Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Break Down of a Running "Machine"

I've never considered myself to be a runner.  I will never forget when Josh and I lived in Waltham, back in 1999 and my friend, Ursula (a marathon runner) asked me to go running with her.  I hadn't run in years.  Hell, at that point, I don't even remember the last time I had done much exercise of any kind.  I was 23 and still my young, perky self with no concern for the future.  But I went with her and she literally ran in circles around me - and talked to me the WHOLE TIME.  I was hating her just a tiny bit for her abilities and thought, that will never be me.  I gave up.  And didn't run again until after Liam was born.

But I didn't start running right after he was born.  It was only after I couldn't get rid of those last pesky 10 lbs almost a year after he was born that I started to go to the gym.  And I didn't start to run right away or very well when I started to work out - I didn't think I had it in me.  So let's call it about 4 years that I've been "consistently" running.  Then we moved to Barcelona and I had Liam home with me full time and so couldn't take him to the gym with me (I'm a morning gym person and they don't have daycares at the gyms here) so there went 9 months where I ran on the occasional weekend but not consistently.  

After Liam started school in September 2010, I started to go to the gym a few days a week.  I was a bit intimidated by my new surroundings even though I had worked out regularly at a similar type of gym in the US.  But it was still new to me.  So I stuck to the all familiar treadmill and ran.  

Over time I found my distance getting a little further and a little faster.  Before I knew it, I was running between 3 and 5 times a week with a minimum of 5k per run.  I started to increase my distance little by little and found that I had more endurance than I had ever realized.  I'll never be the fastest, nor will I ever be the one who goes the furthest, but I have always enjoyed competing with myself and trying to continually improve my personal best. 

I don't just compete with myself though.  It's like a special little clique - runners.  And so when I see a friend on my Facebook has just completed a run, I have to click "like" because I know what it means to have people behind you, cheering you on to go for that next run.  To see your progress and note such.  It's kept me in touch with my friends at home as we virtually run together - I might not be there but we can still be together in alternative ways.  

Running relaxes me.  Which is odd because most of my run I'm wondering when it will be over.  But without a good run, I feel out of sorts.  It's the runners high that I get when my run is done - that's what I live for.  And I need it... it's like a drug for me.  No other cardio does this the same way for me as running.  

But like most runners, I've been faced with constant injury.  Specifically my knees, arches and my lower legs.  The knees improved with new sneakers which I've learned need to be replaced more often. But my legs, my legs have been a consistent problem for the last year and it's only gotten progressively worse.  The worst part about it; I know it's self inflicted.  My trainer is constantly telling me to stop and rest for a few days or weeks but I push on... 

Why do this to myself?  I think like other things, it's an addiction.  If I felt well enough to run, then I would.  Even if my legs hurt - the pain would go away after a mile or so and I'd feel great.  On top of the world.  Until after the run.  It would only be when the pain became debilitating that I would stop and do something else, sometimes breaking for a few days, other times for a few weeks.  

But what I noticed is that the recovery time was getting longer and longer in between runs.  That more often than not I would run and I'd have some discomfort, if not pain, throughout the run.  That even walking was becoming uncomfortable.  But I would push on, because that's what I do.  And I don't give up.  And I'm uber competitive, with myself and others.  Josh would run 4 miles on a given morning, then I would also need to run at least 4 miles.  By the way, Josh is not competing with me - this is my own self made insanity that pushes me to do this.  He doesn't care if I run 1 or run 100 - it's about us staying in good physical shape.

I've seen doctors about my leg in the last year.  All in Spanish.  Which is frustrating for me because yes, I live in Spain and yes, I speak the language (well enough to function and a bit more) but I don't speak medical jargon.  I can describe what is wrong with me, how it happened and that I love to run.  But to understand what they are telling me in response is my challenge and missing just a little bit makes a big difference. 

For instance, last year I went to the walk in clinic and saw a doctor.  He started to tell me something and then kept moving his hands from my waist down to my ankle.  I swear he told me he was going to put my leg in a full cast - this is terrible!!!  Turns out... he wanted to take an x-ray from my hip down to my foot.  Yeah, I missed something in the translation there.  He told me it was tendonitis - an inflammation of the tendon that runs along my calf.  The best treatment - rest, ice and ibuprofen.

I did that.  It got better... for a little while.  But not for good.  As I said, it's been getting progressively worse.  I'd like to think that if I were in the US that I would have seen a doctor to find out why it's getting worse and not better.  But then in the US, I would need to get several referrals to see a specialist and then wait months to see said specialist.  So I can't be sure that I would have taken care of it.  But then, I hadn't done anything since last spring here so it's no one's fault but my own.

In an effort to feel better about the Boston Marathon bombings last month, I ran my longest run ever - just over 8 miles.  My first 4 kilometers (about 2 miles) were painful - almost to the point where I wanted to quit.  But my desire to run and my desire to put the pain of what happened at home behind me and to do just one little thing to show my Boston pride, won out.  And I ran.  And I ran hard.  And I ran far.  And I was stupid.  Because my leg became worse... again.

Now a year into this injury, I had an ah ha moment one day at the gym when I remembered that our insurance now has English speaking customer service.  As soon as I got home I called them up and scheduled an appointment with an English speaking orthopedist.  I was disappointed to have to wait something like 4 days for my appointment as I was actually excited about the idea of finding a solution to my problem.  

I got to the doctor on May 3rd... the first appointment of the day.  I was excited, I was nervous - what was he going to say?  I was going to be able to describe my problems in my native language - a feat that I haven't been able to do to date.  And I was going to understand what the doctor had to say in response.  Was I finally going to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it?  Could I actually think of a time where I might run without pain?  

Ahh but I got my hopes up.  Because while my insurance claimed this doctor spoke English, he actually spoke NONE.  I almost cried out of frustration.  Just another bad Spain day for me.  I understood the gist of what he was saying but he literally spent less than 5 minutes with me. I explained that I run... a lot.  And that I have pain... a lot.  And that the time between my runs has gotten longer and longer and the pain sticks around and never really goes away.  It was what he said in response that was hard for me.  I have no idea how long he told me not to run.  He felt my leg for less than 10 seconds.  He ordered up some kind of treatment and I think physical therapy  At least that was what I came out of the appointment thinking.  

He wrote both things down on prescription paper so I was able to actually read it after.  I made one appointment right away - turns out it was for therapy. I have no idea what the therapy entails, just that I have an appointment.  The other paper was for an xray of some sort which turns out to be a gamagrafia - or a bone scan.  Straight to the big stuff.  No standard x ray or MRI... a bone scan (which for those who don't know, has radiation equivalent to about 60 x rays - like I can't be around kids or pregnant women for at least 12 hours).  

But they couldn't make the appointment for the bone scan because they don't do them at that hospital.  Apparently only 3 places in Barcelona have this type of machine that can do this scan.  I called my insurance company to have them make the appointment (perk of my insurance company) but they couldn't because it wasn't one of their hospitals (insurance companies here have their own hospitals and clinics - often you are covered at other locations but they cannot schedule you for appointments at places other than their own).  Near tears, the customer service rep walked me thru it - something I normally wouldn't have needed but was just so frustrated by not being able to communicate that I couldn't take one more thing.  But I did it... I managed to make the appointment and go this Thursday for my bone scan.

So while I didn't get all the information I was hoping for, I did find out this - I have tibial periostitis.  Basically chronic shin splits.  At least that is what this doctor is now saying (with his 10 seconds of feeling my leg).  I also made an appointment for the bone scan.  I am making progress towards a solution.  And bonus, friends of mine have been seeing an orthopedist in the same hospital that I went to and have an English speaking doctor - so when I get the results of the bone scan, I will make an appointment with him to review them and come up with a plan.  So while none of this has gone smoothly, it is progress and that's more than I've had in the last year.  

It's time to find a solution - a long term solution.   Being a runner doesn't mean that you have to run marathons.  I've finally realized - I'm a runner.  Because I WANT TO RUN. 


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