I didn't run much last week. I contemplated dropping out of everything. I have three races on my calendar, two to use as training runs and then Boston. This bursa has been uncooperative and this week I just felt so frustrated..
I ran 3 miles only from Monday - Thursday, trying to assess if rest would make the bursa quiet. But the more I rested the more it bothered me. Many runners know this irony. We call it "taper madness". With less training, everything hurts more.
I was feeling frustrated by Thursday morning when my bursa was exactly the same or possible more obnoxious than it has been for this entire training cycle. And then I had my revelation... the same revelation I have every single year when training for Boston since 2013... My body is fine, this is all in my head.
(I was at Boston in 2013, I had just left the finish line moments before the bombing. As soon as I got to my car I immediately drove right back in to Boston to search for a friend while the entire city was evacuating, I was truly terrified the entire time because of news reports of multiple bombs (untrue). Once we found him, I drove home to NJ. The entire bombing incident impacted me so now every year since I have anxiety-related responses that don't seem obvious or clearly related to Boston, but they always are. It is like my mind sneak attacks my body and makes me malfunction.)
I actually thought (once again), "This year I will be fine. I will be able to train for Boston without having a stress reaction. It was moved to October. The pattern is different. Fresh start." My husband will try to help me by saying things like "You know it unlikely that something will happen at Boston again, right?" Yes. Rationally I know this. But my anxiety is not surface level. It is a deeply ingrain tangling of anxiety + Boston. It is not logical. It isn't even obvious to me when it is actually happening. It is insidious and quiet. It moves in at the pace of a glacier and slowly builds strength, disrupting my flow, my sleep, my peace, and often any chance I have at success as a runner during this time. My mind keeps my body safe by making sure I can't run anything.
So this is what I believe is the real issue. Mind overtaking body.
But wait? If I actually have a swollen bursa, how is this mental? Well I believe it is a little of both. But I believe the bursa isn't as bad as my mind is making it out to be,
First, this is not the first time in the history of my running that my heel bothered me. It feels no more sore than it has in the past, including back in 2016 when I ran all my best races and again in 2020 when I ran my last 3:03 marathon. In those cases, I worked through it. It was sore. I ran. I lifted. It got better. It just needed time to catch up to the work load. I found that calf raises were key for me on the past to build up my ankle strength.
So why is this different? It is different because in the way dark recess of my mind I am most likely looking for my way out. And the last time I gave myself permission to bail on Boston was when I strained my achilles. I believe I am paying way too much attention to it and making it a much bigger problem in my head that it really is in reality.
I am 45 years old. Body parts are going to be a little creaky and sore. I don't expect a painless experience. Historically, training for marathons has never been painless. Something is alway the weakest link and I figure out how to manage it.
I also think I am inadvertently doing things that are making the bursa mad (maybe self-sabotage?). For example, the flat shoes I wear to work are not serving to help me heal. I noticed this week I was more sore in flat shoes than I was last week when I ran in and worked in sneakers more often. I also think my form has been too slouchy and I need to stand up taller. When I lean too far forward I feel more strain down the back of my legs. So I need to stop doing things that are causing me to aggravate my achilles..
I decided on Friday that I was just going to stop feeding into this issue, I plan to either will it way and go run and be fine or I will end up stopping because I make things worse.
I am willing to assume the risk of increased harm in order to give myself a change to try to power through. I opted for this rather than PT only because I know myself personally and Boston always, always, always gets into my head.
I think it takes a lot of mental strength to look a mental weakness directly in the eye and tell it "you can't hurt me." Every single year I think I will see it coming, but I never ever do until I am sucked in to the darkness. But I do catch myself sliding a little sooner each year. This is the earliest I have stopped my derailment. Maybe I have a chance now?
Wednesday, I decided to test how I felt.
So what happened when I called out my anxiety for what it is and I decided to run this week?
I felt better running and ran better than I have all training cycle. Was it from the rest? I would love to say yes, but my heel felt worse off for resting, not better.
I believe when the body is responding with physical pain (psychosomatic) as a result of a psychological issue, naming the problem and shining a light on it is the best way to erase the darkness.
I am shining my light on this here. Either this helps me and I get thought this or I get worse off for trying. At this point, I would rather DNS races because I tried than DNS them because I sat around doing nothing but waiting for insidious pain to go way.
Friday I decided that my heel was going to be fine. I ran a 1M run + .1M walk recovery to see how that felt. My paces felt great and I really didn't feel like I was any worse off for doing this workout.
I then went out Saturday thinking maybe I'll do 6M and I just started running... no walk breaks planned... Just running. I did stop to rescue two dogs at two separate points in my run, which were short breaks... but this run just went from 6M to 12M with no really work. My last two miles were my fastest and the whole run felt great.
I could walk just fine after too.
The last run of the week was an unevenly 3.2 mile jog with Sidney before I had to rush off to work. I made a point to wear sneakers to work since my revelation that my flat shoes weren't helping.
Now the test will be to see what happens next week. Either I fall apart or my find my flow. Only time will tell!
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Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.