As runners, we all deal with little aches, pains, etc as part of our typical training cycle. But more often than not, they don't get mentioned much until it is already a full blown injury (see here for more on that). Not sure if it is fear of others judging or what, but in the interest of full disclosure here, I'd like to tell the story of a recent issue, how acting immediately as I described in this post only left me with minimal downtime, and why I am proud of the way I am handling it.
How It Happened
So let's go back to a week ago (its actually more than that now, but you get the idea). As part of our training program, we were offering a trail run option to get away from the usual and have some fun in the woods. In order to plan for this option, which I would be leading, I wanted to make sure I knew all the details of the run, any difficult spots to watch out for, etc. For some people, this was their first trail run, so I wanted to make sure I could manage everyone's expectations. I went out on Monday for my first survey of the trails and had a great 7 mile run in pretty dry conditions. I went back on Thursday, one day after it rained, and found significantly more mud. For Thursday's run, the plan was to get in about 10 miles which is about the farthest I'd have the runners go, since this was a recovery week, and 10 miles of trail running is plenty! On my way back on a downhill, I managed to catch my foot on a root or rock, resulting in a quick trip but without hitting the deck. A short step later, I felt some pretty intense pain in my toe. Yes, THAT toe. I continued running for a number of miles (I was about 4.5 miles from the car), but the pain started to get worse, so I shut things down and walked it in. In fact, I think walking hurt more than running, but I was afraid of doing more damage with a bad step running, seeing as how it was muddy and I was still in the trails. Frustrated and in some pain, I left the trail and headed home.
Among the first things I did when I walked in the door was to call up my doctor to make an appointment. As I'm sure you know, one of the most frustrating things about any potential injury is the period of not knowing what might be wrong with you. In my case, I was sure it was a broken toe (again). The pain was in the exact same spot, walking was becoming increasingly difficult, and in my heart, I thought that was it. However, I don't let setbacks define me, so I carried on with life. I put on my boot that I still had from when I last hurt the toe and wore it everywhere for 2 days. In my mind, if it was indeed broken (and even if it wasn't), I might as well start the recovery process ASAP, instead of "testing" it out in a day or two. My doctor's appointment was in 5 days, which is practically a week, so if it was broken, that would be one less week I'd have to add to my recovery if I just let it sit in the boot.
72 Hours Later
Needing a shower and doing some sock changing, I noticed that the pain had gone down significantly in my toe. In fact, I was able to balance on my foot without feeling like I needed to keep all my pressure on the outside of my foot. Still keeping it mostly immobilized, I remembered that I could go to spinning when I was previous injured. I tried putting my cycling shoe on and sure enough, no pain! So I attended a class and got my sweat on, which at least gave me some reassurance that all is not lost when you are hurt. Besides running, there are still ways to workout. The next day, my toe felt even better and I thought, maybe the elliptical might be fine, since you don't actually flex your toe (well you can, but I would try to avoid doing so in my case). Another trip to the gym and 40 minutes later, my legs felt the same burn as they did following a nice jog around the neighborhood. I could manage if I can spin and go the elliptical, I told myself.
The Doctors Visit
The next morning, I woke up with nervous energy, almost like pre-race jitters. This would be the defining day. Will I be enduring another drawn out recovery or will I be allowed to progress back to running? I must admit that by this point, I was pretty confident that it wasn't broken, because the intense pain that I initially had and had previously stayed with me for a few weeks, was already gone after a few days. Still, I remained cautiously optimistic. We took some x-rays of every angle of my foot and then I sat in the room for some five minutes while they processed, trying to contain myself. As a doctor entered the room with a smile on his face, I sent out a pretty vocal exhale, as I could tell by his demeanor that this wasn't going to be bad news. We zoomed way in to look at the big toe joint and he showed me that there were no fractures and that the joint integrity is still there, albeit slightly smaller than ideal due to the bone spur. And then he uttered the words any patient craves to hear a doctor say:
"Looks like you just tweaked the joint a bit, but it shows no signs of injury. I'd urge you to go get back out there and try running."
The news was what I was hoping to hear and I was glad to be able to confirm what I had suspected after the pain had receded from the initial 48-72 hours.
The Moral of the Story
So let this be a lesson to all, that should you be faced with any issue or injury, react immediately. Don't wait a week to see if it feels better. Make an appointment with your doctor first. If you feel 100% better before the appointment happens, you can always cancel, but in my opinion, it is always better to have someone confirm what you believe, especially if you are going to go back to progressively training pretty hard.
So the net result was a total of 5 days of no running, with 2 of those days involving activity of some sorts. So really, minimally any impact on my training. And exactly one week from the Thursday where I initially hurt it? Well, I ran 8.5 miles with the last 2 at half marathon pace. And this past Saturday? 16 miles with the last 6 at marathon pace. I'd say I'm back to regular training alright :)