The sun is out, and it feels much more like a NorCal winter now. It was cold (for NorCal, mind you) on Saturday's long-run, but it was glorious to have a training run in the sunshine. We ran along the Alameda Creek in Fremont, somewhere I'd never been before. (Fremont was always just a stop on the outskirts of the BART.) There was quite a bit of water in the creek — a rarity, according to those who've run the trail before.
This is one of the great pleasures of the LMJS Marathon Training — not just the camaraderie but the exploration of the East Bay. This week was a cutback week, so the half-marathoners only ran 6 miles. But I also started doing some speed work, running intervals on Tuesday morning, and alongside the weightlifting I did afterwards, it felt like I'd taken on more than enough.
I am finally feeling strong again post-COVID, but I'm absolutely terrified of injury.
My physical therapist commented on Instagram the other day that runners talk a lot about "niggles," and she suggested that it's sometimes a way to minimize or dismiss pain and injury. Insert the ol "It me!" cliche, I suppose. But also "it not me," because I also have the tendency to think that every little "niggle" might signal the end of my training season, the end of my ability to run at all. And then I make the mistake of turning to Dr. Google — I know I shouldn't — where I can find all sorts of doom and diagnoses: Are my hip flexors tight? Or is it my adductor? Have I pulled a muscle? Is it a strain? Or a tear? Or is the pain in my hip the sign of an injury elsewhere — perhaps it's a result of my tight calves, which are a result of my underdeveloped glutes. Are my calves why my foot hurts? Or is that a stress fracture? Has my tendinitis returned? Or is it nothing? You know, just a "niggle."
A "niggle" goes away in a day or two, my PT says. And sometimes we just pretend like it's gone so that we can run again, and then we're shocked — SHOCKED — when, after a run, the niggle has returned.
I'm fascinated by the ways in which we ignore the signals from our body, both to our detriment and, I suppose, to our benefit. I mean, not every pain is catastrophic. Not every discomfort requires medical intervention. It seems patently unhealthy to fixate on these minor aches and pains. But then again, when is it patently unhealthy to ignore them? When does a "niggle" cross the line into something more serious? When are we supposed to "listen to our bodies" and when should we turn to a professional — and not, let's be clear, to Dr. Google.
I had a skin cancer exam this week, speaking of medical issues long left unevaluated. About 15 years ago, a doctor took a skin sample from my face, concerned that a spot there was "problematic." It was roughly the same time as Anthony was diagnosed with cancer, and I felt certain that, with my luck, I'd have cancer too. I didn't then. But I can't help but feel like some day some spot will be a bad one. All skin spots are "niggles" — as we age we get new bumps and growths and mostly we hope that they're nothing until something or someones stops and shakes us and says "that's not normal."
When I was 5, a doctor removed a mole from my hand. I'm not sure why the mole needed to be removed. I have no memory of how big or black or unsightly it was. The surgery, on the other hand, is one of my earliest memories, and an incredibly traumatic one to boot. I think I screamed; I know I cried and whimpered. I remember having a cloth placed over my eyes, but I remember peaking out from under it, like I was cheating at party game. I remember Dr. Hart admonishing me, and I want to say my dad was there but he couldn't (or wouldn't) have been. I still have the scar, and despite several other large moles elsewhere, I have always refused their removal.
Admittedly, I haven't treated my skin well, despite reassuring doctors that I'd keep an eye on any growth. I grew up in an era where we slathered our skin with baby oil and quite literally fried it in the summer sunshine. I've had several sunburns that were very, very bad. Skin cancer is a realistic fear. I have long had some spots that someone — other than me — should probably look at.
And someone did and said, much to my relief, that everything looked fine.
I'm off to see my physical therapist in about half an hour, and hopefully she'll have something similar to say: everything looks fine.
I'm not sure that I have a heightened awareness of pain or injury or illness now that I am, supposedly and at times rather self-congratulatorily, "more in tune with my body." Rather, I think I'm more aware of the consequences of an injury. Before, if I hurt — back pain; there was always back pain — or if I hurt myself — often through something terribly silly like pulling a muscle by stretching — I didn't really think twice about "taking it easy," as "taking it easy" was the way in which I took every single day. I didn't fret about not hitting my mileage for the week, about not having the strength to progress with lifting. My body hurt a lot — in very different ways and far worse, I'd like to think, than it hurts now — and I just chalked it all up to some sort of adage that that's what our physical existence has to offer: life is pain; bodies exist therefore bodies hurt.
As much as my identity is now intertwined with my fitness, my identity used to be intertwined with a lack of activity — "I'm not the sort of person who exercises." Never had been, and never will — or so I thought. When my body hurt, I bristled at the notion that I should or could move more. In fact, I'm not sure that I'd have even thought of that as a possible solution. I hurt. I should move less. I should rest.
It's not so much that I struggle to rest now. I mean, I am ready for bed by about 8pm each night. It's that I fear being forced to do so because of injury. COVID was a real setback, and I don't want to lose my momentum. I'm afraid what'll happen if I slow down or stop.