understand) but I will do it…because I am an athlete, a runner…and that is what we do. My only problem now: how do I keep from losing my mind in the meantime? I have the Internet, and a wealth of advice from many great bloggers who have been where I am; I can continue with non- or low-impact cross training, to maintain base fitness; it’s not the end of everything…it just feels like it, y’know?

Have you ever injured yourself by force of stupidity? What made you realize you had gone too far, and how did you cope with the fallout? (I am not as bitter as that sounds, I just can’t believe myself sometimes…) Just let me know I’m not the only one who ever did a dumb thing, and if you have some tips on how to survive this, I will be glad to hear it – thanks!


  1. Pingback: CHM Training update: T-10 weeks – Giving up a little to gain a lot | Striding Towards Life
  2. Melissa

    Man, you have a lot of challenges all at once. I think perhaps dialing it back a bit might help. Run a little, with lower intensity, for your mental health, but take it easier to help your physical health. No perfect answers, that’s for sure. But I’m big on balance and finding a happy medium. Good luck.

    • Nick

      Thanks for your support, Melissa. Everybody has a lot of challenges in life, always…I just told a few people about a few of mine. I will be backing down on running for a while, because that’s the right thing to do, but stay active, because that is also the right thing to do. Balance is hard for me to find, I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person…that may be the purpose of this “timeout” – to help me correct that approach into something healthier; I’m not quite there yet, but at least I know which way NOT to go 🙂

    • Carlos

      Nick, sorry to hear about your injuries. You are in my prayers, because I do want to live vicariously through you while I got through the hell of my own injury. I’m 0-for-2013, really. I haven’t had a meaningful run since 2012. My problem at the back-middle of my heel has eluded a conclusive diagnosis, despite seeing 3 specialists and 2 surgeons, and an a service called “Best Doctors” that my company offers. I’ve had MRIs, bone scans, PT, Iontophonesis, kineseotape, a full fiberglass cast up to my knee, and topical creams. I actually had one doc insist it was all in my head until he saw the bone scan light up like a lighthouse. Further complicating my diagnosis is the fact that I’m arthritic, which to this point has only affected my knees, but may be the sole or contributing factor in my heel. I, myself, knowing my body, and through extensive research, cannot shake the belief that I’ve got an undectable stress fracture. I’ve got my surgery schedule for Dec 13th, but for the last 3 weeks, in utter desperation, I took matters into my own hand and put on a Bledsoe boot, which I still owned from a previous stress fracture to my left tibia 4 years ago. And so far, it kinda seems like it’s working. The tenderness to the touch is all but gone, and bearing weight seems painless (at least with the boot on). I’m terrified of trying to take a meaningful step without the boot, because if it truly is a healing stress fracture, it needs more time. I’m going to wear the boot for another 2 weeks or so, then see how I feel. If I can walk pain-free, I’ll postpone the surgery and start another round of PT. If I do have the surgery, I’m looking as much as 18 months before I could attempt to run again, if at all.

      So yeah, cry me a river, bud! 🙂

      Seriously, though. You want advice? Take more time off. Take MUCH MORE time off. And, RE-EVALUATE YOUR PURPOSE FOR RUNNING! Don’t ever quit! But quit trying to set records and pushing yourself so hard. You are a Forty-X year old former chain smoker, and it’s a miracle you ever laced up in the first place, right? Quit training like an athlete, and start being “just” a runner. Run for the joy of it. Run for the stress relief (sounds like you could use it, and couldn’t we all?). Run for meditation. (I never felt more grateful to God than when I rounded a particular corner on a cold winter morning and felt like I was running right towards the rising sun.)

      It saddens me a little that you seemed more focused on running for time and performance, and missing out on the big picture. I would much rather be reading the blog of a prayerful runner who lets his runs become a prayer of thanks and journey of self-discovery, instead of reading your latest split times and shoe evaluations.

      The one and only race I ever ran was the Half-Marathon, and I enjoyed it. But my whole injury cycle started during that arduous training cycle, and trying to push through pain to train for a full marathon. If I could have forseen this injury, I would never have exceeded 10K run distances.

      I may never run again, but if I do, I’ll treasure ever single mile like it might be my last. I was already running on borrowed time, and against medical advise for someone with my arthritic condition, so it would be foolish of me to wallow in self-pity and regret. But I know this: If I ever get back, even a 3 mile run through the trails of my subdivision will feel like I just won the most prestigious race imaginable.

      I do wish you well, and I do hope you’ll learn before it’s too late. And remember this: NOBODY will care if you finish in the top x percent of your age group, except you. But if that’s why you’re doing it, then Godspeed and I hope you make it. Take care of yourself, and I really do hope you get back on your feet soon.


      • Nick

        Carlos, my friend, good to hear from you. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Your comment has two threads, and requires two responses – I will take them in order.

        First, I had no idea the extent of your injuries, or that you had been dealing with it this long – I am lifting you in prayer that you seem to be on a path to the answer, and that the surgery will turn out to be unnecessary – I especially like your point that you know your own body better than anyone else, and I echo that you must temper advice with intuition…especially when “advice” is lacking or contradictory, and intuition appears to be going in the right direction. I always thought you had the best instincts of anyone we knew back then, and I admired you for that. Continue to trust them, and I believe you will regain the obvious joy you have found in running, one way or another. You don’t need me to cry you a river, unless you plan on taking up whitewater rafting to pass the time until you heal up 🙂

        Second, I value your advice, however much I may dislike the content of it. I DO run just for the joy of moving…feeling my body respond as it carries me forward is a form of worship I never knew existed, and I thank God for allowing me this privilege. But, there is more to it than that, at least for me…how do I put this? The pursuit of excellence is a worthy occupation, in my opinion…and that does not mean being “the best there is”, but rather “the best I can be”…which is a constantly changing target. I have always enjoyed the challenge of pushing farther, harder, faster, better – not for any tangible reward, or even necessarily the acclaim of others, but for the satisfaction of self…is that a terrible thing to say? I don’t HAVE to go all-out, all the time; but I do have to do it ONCE. I have to find that upper boundary; to personify the Peter Principle: “A person will rise to the level of their incompetence, and then fail.” Failure is not a bad thing, it is a real thing. No one ALWAYS succeeds; but what separates some from others is how we respond to failure. I have indeed risen to that level, by evidence of self-inflicted injuries, but that does not mean I have to quit trying. I know I will not improve until I learn from this circumstance, and take steps to recover and try again…but I have not and will not give up; nor have I reached that upper limit of what I CAN DO, when not working against myself. I will get there, or it will get to me – you are correct that age and past habits cannot be ignored, and perhaps that limit line is closer to me than it would be for another person…but so what? It’s still MY line, and I am going to find it. If races, and PR’s, and split times are the current stepping-stones along my journey, so be it. I can, and will, and do, run just to see the pavement move beneath me, and feel the wind in my hair…but I like the accoutrements of competition, as well, and while I can still enjoy them, I intend to. I have never been personally unclear about WHY I run, or the WAY I run, although perhaps I have never expressed it out loud correctly; if I have given the wrong impression, I apologize. I cannot fault you for vicarious living, but I caution you – living through others will always lead to disappointments, because nobody will ever do “it” like you would have done “it”. (It took having children who grew up and “let me down” to teach me that lesson; it wasn’t their fault that their life didn’t run to my liking, because it was THEIR life…I could like it or not, as I chose, but I remained the spectator all the same.) I welcome your concern, your comments, even your criticism…like I said, I respect your instincts. But I am fully aware of the “big picture”, I happen to enjoy focusing on some of the details, that’s all.

        Again, thank you, and we really need to schedule that long lunch…FB me, and let’s do some scheduling, preferably before Christmas, ok? See you soon, I hope!

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