In the two weeks leading up to the Circular Logic Marathon, I did very little running. I had an area of inflammation in my left leg, and I wanted to give it a chance to heal. After that race, I felt much better than I did two weeks earlier, but I still wasn’t 100 percent. That left me wondering how much more I should rest before ramping up my training again.
As it turns out, my left leg is now the least of my problems. It’s getting all the rest it needs.
Sunday was a rest day. On Monday, I did a short bike workout in the morning and weight training in the afternoon. I decided to wait until Tuesday to see how running felt.
My weight training started with two sets of high lat station pulldowns (similar to pull-ups) and two sets of bench press. Then I did my first of two sets of curls. Between sets, I set the curl bar on the same supports I use to hold the barbell when I’m doing my bench press. It’s at an awkward height. To pick it up with the right grip, I need to bend down a little. When I picked up the bar again, I immediately felt a sharp pain in my lower back.
I didn’t know how bad it was, but I knew it wasn’t good. I immediately set the bar back on the supports. I never did my second set of curls. My workout was over.
I knew I did something to my lower back, but I didn’t know for sure if it was a spinal injury, such as a slipped disk, or if I pulled a muscle in my lower back. I was hoping it was just a pulled muscle.
For the rest of the day Monday and all day Tuesday, I mostly rested. I took ibuprofen to manage the pain. On the optimistic assumption that it was a muscular issue, I started icing my lower back.
On Wednesday, I saw my doctor. After an exam, he couldn’t rule out the possibility of a disk injury, so he ordered an MRI. In the meantime, he prescribed an anti-inflammatory and recommended applying ice and heat frequently. He also told me to wait a few days before trying to run. Without knowing the result of the MRI, he told me that I could probably recover in a couple weeks. He cautioned, however, that if it was a disk impinging on a nerve, I probably wouldn’t be able to run the Boston Marathon.
There was one amusing moment during the exam. When my doctor asked me to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten, I said, “Depending on what I’m doing, anywhere from one to four.” He replied, “This coming from a marathon runner.” I think he was implying that my “four” might be someone else’s “seven” or “eight.”
I was able to get an MRI scheduled that same day. Within a few hours my doctor had the results. He described it as a “Disc protrusion with impingement on a nerve root” and referred me to Tria Orthopedic Center for treatment. Tria is where I had my physical therapy last year. I don’t have a copy of the MRI images, but here’s a textbook diagram that’s similar.
The earliest I could get an appointment was today. In the meantime, I didn’t do any running. To keep from losing too much conditioning, I did a few short workouts on the stationary bike and some walking on the treadmill.
I had my consultation with the orthopedist this morning. In general, she was upbeat. Other than this disk protrusion, I have a surprisingly healthy spine for someone my age. When I mentioned running the Boston Marathon in 10 days, she didn’t see any problem with that. She said 10 days is plenty of time. I can do a lot of healing before the race.
I went straight from my consultation to my first physical therapy appointment. My therapist gave me four exercises to do twice a day. She was also upbeat about how much I can improve before Boston.
She asked me if I was tapering for Boston. I started to explain how I train through most races and wouldn’t actually taper until June, when I’m doing a 100 mile trail run. At this point, I expected to get a funny look, even from another runner. She said her husband was an ultrarunner, so she understood about training through races. Then she asked me which 100 I was doing. I love having doctors and therapists who understand me.
The doctor cleared me to begin running today, but my therapist suggested starting out with four minutes of walking for every minute of running. I did my first run/walk workout today, and I felt fine. Between now and Boston, I’ll run every other day. I’ll gradually increase the proportion of running. I'm now confident I can still do the race, but I'll probably have to adjust my goals.