Saturday, January 28, 2017

The lemon tree

Everyone knows the saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."  I've gotta say, I have gotten pretty damn good at making lemonade over the past few years.  The injuries and setbacks that I have had to endure as a runner have been plentiful.  However, I like to think that with each one, I have learned something new.  When I first started to run, I "just" ran. No cross-training or anything.  I soon learned that my body needed more in order to function at the level that I was aiming to be at, and added in core work, lifting, etc.  When I found out that my glutes weren't firing correctly, I added in physical therapy.  I also entered the world of triathlon, which allowed me to use swimming and biking as a means to continue to strengthen my body without the impact of running.  

Yep, lots of lemonade.  But the more I think about it, life didn't give me lemons.  It gave me a freaking lemon TREE.  

Isn't she pretty?  The thing about my lemon tree, though, is that it is really, REALLY fertile.  No matter how often I pick the lemons and mix up some lemonade, more lemons keep on growing back. 

I've been a bit quiet about my newest crop of lemons, mostly because it has been a long road in figuring out exactly what was going on.  After my half-Ironman in August, I rested and then eased back into running.  Things felt good in the fall.  I adopted heart-rate training, and started slowing my runs down a bit.  I decided to try a 5K race in early December that went better than I thought it would.  I had actually started to consider training for a spring marathon. I hired a new coach to help guide me in heart-rate training and hopefully get me to the starting line healthy.  

After my 5K, I was amazed at how well I felt.  Typically my muscles hate me after I race (even a shorter distance like a 5K).  But this time, there was zero soreness. I was super-excited!  I had a teeny niggling area in my left hip area that concerned me a little bit, but it was there before the race, and I just figured I'd monitor it.  However, about 10 days after my race, my quads started to bother me.  Just a general soreness, not really pain.  The way I explained it to my friends was that it felt like I had ran a marathon.  Every day, my legs were sore, maybe a 2 or 3 on a 1-10 scale.  I couldn't understand it.  The soreness typically went away after a couple of miles of running, so I would push it away.  

After a week or so, I had to take ibuprofen to get the pain to go away.  But it worked, so I continued to run (again, nice and easy, nothing too hard).  I did call my doctor to make an appointment.  The niggling pain in my hip had turned into a bilateral pain present in both legs.  I was happy that it likely wasn't another stress fracture (it would be reallllllly odd to have bilateral stress fractures), but I was very confused as to what was wrong with me.  

I saw my doctor on December 21.  She was concerned more about my hip than anything, thinking maybe it was a stress reaction at the same site as my fracture had been.  She said my upper legs were super-tight, and recommended getting a massage.  X-rays on my hip taken that day were of course negative, so I got an MRI a few days after Christmas.  Meanwhile, after the next week or so, the pain in my legs started to increase exponentially, to more like a 5-6 pain constantly.  I started to take more ibuprofen, just to get through the day without pain.  The ibuprofen would make the pain almost disappear, which was nice.  I got a massage and it was incredibly painful.  Still thinking it was soreness, I welcomed that pain and hoped it would get my legs back to normal.  Nope.

The MRI on 12/27 showed no fracture, but some signs of moderate degenerative disc disease in my lower back, and a small tear in the labrum of my left hip. My doctor, PT and chiropractor all were convinced the pain in my legs was due to what was going on in my back.  This made no sense at all to me, but they all said that bilateral pain = back issue.   My chiropractor did x-rays that showed spondylolisthesis--a slippage of the vertebrae. We saw this on my initial x-rays with him almost 2 years ago, but it wasn't bothering me then.

Meanwhile, running was getting worse and worse.  I ran on Wednesday, January 4th and sobbed afterwards.  Ibuprofen no longer worked.  The pain no longer went away after a couple of miles. I couldn't push it away like I had been doing.  I promised my body that I would stop as long as I could get through the indoor triathlon that weekend.  I rested the next three days and then competed in the triathlon.   The run was one of the most difficult things I've ever done, and in the days that followed, even walking elicited a level 7-8 on the pain scale.  This was the last time that I ran. 

I saw my doctor again on January 11.  She ordered an MRI of my back, which took AGES to get approved.  I finally was able to have it done on January 24.  The results: pretty much what my chiropractor thought. I have anterolisthesis at L5/S1 (lowest vertebrae by the pelvis). Anterolisthesis is basically the same as spondylolisthesis--a "forward slippage of one vertebra on another".  There is also a few other things (bulging disc, foraminal narrowing--which means that the spinal nerve root is being compressed) that aren't great.  

I am lucky to have a super team treating me.  Between my brilliant chiropractor, my doctor who is totally willing to listen to me and get me through this, and my PT who knows a ton about my body and what it needs, I am in the best of hands.  My doctor would like to have me get an epidural steroid injection in my back at the site of the anterolisthesis.  This would help with the pain, and hopefully allow me to be able to run again.  Both my chiro and PT are on board, so I am just waiting for a referral to see a doctor who can do the injection.  No real time frame on this.

Meanwhile, I am allowed to do anything that DOESN'T hurt me.  Fortunately, that includes swimming, biking, spinning, lifting, and even walking.  So I am keeping very active still.  In fact, I am feeling awesome in the pool--my speed is coming back since I am in the water a few times a week now.  My back still doesn't hurt at all. I mean, AT ALL.  It's all in the legs (groin/quads on both sides)... and only when I try to run.  So, I've tried to run once since the triathlon, after about 2.5 weeks of not running.  Same pain, level 7-8, and I only ran 100 yards.  Needless to say, I'm not going to try again anytime soon.  I am really good at pushing pain, but this isn't something I feel I can safely push.

I truly hope the next time that I write this blog, it will be to say that I got the injection and that it worked, that I can run.  I miss running. I miss the endorphins that it brings like no other sport for me. I miss my running friends more than I can say right now.  This is tough.  This lemon tree... it's relentless.   But I AM NOT GIVING UP.  

Lemonade, anyone?