injury – not always from aging or running

Welcome to my new blog about masters running. I want to help and inspire runners age 40 and older to get fitter and faster. 

I did not plan for my very first post to center on injury, but I want to be transparent about my own experiences with the hope that you can also learn from them.

Injury is a fact of life, regardless of age. Injuries that prevent us from running or cause us to cut back can result from bad timing, bad luck, and/or bad decisions – sometimes all of the above. More often than not, injuries can result directly from running – either from bad form, overtraining, not enough recovery, or the wrong shoes. They also can result from sports other than running. Like in my case, surfing. 

Surfing in Ocean City, NJ. I was having so much fun that I didn't realize I'd sprained my toe until I stopped to rest.

Surfing in Ocean City, NJ. I was having so much fun that I didn't realize I'd sprained my toe until I stopped to rest.

Rewind to a perfect summer Sunday a few weeks ago in Ocean City, NJ. Conditions were ideal for a surfing lesson – something I had always wanted to do. Great company. Abundant sunshine. A wetsuit to keep me warm, and a rad neon green surf board. After an hour and a half of riding the waves (and of wiping out, which is more fun than you'd think), I sat on the beach on my board to rest and catch some rays. That's when I noticed my second left toe was throbbing. I thought I'd stubbed it.

A few hours later, the joint swelled to twice its size and turned as purple-black as if I had been working barefoot in a coal mine. Since I was able to move it, I simply iced it and went about enjoying the rest of a spectacular day at the beach.

Not pretty. This is what a sprained toe looks like.

Not pretty. This is what a sprained toe looks like.

When I woke the next day, Monday, I couldn't walk without limping. I couldn't move the joint, and I was afraid it was broken. I had an important interval speed work session scheduled that morning, which I obviously had no choice but to skip (Skip as in "not do," not as in "frolic").

Since I didn't relish the thought of living with uncertainty, I drove post-haste to the Rothman Institute Urgent Care across the bridge in NJ for an X-ray.

Luckily, the toe was not broken. Diagnosis: interphalangeal sprain. The doctor said I could "probably return to running in 2 weeks" and that running any sooner might "prolong the healing process." 

My first thought was "2 weeks without running? WTF?!?" I quickly replaced that thought with gratitude. The toe was not broken, and this was a minor set back in my training. Learning to surf was well worth a minor inconvenience. Doc said I could cross train as tolerated. It could have been much worse.

So cross-train I did. I took Monday day off, and practiced RICE (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.) And the next few days, I worked out at the gym, keeping up the intensity as best I could. 

Cross-training while injured

I had roughly 50 miles planned for the week. Here's a side-by-side of my scheduled workout versus the cross training I did

SCHEDULED/ACTUAL

Monday: 5 miles easy/REST

Tuesday: 6 miles in aerobic zone/1 Hour Easy Spin Class, 40 minutes strength training, 15 minutes elliptical

Wednesday: Mid-week long run, 9 miles/Elliptical workout: 20:00 Easy Mild resistance; 5x 3:00/ 2:00 with resistance moderate but incline high; 10:00 easy; Last 15:00 moderate incline and high resistance; 3:00 Easy reverse pedaling

Thursday: Pyramid run, 2 easy, 1-2-3-2-1 x 2 to meet mileage (1 minute hard, 1 minute, recover; 2 hard, 2 recover; 3 hard, 3 recover; 2 hard, 2 recover; 1 hard, 1 recover) 2 mile cool down/ Pyramid workout on Elliptical: 1:00 HARD, 1:00 EASY; 2:00 HARD, 2:00 EASY; 3:00 HARD, 3:00 EASY; 2:00 HARD, 2:00 Easy, Continuous. (Toe was feeling better! Tempted to run, but did not.)

Friday: Off/Toe felt better! First run back: 6.37 miles at 7:54 pace/ 40 minutes strength training

Saturday: 11 mile long run/11 mile long run, super hot and humid- 77 and 70% humidity when I went out at 5:30 am. 8:48 pace. No issues with toe.

Sunday: 4-mile recovery run/5.05 miles at 8:05. Very hot and steamy but felt good. Had a little spring in my step! No issues with toe. 

What I learned

Believe me, it was much harder for Type-A me to not run than it would have been for me to hobble through my scheduled running workouts just to check them off. But had I done that, I would have shot myself in the foot, literally. I listened to my body, specifically my toe, and really heard and honored what it was telling me to do – which was to dial it back and not run. The doctor predicted I'd be back to running within 2 weeks, and I was only out for 4 days. It could have been much worse. 

We can all agree that injury sucks. But when it happens, listen to your body and honor and respect what it's telling you. It will help speed up the healing process so you can get back on the running track or trail.