If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve been training for the Pittsburgh half in May. This is a bucket list item type thing I have wanted to do, and it meant something to be to be able to say that I completed a half-marathon; that 13.1 miles. The first time I tried to run it, plantar fasciitis gave me too many problems and I had to drop out. Well, since then, I’ve gotten that under control, and it seemed like the perfect timing.
I needed this race. I’ve said this before; I’ve gained much more weight than I’m happy with. This seemed like the prime opportunity to get myself in shape, start eating healthier, and working out. I researched different running plans and ultimately decided upon a run-walk one, I joined a running group, I bought good running gear, especially for the cold. I was ready. This was it. I wanted to take control of my health. I wanted to be healthier, I saw so many different benefits from it. Being healthier physically could help me recover mentally, it could help me become a better firefighter. I’ve never been a consistent runner, but I knew that running would help clear my head, and no matter how bad I felt during a run, I always felt better after. Runner’s high is a real thing. I needed this race. This was a goal that I needed to meet. It was my chance to make things right.
And then I started running. I started slow. By slow, I mean my plan had me walking two minutes and running one minute. I would stretch beforehand, warm up. But I would be on my third or so interval, and pain would start in my left leg. It felt like a cramp, but not a full cramp. It was like it wanted to cramp but couldn’t. By the time I got to the fifth or sixth interval, I couldn’t run at all. There were times I couldn’t walk it off or stretch it out, I just kind of had to stand there and wait for it to pass. A couple times, I had to get picked up from my run because I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk home. Something wasn’t right.
Many of my friends are runners, so I went to Facebook. I kept hearing that it was probably just from my leg being weaker and to run through it, that this would be a painful process (training for the half). While I don’t doubt that, I’ve always been an inconsistent runner – never did any training for any of the 5Ks I’ve run – and I had never felt anything like this. It felt like my leg was going to explode.
I went and got my gait analyzed, wondering if something was wrong with the way I ran. There wasn’t but I also got fitted for shoes. I took other advice, like getting good running socks. Another suggestion was to walk up to a mile and a half before I even started my intervals; I did that too. I had seen my PCP during this time, and she eventually referred me to a sports medicine doctor.
It wasn’t getting better. If anything, it was getting worse; taking even less time to begin this weird cramping thing. It was taking longer to stop too. Needless to say, I was getting pretty concerned, especially once I realized my calf was swollen.
So I go to the sports medicine doctor. He thinks it could be compartment syndrome, which took me a few minutes to remember why I had heard of it, but then I realized I associated it with crushing injuries from my EMT and vehicle rescue classes. And specifically, he thinks it is chronic exertional compartment syndrome. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is found often in young adult athletes and runners. Go figure. As the name implies, it is exercise induced and affects the muscles and nerves of a limb. Activities that involve repetitive impact are often the blame.
As he began to match up my symptoms – swelling, a cramping/achy pain, becoming progressively worse, and taking a longer recovery time – all I could think was crap. Except, I used something a little bit stronger. Even the fact that it happened typically after a certain amount of time fit the description of the syndrome. I didn’t even realize how tight my calf muscle was until he had me do certain stretches and I could compare the pain to the nonexistent pain on the other leg. Basically, the tissue in my leg isn’t expanding with the muscle like it is supposed to do.
For starters, I am off to physical therapy. My doctor still wants me to workout, not run, but workout. He kept saying it like a mantra: Cardio, yoga, core, crosstrain. Cardio, yoga, core, crosstrain. Cardio, yoga, core, crosstrain. He hopes that continuing to work out will help my endurance with the running that I’m not doing. Yoga is obviously for the stretching. My core can use work anyways. And my training plan for the half has me crosstraining already. He’s not counting me out of the race yet, so neither am I. But, he does admit it is a setback..
A setback. I really hate that fucking word.
The comeback is stronger than the setback. The setback is just the setup for the comeback. I’ve said these so many times when it comes to my mental health, but now I am just fucking over it. And I am pissed.
You know what’s funny? I had myself thinking I was weak for not running through the pain. That I wasn’t mentally strong enough to get myself through it, the whole your mind is tricking your body, when you think you can’t go anymore, you’re actually just warming up. I had myself convinced that I was weak and that was why I was going to fail.
I thought I was weak, and it brought so many more insecurities to light. Things that I thought were long gone were actually just buried and decided now was a good time to come out and play.
That’s why this damn race is so important to me.
I have to prove it to myself that I’m not.
Boy, I’m going to be pissed if I can’t run this race. Yes, I know there’s other races. But I am going to be pissed, and I am finding the first one approximately twenty weeks out from when I start running without pain.
And you know, I’m trying to get healthier. I’m trying to do better, to be better. I’m trying to lose weight. I want to be a better firefighter, and I know being physically fitter is definitely going to help with that. And my body legitimately is not physically cooperating with me. What the hell, dude? Is this a conspiracy against myself? I’ve been at war with my brain before, don’t go there. I don’t have time for this bullshit.
It’s another fucking setback, man.
It might not seem that important, but how many do I have to take? When do I catch a freaking break? It might seem minor, but just another thing on top of everything else, that people just seem to do with ease that just seems such a long way from here for me.
I’m not saying I’m giving up, because I’m not, but I’m pissed. And there’s still enough fire (I hope) to keep the drive into me working out. Stronger, faster, harder. Be better. I have to hold onto those sparks when I can grab them.
I think I’m finally really understanding what it means to be at war with yourself. I’ve been fighting against myself, within my own head for seven years (that is infuriating and disgusting) and I’m only starting to understand.
I have to prove to myself that I am better than who I think I am.
I know the real me exists, because lately I have been her a lot, for the first time in years. But apparently part of me still wants to challenge that.
See? This is why I have to run. They say it’s mental. It’s the only mental game that’s going to shut my mental illness the hell up. I mean, yeah, this is also why I meditate, but boy this anger sucks.
I will do what I have to. I’m not giving up. As angry and frustrated and beaten down I might feel, there is part of me that is not giving up and apparently it is a majority, so I’ve got that going for me. It’s another round in the ring, next level in the game. Show me what you got. I wrote this for myself as much as I did anyone else.
Everything is relative. It might not seem that significant at all (minus the cost of the race, but I believe I insured my entry fee). But the plan of running the half meant a helluva lot. I was going to do it this time. I was gonna blast Rocky after I finished. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to make things right. But it’s back to the whiteboard to figure out the next move. Here we go.