What Should I Do When I Can’t Run?
I miss running. I haven’t been able to run in almost two months, and it’s taking a toll on my mental health. Running has been the one constant in my life over the past three years. And without it, everything else seems a little less exciting.
The pain started about three months ago. My glute and hamstring began to feel a little weird, like a pulled muscle. Following the common advice about stopping your run if the pain gets worse, I didn’t since it didn’t bother me while I ran. So I kept running, and I started going to physical therapy to treat what I thought was a piriformis injury. Through the use of dry needling and hip strengthening exercises, I had high hopes I would be back on the road and trails soon.
I was wrong. My pain became much worse even with physical therapy, and I started having a lot of trouble with sitting and especially getting in and out of the car. The pain got to the point where I had to go to urgent care since my doctor couldn’t get me in for a couple of weeks. It was a shooting pain from my lower back through my glute and down my leg with numbness and tingling.
That’s when I figured out it had nothing to do with my piriformis. After speaking with the doctor, he determined there was something wrong with my back. Unfortunately, the x-ray didn’t confirm the specific problem I had, and after a visit to my primary care doctor, she ordered an MRI.
The MRI was an event in and of itself, and I wrote about that here. But what it revealed was good and bad, I guess. Thankfully I didn’t have a ruptured or herniated disc but it revealed 2 bulging discs between L4-L5 and L5-S1. If you aren’t familiar with a bulging disc, it’s when the disc material “bulges” out of from between your spine vertebrae and in some cases, protrude to the point where it pinches on the nerve column. However, you can have a bulging disc and not be aware of it since it may not be pressing on the nerves. Mine were, and it was causing a lot of pain. So I’ve had to miss running.
I was training for a 50-mile ultra and it was going great. I felt good, I learned a lot from last year’s 55K ultra, and I was looking forward to participating in the race. But as many runners have experienced, an injury can quickly derail those plans.
I’m not sure if my injury occurred from running or working out as I don’t recall any specific incident where I injured my back. It could be age, it could be repeated stress or it could be something else. But what I do know is, as a runner, you will more than likely experience some type of injury where you won’t be able to run for a while.
Statistics vary widely when it comes to the percentage of runners who get injured every year with some articles reporting up to 85% and one article reporting at least 50%. While they don’t provide any references about where they got those percentages, those statistics seem plausible to me just from being around the running community.
And now that I haven’t been able to run for a while, I also know how injury has impacted me. With other injuries I’ve had like the IT band or shin splints, I could still work out and do other non-impact activities such as cycling or weight training. Unfortunately, with my back the way it is, I can’t do any of those. It sucks.
So, what is the answer when you can’t run?
For me, it’s getting back to some activities I had neglected. Like meditation and reading more. It’s also allowing me to take the time to get back my real estate license. And instead of running in the races I’m missing, I will volunteer at them.
Volunteering at races will give me a whole new perspective since I’ve never done it before. But at every race I’ve participated in, the volunteers have been fantastic. They have been encouraging and just happy. I think that is one reason I love the running community so much. We share a passion which isn’t understood by those who don’t run.
So, the answer for me is to still be involved in running by volunteering at races. It keeps me attached to the running community. And it keeps me motivated to continue with my physical therapy and exercises at home so I can get back to running in those races instead of volunteering.
And while I do not wish I had this injury, it’s given me some perspective regarding how I’ve taken my body for granted. It’s allowed me to do things I’ve put off, and it will also allow me to see running from a different view.
I miss running. But I’ll be back for you soon.
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