The last day of August I completed a 7-mile run in preparation for the half-marathon my lovely wife and I are signed up for in October. Yes, I had a training plan, and no, I had not followed the plan particularly well, so as a result, I pushed my training a bit too hard the whole month of August, running roughly double the mileage of any previous month. Stupid rookie mistake, I know. And I knew better–I had read all of the warnings about not increasing your mileage too quickly, but I was behind schedule, so I ran and ran and ran, and after my 7-miler on August 31, my left leg buckled under me when I went down a flight of stairs at home. And my left knee became sore as I rested from the run. I could still walk, but something was wrong.
I decided to rest for a week and see how things went. I resolved that if I still had problems after a week’s rest, I would see my doctor. About eight days later I went for a three-mile run and did okay, I thought, until I stopped for a couple of minutes to take a phone call around 2.5 miles into the run. When I started running again, my left knee really hurt. I finished the last half-mile or so, went back to my car and drove home. When I got home and got out of my car, I could barely walk. I immediately called my doctor and he was able to see me that same evening.
After a number of questions about my recent running history, and after some twisting and manipulation of my knee joint, he sat back and said with a great deal of confidence, “You’ve got ITBS.” He went on to explain what ilio-tibial band syndrome is, and said, “You messed up–you pushed too hard last month, and your IT band is ticked.” It turns out that one of the reasons he was able to identify my injury so quickly and confidently was that he had injured himself in the same way, and for pretty much the same reason, at some point in the past.
He prescribed a fairly strong anti-inflammatory medication, plus rest and ice for a week, followed by a very slow and gradual return to running as soon as I felt up to it. But he also said that I should definitely not try to run the half.
I was bummed about that, but not as bummed as I would become over the next couple of weeks, as it became clear that my recovery was going to take a lot longer than I expected.
After a week of ice and anti-inflammatory medicine, I decided to try a mile at the track and see how things were healing. I could walk without too much pain, so I figured it was worth a shot, and the doctor said I could do a mile every other day after a week’s rest if I felt up to it. After a 10-minute warm-up walk, I started jogging on the track, and the pain in my knee almost knocked me down. I gutted out a little more than a quarter-mile before I gave up and walked the rest of it.
More ice, more rest, and a week later I tried it again. This time I completed the mile, but the knee was still a little tender. It’s a little over a month now since my initial injury, and I’ve been out about three more times–my last run was a mile and a half, almost entirely pain-free. Next week I’ll try two miles every other day; the week after that I’ll try two and a half every other day, and so on. My goal now is to be able to run a 5K by Thanksgiving. And then, if all goes well, I’ll continue to train (much more slowly) for a half in the spring.
Here’s what is surprising to me about this experience: I really missed running for those two weeks, and I found myself wondering if I would actually be able to run again like I had been; the thought of giving it up was depressing. Running has been huge in my life for more than a year now–running has become a significant piece of who I am, I think–and I wasn’t ready to pack it in. Fortunately, it looks like I won’t have to, as long as I’m smarter about my training. Anyway, so far, so good.
We’re still going to show up at the half, and we may end up running the 5K instead (or as much of it as I am able to run without pain). And then I’ll start looking for another half to put in my sights.