Friday, January 21, 2011

Running Through Pain is Like a Menstrual Cramp

Boy and how ... these blogs are coming along at a slow trickle.  I have been doing a lot of article writing and have neglected the lonely blog. 

As the heading of my blog suggests, I am a masters runner (not at all meaning that I've "mastered" anything, but rather woefully referring to my over 40 age), and I am learning that pain during and after a run is kind of a more normal event than it used to be.  I remember, in my younger days, how I would puzzle over discussions of running surface and how concrete was supposed to be worse to run on than asphalt.  Back then I didn't get it because nothing hurt regardless of the running surface.  Well .... today I puzzle less over this discussion.  In fact I now begin such discussions as I massage my broken feet after a 10 mile run on concrete.  For the record, concrete is less forgiving than asphalt.

The issue for a masters runner then is to try to determine which pain is "normal" and benign, and which pain is acute and ... bad.  I recently struggled with an Achilles tendon injury which was undeniably a bad kind of pain.  But this week I'm dealing with the worst of low back spasms.  So what do I do with the back spasms?  Do I take time off and let my conditioning whittle away like an ice sculpture in Death Valley?

No.  This is my philosophy, which I do not recommend anyone else follow.  Unless it is a clear and identifiable soft tissue or bone injury, on which I can put a label and for which I can research recovery options, I run through the pain ... if I can.  That kind of makes it cut and dry for me.

So the low back pain (which I diagnosed as a muscle spasm) is something I've experienced before, so I am not totally freaked out about it.  This time it came on subtly as a general discomfort and I was able to run.  In fact, running made it feel better (endorphins, natural pain killers ... excellent).  But, last Friday during my interval workout on the track, I noted that my back got worse with every lap around the track.  By the time I finished, it hurt to take a deep breath (can't figure that one out - this is my low back not my upper back).  So I did the big IGNORE and followed up the track work with 1500 meters of 50's in the pool.

That's when the pain became a noticeable issue and I struggle to get comfortable seated, standing or lying down.  The next day was even worse and I had difficulty moving my right leg in certain directions, not because I was unable to move it, but because it would elicit horrid pain.  I felt that a good option would be to shorten my long run for that day.  Rather than 15 miles, I ran 8.  It was not a happy 8, it was just a necessary 8.  I maintained a 7 minute pace just so I could get it over with.

Yes, the next day was even worse.  I took that day off.

No improvement the next day, but I wasn't about to take another day off, so I limped through another 8 miles, this time not so quickly.  What I noted all along is that it hurt before and it hurt during, but I would feel a great relief afterwards.

Swam the next day, but believe it or not, swimming was worse than running and making the flip turns ... hmmm painful.  Pulling was painful.  Kicking wasn't too bad.  Conclusion:  running is better, using my legs is better.

Ran 10 miles the next day and finally I could say the pain was beginning to ease up.  Swam the next day (was going to swim and run but wimped out on the run).  And today I was back on the track and was able to do all 6 of the 800's under 2:38.  And I could breathe easier.  The pain was now more like tightness.

It's like going through a menstrual cramp or labor pain.  It starts out mellow, but then increases in intensity until it peaks out at some obnoxious level, then slowly begins to let go.  So that you men can relate, it's like experiencing a leg cramp in the middle of the night.

So that is the saga of my back spasm and my philosophy of running through it if I can.  Go, and don't do likewise.

1 comment:

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