Whilst browsing the Guardian today, I discovered this article on their running blog about a runner struck down by injury and her difficulty in coming to terms with it. She's identified several stages, akin to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve:
The denial stage
This is where runners will pretend their ongoing calf pain isn't really that problematic, or that their foot isn't really aching – after all, running is fraught with aches; it's part of the process. It's supposed to hurt, right? That's what I thought when I embarked on a long training run with an uncomfortable knee, reasoning that it was just part of the game. A day later, I couldn't walk 20 metres without cringing.
The acceptance stage
This is where runners come to their senses and realise that their favourite activity has to be put on the backburner for the time being. Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, anger and boredom as you have to park yourself on the sofa to watch a TV series, when you'd much rather spend your Sundays on the trails.
The inventory stage
Runners will spend their free time thinking about how the injury could have been avoided, often flogging a dead horse. Sometimes, the answer is obvious (did you really think you could tackle 20k barefoot-style when you had never tried Vibrams before? Did you not employ the Rice technique as soon as atypical pain flared up?). Sometimes, it's plainly just bad luck.
The substitution stage
The stage in which runners will try to remain active by any means necessary. This often involves throwing money at the problem. First stop: a qualified physiotherapist, who will give you scores of tedious exercises to do at home (has anyone ever enjoyed sets of squats? No? Didn't think so). Biking, swimming and running in the swimming pool – low-impact activities – are generally considered valid forms of cross-training. If you're feeling fancy, using an anti-gravity treadmill is all the rage – but at about £20 for 30 minutes, you'll need the financial means. But none of it will satisfy you, as the only thing that will take you to the finish line is time spent on your legs.
The commiseration stage
When everything else fails, runners might consider doing some reading. There are tonnes of inspirational tales about athletes who have made remarkable comebacks after their injuries, as well as myriad blog entries by amateur runners about the importance of staying positive through the process. There are also plenty of message boards where you can whine to your heart's content.
[quoted directly from this article on the Guardian Running Blog by Jessica Reed]
It's all horribly familiar.
As I've documented here before, I've been having various mechanical issues over the last 6-12 months that may - or may not - be caused (indirectly) by my MS and which have disrupted my running: plantar fasciitis, cramping calves and various degrees of knee ouch. All of these have coincided with a moderate but possibly significant increase in my weekly mileage from around 10-12 miles to something closer to 15-20.
I'm stubborn and I don't think I've ever really got past the denial stage and, throughout all of this, I've never actually stopped running, thinking I can just push on through. As Jessica says in the article, "running is fraught with aches; it's part of the process. It's supposed to hurt, right?". Besides, if I listened to my body, I would never have got out of the door in the first place due to a catalogue of fatigue, lassitude, numbness, pins and needles and other easy MS-related excuses. I am not going to give this up easily.
I've just had a two week break from running to go on a skiing holiday to Canada. I was rather hoping that this would give the knee problems I'm having with the ITB in my left leg a chance to recover. No such luck. I did experience mild stiffness in the knee when I was skiing, but I actually got most discomfort from it at night in bed, and by the time I came home and got ready for my first run back, I knew that things were no better. I still went out for that run, mind you. It hurt. Two days later, I'm going to go out on it again this evening and I expect it will still hurt. I'm going to go back to the physio next week and may have to face up to the prospect of a visit to a consultant and perhaps some sort of procedure. I guess that might just force me on further down the change curve.
The thing is, if I can't run, then I have no idea how I will replace it. I swim a couple of times a week already as a therapy to strengthen my weakened arms and shoulders, but I'm not sure how obsessive I could ever get about that. I've got a bike, but it's not quite the same thing and may also put pressure on my knee (albeit not exactly the same kind of pressure). I wouldn't say that I really enjoy running, but if push comes to shove, I'm not sure how I could ever really replace something that seems to have a pivotal role in my sense of general health and wellbeing.
Well, I'll cross that bridge if and when I come to it. In the meantime, I'll just keep on icing and rolling and stretching and hoping.