If I remember correctly I ran my first 5k in 2009. I was never a runner before that. I never called myself a runner after that. I was a person who ran. Slowly. And never very far.
And when I started it was really painful. My legs and feet hated the shock of hitting the pavement and I’d collapse after every run in so much pain thinking people could not possibly do this for fun. I started running with 3 sets of insoles in my shoes just to absorb the shock and make running tolerable, because I’m nothing if not stubborn and quitting wasn’t an option.
Eventually I was able to take the insoles out and make it through a 3 mile run without wanting to have my feet amputated. The longest distance I was ever able to run was 4.5 miles. I remember the day I did that too, the whole time I was thinking “when does this runner’s high I’ve been hearing about kick in?” It never really did. Running hurt, always, it was just a matter of how much on that particular day.
My feet hurt, my legs hurt and my knee hurt. All for unknown reasons. I was not an athlete earlier in my life; there were no old injuries that were flaring up because of my new found desire to run. And as far as I knew, I hadn’t injured myself running. I never twisted my knee or anything, it all just hurt.
But I persevered and decided after that first year of running that distance running would not be my thing so to challenge myself further I’d take up biking and swimming and become a triathlete. And so I did. I completed 2 triathlons and 1 5k last summer. But my feet, my legs and my knee, they all still hurt. A lot. I was starting to hobble around like an old lady for a couple days after a race. It wasn’t pretty and I had a feeling I was causing irreparable damage to my body.
So I made the really tough decision to stop. Stop running, stop biking, stop swimming, and allow my body time to recover. I stopped, but it never recovered. My knee continued to make grinding noises and hurt and when I finally decided this spring to start running again my legs and feet were as bad as ever.
I decided maybe it was time to see a doctor to have this all looked at. So I allowed myself this summer to get fixed up, then the fall and winter to train and next summer I’d be back at it again. I’d finally do that third triathlon and more.
Turns out I have runners knee, more specifically, my knee cap sits off to the side slightly which causes it to grind against the bone behind it when I run, go up and down stairs, etc. Physical therapy unfortunately did not help this and the surgery to fix it is not recommended since it is rarely successful. But I did learn how to tape my knee so the kneecap sits where it should and miraculously when my knee is taped just right, there’s no pain and no grinding.
But I have to walk around with tape on my knee. I have to be very precise about how it is taped or it won’t help and the tape I need to use is pricey. Still, if this were my only problem, I’d be happy with the solution, it’s not ideal, but it works.
But it’s not my only problem. Hence the needles in my leg yesterday.
A trip to a different doctor and a full repeat of my symptoms led him to believe I have Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome. A Google search last year led me to believe that’s what it was too. The medical definition goes like this:
In chronic exertional compartment syndrome, exercise or even repetitive muscle contraction causes the tissue pressure within a compartment to increase to an abnormally high level. But because the fascia can’t stretch, the tissues in that compartment aren’t able to expand sufficiently under the increased pressure. Imagine shaking up a soda bottle but leaving the cap on — an enormous amount of pressure builds up.
As the pressure builds up within one of your muscle compartments, with no outlet for release, nerves and blood vessels are compressed. Blood flow may then decrease, causing tissues to get inadequate amounts of oxygen-rich blood, a condition known as ischemia (is-KE-me-uh). Nerves and muscles may sustain damage.
In a nutshell, this means the compartment my muscles, nerves and blood are contained in, does not allow for those things to expand as much as they want to when I run, or jump, or do high impact exercises.
The pain is excruciating and although the problem is in my legs, the pain is worst in my feet which aren’t getting the blood and oxygen they need because it’s all constricted in my leg.
So, the needles. Yesterday I ran on a treadmill until the pain started and then continued to run until I begged the doctor to let me stop. Apparently that’s how he knew it was time to measure the pressure. I laid down, he stuck a long needle into my leg in three places and sure enough, stupid amounts of pressure had built up in my legs.
The options to fix this are shitty to say the least. I can stop running and doing high impact exercise, or I can have a surgery that involves cutting my leg open, cutting the fascia surrounding my legs muscles and stitching me back up. Then I will be off of work for 3-4 days per leg and on crutches and limited activity for 6-8 weeks, per leg. They likely wouldn’t do both at the same time because, you know, I need my legs. So it’d be 2 surgeries and a total of 12-16 weeks recovery.
For a procedure my life does not depend on. For a procedure that would allow me to do something I desperately want to do but don’t need to do. I’ve cried about it. I stubbornly refused to give up running, but the fact is I can cause permanent nerve damage by continuing to ignore this and being a stubborn brat about it.
I’ve never considered myself a runner, like I said; I’m a person who runs. Now, I’m a person who used to run.
Thus ends my running career.