It was on a cloudy, gloomy afternoon that I injured my knee after doing a routine 50-minute run, about three weeks before my first half marathon. I ran a sluggish 5o minutes, complete with a sore throat, a slow pace, and a tendency to change songs every two minutes. After I ran, I stretched as usual, but my legs were extra tight–and though I thought nothing of it at the time, my left leg felt weird when I started to walk again. I can’t say it felt injured, but something felt… different. It felt unusually light, and putting weight on it felt funny. However, it only lasted for four or five steps, so I didn’t think anything of it.
Act I: NOOOOOOOO!!
Four hours later, I was sitting at my computer when I crossed my legs… and when I set my right leg down on top of my left, I felt a definite pain in my left knee. I pulled up the leg of my trusty, grimy post-running sweatpants, and let out a combination gasp/expletive as I noticed a large, swollen bulge at the top of my left fibula.
The runner’s nightmare.
Especially when I had to quit my first half-marathon training program four years ago, after I sustained a left knee injury about three weeks before the race.
I poked it. It hurt. This time, the gasp/expletive was about 20% gasp and 110% expletive. The spot also felt warm to the touch. By then, I was whimpering. I frantically texted my friend Carrie, a fellow American and runner in Greece, who was on a homestay with a student. She told me to ice and elevate it, and try not to freak out.
It was largely too late for that. That night, I was so anxious I actually had to take a sleeping pill in order to get some rest.
Act II: Ready, Set, Contact EVERYONE YOU KNOW
The freaking out continued immediately when I woke up. Being in Greece, and 5,826.49 miles away from my family, I did what any panicked 23 year-old girl would do when faced with a health problem in a foreign country: I e-mailed everyone I could think of. It started with my parents and my boyfriend. From there, I tried to think of anyone I knew who ran, and e-mailed them too. I ended up getting running advice from my aunt, my grandfather, two of my best friends from home, two running-guru family friends, the guy who wrote the one act I acted in last year, an ex-boyfriend I had barely talked to since high school, a colleague of my dad’s whose children go to the summer camp I work at, and, through my boyfriend, the team doctor for the University of Montana Grizzlies. And then those people contacted their friends. It was fabulous! Basically, the runner’s mafia went into effect, and as a member of The Family, I was reaping the benefits.
Unfortunately, there was little consensus on their advice. Theories were postulated for everything from bursitis to a ligament problem to a tear in the Gastroc muscle. Some folks told me I had to see a doctor immediately; others said that a doctor would only tell me to RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) it, and I’d be better off just listening to my own body. Some said it was serious and I probably wouldn’t be able to run the race. Others told me I was overreacting.
Act III: The Part Where I Tried to Pretend Everything Was OK
Some of you may have read my last post and thought, “Wow, she sounds so calm and positive about all this!” I was. For a time.
I decided in the end that I should go to the doctor; if nothing else, at least I would know if it was serious, because not knowing was driving me nuts. And after my visit to the doc, I knew it wasn’t too serious–that at least the race wasn’t completely ruled out. So, I decided that nothing was being helped by my freaking out, and that positive energy was key to retaining sanity.
It worked for a little while.
And then… it didn’t.
Act IV: Rock Bottom
I was in the midst of pretending everything was fine when I missed the bus to a school I teach at, and totally burst into tears at the bus stop.
You see, what I hadn’t counted on when trying to maintain positive energy is the fact that after two months of regular, intense exercise, my body had become quite accustomed to that steady stream of endorphins. By Day #5 without exercise, I was an emotional disaster.
Embarrassed by my bus stop outburst, I pulled it together while waiting the 20 minutes before the next bus came. But when I got on the bus and pushed the button for my stop, the driver either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he kept going for four more stops after mine. Keep in mind that many roads in Greece aren’t exactly pedestrian-friendly, and most big roads (including this one) don’t have sidewalks.
That’s how I found myself walking down a busy highway in the rain for over a mile, wearing nice teaching clothes, trudging through the mud, getting honked at and sprayed by cars passing through puddles, almost an hour late to class, and absolutely bawling.
When I got home from teaching, I did everything that usually makes me happy. I changed into my favorite clothes, I ate lots of tasty food, I put on good music, I tried reading my favorite book and watching my favorite movie… every Kateful thing I could think of. Nothing helped. I literally couldn’t stop crying.
Over the next couple days, I kept up my efforts to change my mood. But nothing worked! I just felt emotionally heavy. I felt like nothing I could do would make me happy, and only wanted to stay in bed and read.
That’s why I think it was the lack of exercise (of course, combined with anxiety about the race). I think it had to have been physical, because I’m normally a very resilient, independent and happy person: but for those couple days, I simply couldn’t win.
Act V: Rays of hope! My favorite!
The doc’s orders were to rest until Friday, so I decided to do a short run on Friday afternoon. I went down to the waterfront and planned to do thirty minutes. The hour-long bus ride was total agony, as I awaited my running fate and hoped beyond hope that everything would be okay.
That thirty-minute run was totally pain-free. Furthermore, my knee didn’t even swell up afterward! The bruising continued to go down, and my knee felt absolutely fine afterward.
And that night, I finally started to feel like myself again. I spent some time with friends, and they immediately noticed a difference! The old Kate was back, and I suddenly realized that I have become a real runner. It doesn’t matter how many races you’ve run or how fast you are. When running is such a huge part of your identity that a run can bring you back from the depths like that, you know you’re a runner.
Act VI: The Comeback
I put together a new training plan with a friend, which carefully combines rest for my injury and a few last runs, as the furthest I’ve run so far is only 8 miles. And yesterday, I ran 6 miles.
It was fabulous. My knee didn’t hurt at all during the run, and I was so happy to be running again that I was grinning like an idiot every step of the way. Amazingly, I was a full six minutes faster than the last time I ran 6 miles, even though I wear a heart rate monitor and maintained the same heart rate for both runs. Perhaps a little rest was just what my body needed.
After running, my knee was just the tiniest bit sore. But it hasn’t become swollen again, and the bruising is gone. I don’t blame it for objecting a little bit; I just hope it continues to get better, as I run carefully but accomplish what I need to do in order to run this race.
So, I’m going to be able to run this race! Unless my knee dramatically worsens, which isn’t likely, I will be running my first half marathon in less than two weeks. It won’t be fast, and it won’t be easy, but I’m going to do it. I’m prepared to walk for some stretches if need be. I won’t run through pain, and I won’t do anything stupid. But I don’t think I’ll have to.
I head to Prague for the race on Wednesday the 30th, where I will meet up with my parents!! We’ll spend a few days in Prague, and then they’ll come back to Thessaloniki to see my Greek world and bask in the glow of Greece for a little while. It will be the first time I’ve seen my parents since Christmas, and I simply can’t wait! And after they leave, two weeks of Easter vacation are right around the corner, with trips to Crete, Santorini, Evia, Corfu and Kefallonia on the docket.
I dare say things are looking up… way up. A huge, heartfelt thank you to EVERYONE for your support during this utterly insane couple of weeks! Wish me luck with the last bit of training… here we go!!