Monday, August 24, 2015

What's Up With My Left Leg?

If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last three months, you probably already know that I suffered a groin strain in early May.  That was in my right leg.  I’ve had a few short breaks in my race schedule, but it was never long enough for the injury to heal completely.  I’ve been coping with it ever since.

While my right leg is still a concern, I’m starting to get more worried about my left leg.  Looking back, I think I injured my left groin in late June.

After the injury to my right leg, I saw a doctor and started physical therapy.  As part of my therapy, I was given several exercises to strengthen my adductor muscles, as well as other supporting muscles.  At first, I was making progress, but I had to miss a couple of races.  I wasn’t willing to miss the Comrades Marathon.  I went into that race only partially healed.  I was able to finish that race, but I experienced some discomfort and had to wear a compression wrap for the last 20 kilometers.

After Comrades, I only had one race in the next five weeks.  Had I skipped that race, I might have had enough time to heal.  I didn’t.  That race was the Bighorn Mountain 100.  After a DNF the previous year, I was determined to go back for redemption.  I realized during the race that I wasn’t in the same shape I had been in the previous year.  It didn’t help that my injury forced me to cut way back on training just as I should have been ramping up.  I stopped after 30 miles.

I didn’t have any groin discomfort during those 30 miles.  That’s surprising, since the terrain was pretty rugged, and I had all kinds of awkward, off-balance strides.  I estimated at the time that my right leg was about 90 percent healed.

The next time I did my groin exercises, I felt pretty good.  I was doing multiple exercises, and I hit them all pretty hard.  Although the injury was only to my right leg, I always did the same exercises with both legs.  My left leg was still noticeably stronger than my right leg.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I injured my left groin that day.

The next day, I had a PT appointment.  I realized going in that I probably overdid my exercises a bit.  I had sore muscles.  The therapist had me try a number of motions to test the strength of different muscles.  Most involved either pushing against resistance or trying to resist as she pushed my leg.

Not surprisingly, my right leg still wasn’t very strong.  Then as I tried one of the motions with my left leg, it hurt.  A lot.  On a different motion, my left leg not only hurt, but I couldn’t offer any resistance.  There didn’t seem to be any strength in that muscle.  Did I mention that was my left leg?  That was supposed to be my good leg.

My therapist wasn’t too concerned.  She said it was normal to be sore after my exercises, but she had me cut down on the number of exercises I was doing.  She also cautioned me to stop if I experience discomfort.  I’m not always good at that.  When I’m exerting myself, I sometimes suppress pain.  To get through an ultra or to run marathons on consecutive days, you have to be able to ignore a certain amount of pain.  Sometimes I’m not even aware of it.

My right leg still seemed to be improving.  My left leg puzzled me, but it was never sore in the same way my right leg was.  I still didn’t realize it was injured.

As my right leg continued to improve, I hardly ever noticed any discomfort.  I was able to do training runs that were approaching 10 miles.  I was running at a cautious pace, but nothing hurt.  The only time I still noticed soreness was at night.

Since Bighorn Mountain, I had been experiencing a bad case of DOMS that just wouldn’t go away.  All the larger muscles in my upper leg were chronically sore.  After sleeping, the muscles would be tight, and I would have an almost uncontrollable urge to stretch out my legs and flex my quads.  When I did, I was also flexing my adductors.  Then I’d notice some soreness in my right leg.  That was the only time I could tell I was still injured.

After a two week break, I ran the Firecracker Triple.  I had only minimal soreness in my right groin during the first race.  What seemed more disconcerting was the difficulty I had working through the stiffness that persisted in both legs.  I started at a slow pace, but it still felt tiring.  I had more noticeable soreness in my right groin toward the end of the second race.  The third race was a disaster.  I stopped to wrap my right thigh and walked for 10 of the last 11 miles.

My next race was a rugged trail marathon.  During the week, I had another PT appointment.  My therapist strongly advised me to have my leg wrapped from start to finish.  I did.  During the race, I experienced a great deal of discomfort in my right leg.  The bandage wouldn’t let me move the way I need to move.  After the race I felt OK.  As soon as I removed the bandage, I was walking around with no soreness in my groin.  I had sore muscles, but no worse than what you would expect.

It was that night that I realized my left leg was becoming a problem.  At one point, I rolled over in my sleep and left a sharp pain in my left adductors.  It didn’t help that I was staying at a motel that had thick blankets.  The weight of the blanket provided too much resistance.  The adductors in my left leg were too weak.  When I tried to roll over in my sleep, it hurt.  A lot.

I’m a light sleeper.  I wake up several times a night and then go back to sleep.  Sometimes I get up and go to the bathroom.  If I don’t get up, I need to roll onto my other side before I can get back to sleep.  I found that getting into bed, getting out of bed, and rolling over were all painful.

The next day, my left leg felt OK.  It also felt OK the next night.

Since then, I’ve run with my right leg wrapped in every race.  Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me, but I’m forced to go at a slow pace.  The exception was the Moose’s Tooth Marathon.  I forced myself to run at a faster pace, despite having my leg wrapped.  For 10 miles, it felt surprisingly easy.  Then I felt a sharp pain in my right groin while going down a hill.  It hurt again on the next hill, and I was forced to slow down for the rest of the race.

My left leg doesn’t usually bother me during races.  The only exception is if I have to make a sharp turn to my left.  Then I feel it in my left groin.  Moose’s Tooth had two 180 degree turns.  Each time, I was turning to my left.  Each time, I had to slow almost to a stop to negotiate the turn.  Thinking back, I experienced some discomfort in my left leg as far back as the Stars and Stripes Marathon.  That race also had some 180 degree turns.

Where I’m more apt to notice my leg is when I try to sleep.  It’s always uncomfortable getting into the bed the night after a race.  I have to be careful about rolling over.  Getting out of bed is a slow process.  I have to break it down into several distinct movements.  I try to shift my weight carefully to avoid using my adductors.  I also try to keep my knees together.

In the morning, I’m usually OK after doing a few warm-up exercises.  Then I’m good until my next race.  It’s been that way for my last several races.  My left leg is a problem for one night.  Then I’m OK.

This past weekend was different.  After my race on Saturday, I had the usual discomfort getting into bed.  When I woke up during the night, I needed to go to the bathroom.  Getting out of bed was slow and uncomfortable, but I’m getting used to that.  Then I tried to walk, and my left leg started to buckle.  As you walk, you shift your weight from one leg to the other.  My right leg could support my weight.  My left leg couldn’t.  I eventually got there, but I had to lean against the bed and take short steps.

Yesterday, I felt OK during the day.  Last night, I felt like I usually do the first night after a race.  Hopefully, I’ll be back to normal tonight.

My right leg isn’t getting better, but it also isn’t getting worse.  Wrapping it when I run seems to be preventing further damage.

My left was never as bad as my right leg, but it seems to be getting worse.  I haven’t been wrapping my left leg.  Maybe I should.  On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if wrapping my right leg has been altering my stride in ways that put extra stain on my left leg.

As if that’s not enough, I still have that persistent case of DOMS.  Quads, hip flexors, and pretty much every muscle in my upper legs – they’re all stiff, and they’re all sore.  Think back to a marathon that left you feeling so sore that you could barely walk the next day.   I feel like that every day.  I even feel like that after two or three days of complete rest.  I’ve felt like that every day for the past two months.

I’m not sure where the soreness is coming from.  I had a three week break between the Swissalpine K78 and the Moose’s Tooth Marathon.  Even after three weeks of mostly resting, I still felt the same way.  Maybe I’m used to getting lots of exercise, and without 10-12 miles of running, I get stiff from inactivity.  Lately, I haven’t been getting much exercise other than my races.  I haven’t even been exercising good judgement.  If I was, I wouldn’t still be racing every weekend.

A lot of friends have been telling me I need to take a break, so I can heal.  I know that.  Why don’t I?  I will eventually, but I have unfinished business.  That’ll be the topic of another post.

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