And so it begins: another spring training cycle. I officially started a new 12-week training schedule for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend on May 8, 2016 (which I’m running as a media guest of runDisney). I’ll be doing the Pixie Dust Challenge, running both the 10K and half-marathon.
I have one goal for this spring training season: make it to the starting line healthy and injury free. Period. End of subject. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. If you hear me talk about PRs, lash me with a virtual wet noodle. Especially considering I’m currently recovering from another injury, two torn and herniated discs in my spine. What!?
I survived 10 full years as an injury free runner, the unicorn of the running world. But my body seems to be having a breakdown. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s training habits, maybe it’s old traumatic injuries, maybe it’s nutrition, maybe it’s all of it combined. Whatever it is, I now have my third injury in one year.
During 2015 spring training, I failed to make it to the starting line of my goal races healthy and injury-free. I had to skip my spring half-marathon, the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon, thanks to a stress fracture in my foot. I discovered I am grossly Vitamin D deficient and have been on an aggressive course of supplements since. I finally got back to running in June.
In the fall, I made it to the start of the GORE-TEX Philadelphia Half Marathon, but only after missing a chunk of training due to plantar fasciitis. I toed the line with a taped foot, far from the shape I wanted to be in.
Then, last week, I was diagnosed with two herniated discs in my spine. It’s not a running injury, but has been an ongoing problem.
My Plantar Fasciitis Cure
After feeling the returning niggle of plantar fasciitis in January at the NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K, I decided to nip it in the bud once and for all. I’d tried various remedies throughout the fall to no avail, including time off from running, a night splint, massage, and KT tape. They’d each helped in the short-term, but my PF would come right back.
So I decided to take drastic measures before spring training had sprung.
I took 17 days off from all exercise. No running, no elliptical, no spinning, no swimming, no yoga, no lifting, nothing. They all use calf and foot muscles, the ground zero of plantar fasciitis. I walked. That’s it.
I also wore over-the-counter orthotics—Walkfit Platinum Orthotics. My mom struggled with plantar fasciitis for a long time and those were the orthotics that finally worked for her, even better than the custom pair her doctor had made. Since I got her feet in the DNA pool, right down to the same high arch, I guessed they might work for me too.
Plus, I rolled my foot with a golf ball—a cute Hawaii golf ball I bought on my recent trip—and stretched my calves copiously.
Wouldn’t you know it? That finally did the trick. I’m happy to report I’ve been back to running for four weeks and am, knock on wood, plantar fasciitis free.
In order to stay that way as I up my training and my mileage, I’m still wearing the orthotics (except when I run), stretching my calves with zeal, and rolling my foot on said Hawaii golf ball.
I’ve also been doing the majority of my runs on the treadmill to avoid hills, since I believe they were a contributing factor last fall when I first started having problems. I’ve just started easing back into road running. I did my first Central Park run this weekend, after seven weeks of forgoing her undulating hills.
I really think the orthotics and rest made the difference. The orthotics were the only new thing I added to the treatment mix, so I think they are what pushed me over the edge. As long as they keep working, I’ll keep wearing them.
With my PF cured, I started my spring training cycle. Then, bam! Neck injury.
Every few months for the last few years, I’ve woken up with a “cranked neck”—excruciating pain, unable to move my neck in either direction. The first time it happened, I went to the doctor who chalked it up to a muscle spasm, prescribed me a muscle relaxer, and said to rest. It kept happening, maybe every six months. But it’s been occurring with more frequency with the most recent bouts just two months apart.
This time, I sought out a sports physiologist who specializes in the spine. She sent me for an MRI, which confirmed that I have two torn and herniated discs. The former likely causes the latter. The arrows in my MRI mark the spots. You can even see how the the disc between C5-C6 is pushing into my spinal cord. Ouch!
Doc asked me if I’ve had any traumatic injuries to my neck. Been in a car accident? Yes, when I was 15. Three cars were totaled, I suffered whiplash and injured my knee.
Ever fallen off of a horse? Yes, many times as a kid while taking hunter/jumper lessons and, most recently, two and half years ago while playing polo. My hip, shoulder, and head hit the ground in succession, and resulted in a week of immobilizing pain—especially in my neck and hip—and a round of physical therapy. I was incredibly lucky I only had soft-tissue damage.
My neck has gotten progressively worse since then. Doc surmised that would do it. The other cause? Age. Oh boy. She guesses that those traumatic injuries are finally catching up with me.
I did get good news with the bad. First, of the tears and herniations are small and only one of them is actually affecting the nerve cord in my spine.
Second, Doc said I can keep running! She told me running isn’t any rougher on the spine than laughing. So a 60-minute run is the same as watching a hour-long laugh-out-loud comedy.
I did take the first week off from all exercise because it was so painful. Now the pain is merely annoying. And, honestly, working at a desk is more painful than running. So I’ve been back on the treadmill and the road.
So what does one do for a torn and herniated disc? Not much. Doc told me 98 percent of cases don’t merit steroid injections or surgery, thankfully. The most common treatments are anti-inflammatories, pain killers, and physical therapy to strengthen and support the spine.
I’m going the physical therapy route. I’m hoping it helps me get to a point where this doesn’t happen again. Either way it’s confirmed that strength training needs to be a permanent fixture in my life. My body obviously needs it.
Spring Training Line-Up
With my doctor’s blessing to run and my PF cleared up, I’m back into spring training. Like I said, my goal is just to get to the start healthy and injury free. This is a base building cycle for me. The purpose is to get my body used to the mileage again while I make strength training a permanent habit.
So far I’ve got two other races lined up as I train for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. I’ll be running the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. on April 3 and the Star Wars Half Marathon at Walt Disney World on April 17. As tempting as it is, I’m not running the 5K or 10K at Star Wars. I really want to rebuild my mileage and strength gradually, and not do too much too soon. Thus: first a 10-miler, then a half-marathon, then a half-marathon plus 10K.
Wish me luck! I think I need it. After a full year of struggling with injuries, I’m a bit nervous to start training again. I’m like a horse that’s been spooked. I quit horseback riding and polo after that last fall. But, running, I just can’t quit you!