A Tale of Too Many Injuries

Running seems to be an exercise in trial and error. This is usually a good way to figure things out we are often told “if first you don’t succeed, try again.” Well, that’s all fine and dandy if this trial and error doesn’t produce bodily harm. I’ve always been somewhat incident and accident prone — my father calls me “Murphy’s Law Matthews” — whatever can go wrong, usually does. This is true of many things: stolen credit card numbers, ATM’s eating debit cards to never have them return, breaking my college laptop within 2 months of buying it, losing more cell phones than I can count on one hand, having my apartment broken into but getting all the stolen goods back within a 4-hour window, etc. My life seems to be a running Seinfeld episode. This is also true of my physical clumsiness. I drop everything. My butter fingers has ruined Blackberries, cameras, iPods, glasses, mugs, plates, etc. I remember the time when I was really young and almost knocked myself out by climbing on the kitchen counter to reach the porcelain sugar bowl on the top shelf and dropping it. My mom wasn’t happy. So it began.

When I started running seriously, this whole “Murphy’s Law Matthews” thing kicked in. I lasted about 6 months of running on really old sneakers before I acquired an inch long stress fracture in my left tibia. My mom thought I was crazy when I told her that I thought the pounding pain in my leg was a little more serious than a pulled muscle. When the MRI results came in and the doctor looked at me and said, “see that, that’s not normal. Stop running, NOW!” my mom finally believed me. 6 run-less months and countless hours of boring cross training later, I finally got myself some good shoes and hit the pavement again.

I lasted probably a whole year without any issues. As I ran more, I read up more about how to avoid injury and started to get a handle on this whole running thing. I got a subscription to Runner’s World Magazine and it changed my outlook forever. “What do you mean I should get new running shoes once every 300-500 miles?!” I started getting better about new shoes, I researched training plans and techniques, and I made the leap from treadmill running to outdoor running.

I LOVED it! I did my first 5k and finished in 31 minutes. Soon I was a sub-30 minute 5k runner. Then sub 29, sub 28, sub 27. I was finally a knowledgeable runner, and I was getting faster too. Then the next injury hit — my dreaded right calf.

For years, I had a weird pain in my right ankle. I think I can trace it to a time when I was riding. I was about 14 or 15 and I was doing what’s called a “line stop”, which is when after you jump a line of jumps, you don’t allow your horse to continue around the corner of the arena, but you stop at the end and make your horse go from a canter to a complete halt. In order to do this correctly, you have to lean your body back, sit in the seat, and jam your heels down in the stirrups in order to balance your leg and body. I did the line stop, and I felt a slight pop in my right ankle. I immediately knew I screwed something up. I had trouble getting off and putting weight on it as I walked around. Of course, as a tough equestrian, I let it go. I think I might have iced it for a day or two but nothing more. From that moment on, I always seemed to have some issue with that ankle. It would jam on me, and often completely lock – not allowing me to flex it at all. The winter time made it worse, but once the summer rolled around, it would loosen up and be fine. For the last couple years that I rode, I wore a neoprene sleeve which seemed to give it some relief.

After a year or so of running under my belt and a stress fracture injury heeled, I noticed that my right ankle started acting up when I ran. This had never happened before so I was a little worried that my riding injury was starting to affect my running. Again, I slipped on the stupid neoprene sleeve and ran through it. Soon the pain started radiating from my ankle all the way up the outside of my calf — the same feeling I had when riding. After months of painful running, I finally paid a visit to my orthopedist at home in NY. He was an Ironman triathlete so I knew he could help me. After some xrays that proved inconclusive and looking at me stand, hop on one foot, and walk, he said that I looked fine and that it could be mild compartment syndrome, but he wasn’t sure. The test for it was pretty barbaric (it included cutting my leg open basically to test the pressure and then making me run on a treadmill). He said he’d rather not do it because the only way to deal with compartment syndrome is surgery (warning: the wikipedia page pic for it is kinda gross). He suggested I go get fitted for running shoes and start foam rolling my calves which would help with any muscle imbalances. I immediately went and got fitted for shoes. I found out that I was wearing the right type for me, but in a size smaller than was correct. oops. $100 later, I was introduced to my new love, Brooks Ghost series. I’ve gone from the Ghost 2’s to the 3’s and now to the 4’s. Love them.

I also bought a foam roller once I got back to Boston and I got to work. The first time I used a foam roller, I cried – literally cried on my living room floor. I thought if this isn’t torture, I don’t know what is. With my new shoes and foam rolling exercises in hand, I ran. Each run felt better and better. Foam rolling became less painful and eventually necessary to a good run. Within 2 months, my ankle pain went away forever. It’s been 3 years and I haven’t had it since. All my ankle needed was a balanced calf.

Then the summer of 2009 came. We were in the process of trying to sell Ace and I was home for the summer working a really unpleasant job. One day, as Ace was standing on the crossties in the barn, he was spooked by another pony in the barn. Suddenly, he reared up on the crossties and being the panicked (and somewhat crazy) horse mom, I ran to him to release the bull snaps on his halter to free him from the crossties. Then, the inevitable happened, I got hurt. He landed directly on top of my left foot, crushing it with his shod hoof. He ran out of the barn and I chased after him, not noticing at all. Once I finally caught him and walked him back to the barn, the adrenaline stopped and my foot hurt. I got back to the barn and realized that this wasn’t good. I took off my boot (bad choice) and saw that my foot was swelling up. A couple hours and a hospital visit later, I left with the verdict — a crush injury! yay! Broken feet are awesome! I was outfitted with some crutches and a boot. No cast for me. Because it was a crush injury, the doctor was worries about crushed blood vessels, and because the bones in my feet were so tiny, and the soft tissue injury was so bad, it needed all the air and blood flow possible to heal. So that meant no constricting cast.

My foot is still bruised…over 2 years later

This also meant no running for 8 weeks. That was one of the worst two months of my life. I couldn’t run or ride for 8 weeks, I only had 4 months left with Ace forever, and I literally couldn’t do anything for a good 2 weeks except lay on the couch. I couldn’t wait until the 8 weeks were up. Finally, after 2 months I rode. I wasn’t supposed to, but I did. My horse show season was ruined, but I didn’t care. I got to ride Ace and enjoy doing what I loved more than anything for another month before we sold him.

It took a good month after my foot was healed to get my running legs back. It took time, but I ended up having an injury-free year. After the stress fracture, wonky ankle, and crushed foot, I was ready to have an easy go at it. There were some occasional pains that went away with some rest days and ice, but nothing bad for over 2 years. Until recently.

My latest: tight hips! This seems to be an injury that affects many female runners that I know. My latest is a mixture of the half-marathon training, winter running (my muscles always hate me), old shoes (ordered new ones 2 days ago), and not stretching correctly for me. I visited a chiropractor for the first time the other day and I’m officially a convert. It’s the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. He told me that my hip flexors and piriformis were hard as rocks, which is why my hips and lower back have been in so much pain after a run. I go back on Friday to get readjusted again and I cannot wait. My run Tuesday night was so fluid and easy. It hasn’t felt that easy in a long time.

So those are the injuries so far. My body has been through a beating, but exercise and running is a learning process. Things will go wrong, but it’s important to be aware of your body so that you know when something is not right. And nothing can replace a good doctor.