I thought this season would be different

It’s almost as if my body knows it’s getting close to being able to train hard and actually try to race when I run. I say this because, just as I get past some injury or condition and begin to look at race planning, something else happens that sidelines me again. This has been the case for the last few seasons.

running injury hotspotsIt’s all the more frustrating because I used to kind of be a rock. I was a little late to serious running, training for my first marathon at 34, but I’d done a number of shorter races before this time and had run off and on for several years. From roughly 34-39, I did two or three a year, with lots of 5 and 10k races, and half marathons thrown in for good measure. Until this time, I ran solid and I ran pretty high volumes, and I could plan seasons of training and racing, at most getting a little Plantar Fascitis or a little tweak or two along the way.

Then I stopped. Not by choice, mind you, but significant life events meant I had neither the time nor inclination to focus on physical pursuits, being a full-time single dad with related difficulties I won’t go into here. I still managed to play ultimate during this period (as I could take my little guys to the field with me) and I ran a little now and then, but regular speed sessions, hill training, long runs and races weren’t on the agenda.

By the age of 42 or 43, as things cleared up, I began running again. It wasn’t the same this time. I completed the California International Marathon in 2007 and had re-qualified for Boston – something I’d done early and often in my late 30’s, but which had eluded me on poorer performances as my regular running waned due to said life issues.

Then, on a warm summer Wednesday evening in 2008, on a hard seawall tempo run through Stanley Park, I felt my lower left ab pop. It was sudden and significant and I returned to our Running Room starting point at a gimpy jog. I ended up taking weeks at a time off only to feel enough pain to stop me training again on my first run back. So, I took a few months off, was referred to UBC Sport Med and was diagnosed with a suspected Sports Hernia (a vague condition if there ever was one).

I managed to rehab things enough to get through the 2009 Boston Marathon, but not without significant calf cramping and my worst time ever. Yeah, calf cramping … a condition that inexplicably began plaguing me on the last couple marathons I’d done prior to Boston. Oddly enough, my abdominal issue had abated and I thought it was behind me. However, between spring and fall 2009, it returned with a vengeance and I was forced to the sideline once again. This time I went under the knife for the mesh; a common procedure for sports hernia injuries.

Since my fall 2009 sports hernia patch job, an apparent combination of long-standing bio-mechanical issues (over pronation on the left side) and years of cutting around a field playing the ultimate I so love, seemed to take their toll. One after another, the bulk of several months of racing and training at a time were lost, as I suffered intermittent groin pulls, a minor tear of my left medial meniscus and then finally for most of 2012, I was getting treatment for a neuroma in my left foot. Between two podiatrists, conservative efforts, sclerosing alcohol injections and tepid, short test runs to report progress, I was off running for over half a year. I started cycling a lot more in 2011, but as someone who still thinks of himself as a runner first, I’m much happier when I can run.

Each time I’ve been sidelined I’ve sought appropriate consultation, done the prescribed physio and/or rehab, kept a number of preventative measures in my regular fitness plan (with lots of regular core work) and managed to recover from each and every one of these issues enough to resume running and even play a little ultimate again over the past six months, after most of the previous three years away from the game. I don’t go over this history for sympathy, and I’m actually quite proud that I haven’t given up, but I’m stubborn and that usually simply doesn’t happen.

But in the fall of 2012 with my left lower ab, left knee and left foot all finally behaving again, I really thought the 2013 season would be different than the previous few. Running through this past winter I didn’t train hard, but just wanted to get a decent base back, with the hope that I’d feel good by late January or early February and could plan a simple race season. I did the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May and registered in the 5 Peaks BC series. I figured if all that went well I could do a couple more 2013 halfs, maybe an enduro and begin thinking of tackling a trail ultra and possibly a marathon distance again for 2014.

However, my return to ultimate was short-lived, as I experienced a minor groin pull in early June. I’d promised myself that if playing caused me any more of these issues, I’d hang up the cleats for good. I eased back on running and began doing more groin rehab work, which seemed to loosen it up fairly quickly. Then, as June gave way to an unusually hot July, I began experiencing dreadfully familiar symptoms in the lower abdominal region, this time seemingly on the right side. It was different though, in that hard or long runs would produce tightness that would start on the right and radiate across the entire abdominal insertion area at the top of the pubic bone, even moving down into the recently pulled adductor muscles. I’ve read that groin pulls may, in fact, be strongly related to what are diagnosed as sports hernias and that surgery should really be a last resort.

This is where I am now, feeling like it’s 2008 all over again. I’ve completely stopped running and, as with 2008, the abdominal tightness goes away fairly quickly when running isn’t happening. I’ve begun a rehab routine that includes both light groin strengthening and some very moderate balance and related work. I do nothing that will engage the lower ab and have got a referral to the surgeon who did my first mesh job scheduled for September 4th. At this point, I only really want his opinion on what may be going on and perhaps to get an MRI to aid in the diagnosis. In the meantime, very shortly I’ll have lost two 5 Peaks events, most likely Buntzen Lake, too, and have no idea when I’ll run again. It’s likely that I’ll get a UBC Sport Med referral again, as well, for some additional rehab options.

While I certainly don’t expect to have everything happen again, having another abdominal tear that may require surgical intervention and really no significant extended time healthy for years now, I must admit to being a little more despondent over this latest development. I’m not ready to hang up the sneakers yet, but I can only bash my head against this running wall for so long.