Jan 11, 2013

My Ankle Injury and the Running Streak

On Wednesday Jan 2nd, 2013, at approx 12:30pm, I found myself in a "boot camp" group exercise class. This is a class that I had taken dozens of times over the last year, and I was pretty familiar with how it works. However, this being the first class of the New Year, the class was more crowded than usual - in fact it was more crowded than any time I've ever seen it - so crowded, in fact, that the gym ran out of a particular piece of equipment that each person needed - a step.

I was in the front-left corner of the classroom - having got there early, I had a step. Coming in late, the first person to show up after we ran out of steps, was a person who set up right next to me. I looked to my left and saw a stack of bosu balls. I figured, "hey, I can use one of those, and get a bit of an extra core workout."

One of the exercises we were doing were jumping jacks with simultaneous dumbbell presses, on and off the step. So here I was, jumping on and off the round side of a bosu ball, and focusing more on form for my dumbbells than on the  jumps.
What could possibly go wrong??
My ankle turned to the inside, and when it happened, I felt and heard a "crunch". I immediately went down, and the attention of the class was on me. Before I even hit the floor, I had already processed the implications  of what just happened to my 740-day streak. The instructor, who for the first time realized what I was doing, came by and checked on me. I sat on the ball for a minute, trying to process what just happened. The instructor said what was apparent at this point - that this wasn't a good idea and she would have kicked me off the ball had she seen me doing it. I moved my foot around, analyzing the range of motion. Everything seemed ok. I got up on my own, and walked around. It hurt, but not too bad, and I wasn't limping. I was even able to turn the ankle to the inside, and it only hurt when I tried to put weight on it. Maybe I'll be okay after all.

By 4:30PM, when it was time to go home, the ankle had swollen to the size of a softball, and that range of motion I enjoyed immediately after the injury was gone, as was the ability to walk without limping. I had already communicated what had happened on Facebook, and a friend advised that I should get a brace. I had difficulty walking to my car, and operating the clutch on my its manual transmission wasn't easy either. By the time I got to CVS, a mere 5 minute drive, I had extreme difficulty walking. I bought a brace, returned to my car, and put it on. Walking around was now much easier, but still painful. I went home. It did not look good.

Things did not improve the next morning, when I was in such pain that I needed a cane to get around. At that point, I would have put the odds of being able to continue my streak at about one in one-hundred, but I was determined to try. I had two colleagues, regular running partners, who were willing and available to run with me. I had a one-mile single-loop course planned. What I didn't have was any certainty whatsoever that my ankle will allow me to go.

The morning showed improvements. The ankle was tightly braced. I had taken 1200mg of Advil over the three hours prior to the run. I no longer needed the cane, which is prohibited under the rules of the US Running Streak Association. I got dressed, and re-braced and wrapped the ankle with an ace bandage. I had to cut off the shoe's lock-lace to fit my foot in there. The ankle was feeling much more secure now, walking was easier, and I was starting to feel that I may actually pull this off. But the ankle was very badly swollen and walking is much different than running.

Photo shot before the run. Sock is obscuring the brace and ace bandage.
Walking past the shaking heads of colleagues in the gym who would not be joining me on my run, the three of us stepped outside and started running, and it wasn't pretty. It was more of a skip-hop stride than a running stride, but it was enough of a "run" that it counts. It was also slow; so slow that Running Partner Dan was walking and keeping up just fine. After a few steps, however, it became apparent that I may actually be able to do this. Relief spread over me.

That was a long mile. Every step hurt more than the last, and the in the second half was enough that I didn't want to talk to my partners; but rather just put my head down and get this done. And I did get it done, in over fifteen minutes, plus about another 100 meters for insurance.
1.06 miles in 16 minutes 19 seconds
I got it done. Day 1 post injury; running streak day 737, was in the bag. And the best part is that the 1-mile run didn't seem to aggravate it; in fact it actually felt better the rest of that day. I knew at this point that I could continue, and that I'll manage to keep the streak alive with a little persistence and patience.

Friday's run brought good news - my one-mile time dropped to about twelve minutes, a full three-and-half minutes off Thursday's. It was also apparent that the ankle would hurt much more in the morning than it woud in the afternoon. I was still limping, but left the cane at home. My routine became - run one mile at lunch, them ice it the rest of the afternoon.

Ice on Friday at work
By Saturday, I felt like I could go with Alex and Joey to the mall for a couple of hours, and then run four laps at the track afterwards. This was probably too much, too soon. I was really sore and tired after the mall, and my mile at the track on Saturday was actually slower than the mile at work on Friday.

Sunday's run, again four laps at a track, but this time without going to the mall, brought more improvement - a time close to ten minutes per mile. In fact, me and my gimpy ankle beat Joey by half a lap. And, with snow on the ground, I had a natural ice-pack I could use immediately after the run. 

Snow in the sock; instant ice pack
On Monday I returned to work and my one-mile times were once again below 10 minutes per mile, in fact they started to approach nine. I had completely stopped taking Advil. I even stopped wearing the brace, except for the run! At this point I intentionally tried to back off the pace, as to not cause more damage than necessary. It's hard to not run faster than ten minutes per mile, particularly when I'm running with others who naturally run that fast. They're not setting the pace; I am, but I just can't avoid it when I'm with them. Regardless, my friends make my runs much more pleasant, so I run with them despite maybe going faster than I should.

Swelling had gone down significantly by Thursday
So, now it's Friday, running streak still intact and up to 745 days, and I've been lucky and fortunate to have someone to run with on every single day since my injury. The ankle is progressing, perhaps slower than my patience allows for, but when looked at rationally, in reasonable time, and when looked at empirically, swelling has gone down. It hasn't been all daisies and roses; I've returned to wearing the brace all day long, as it was getting sore on Tuesday and Wednesday. However it's mostly positive. There have been days when I thought I could handle going longer than a mile, but I have refused to do so. It is frustrating that I can feel myself losing my fitness; I've lost out on about 40 miles worth of training in the last nine days; and may lose out on 100 more before this is over. I can already feel my breathing become more shallow and staircases becoming more steep. It's infuriating. I can't imagine how much worse it would be without at least the daily mile.

One of the most interesting things about this whole situation has been people's responses. I've noticed three distinct types:

1.) People who approve of me continuing the streak. This category only includes runners, mostly other streak runners.
2.) People who don't approve, but "get it." This category includes both runners and non-runners.
3.) People who don't approve, nor do they "get it." This category also includes both runners and non-runners.

In my next post I will write a response to those who disapprove. (Update: post written and can be found here: http://stevetursi.blogspot.com/2013/01/dear-doubters-and-critics.html)