On the Run: Week 7

Despite a meticulously constructed marathon training plan, I’ve wound up with the dreaded shin splints.

  • Days Until Anthem Richmond Marathon: 36
  • Miles Run: 272.38
  • Fears Realized: The Big 1

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by those interested in my running adventures is “Don’t you get scared?”

Now, typically, the people who ask that question are referring to the fact that I run alone at the pre-pre-pre-dawn hour of 4am, when the sky is pitch and the witnesses to any danger, whether it be self-inflicted or thrust upon me by someone else, would be few.

While I have had one pretty gnarly fall, it was in broad daylight and the single witness to it, who happened to be a perfect stranger, preferred to mock rather than assist me. And, when it comes to stranger danger, I keep my head up, my iPod volume down, my pepper spray on my hip, and then I just trust the universe.

But there is something of which I am afraid but rarely talk about: that my body, which sat nearly dormant for 40 years, will give out.

Though I’ve carefully followed a meticulously constructed marathon training plan, including the 10 Percent Rule (never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent over the previous week) to avoid overuse, I’ve wound up with the dreaded shin splints.

For those not familiar with this horror that plagues athletes from all different sports but is most common in runners, shin splints is also known as tibial stress syndrome, which pretty much sums it up. Running puts stress on your tibia, aka the shinbone. To simplify: Too much pounding on leg make much pain for Jennifer.

From WebMD, my current primary care provider:

Shin splints aren’t really a single medical condition. Instead, they’re just a symptom of an underlying problem. They might be caused by:

  • Irritated and swollen muscles, often caused by overuse
  • Stress fractures, which are tiny, hairline breaks in the lower leg bones
  • Overpronation or ”flat feet” — when the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons

I’m not flat footed. The opposite, as a matter of fact. I’ve got overachieving arches, and I’m not afraid to brag about it. However, either of the other two could be accurate for me. No matter, the “cure” is the same, regardless of the cause.

WebMD, again:

Although shin splints may be caused by different problems, treatment is usually the same: Rest your body so the underlying issue heals. Here are some other things to try:

  • Icing the shin to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Arch supports for your shoes. These orthotics — which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf — may help with flat feet.
  • Range of motion exercises, if your doctor recommends them.
  • Neoprene sleeve to support and warm the leg.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in your shins.

In rare cases, surgery is needed for severe stress fractures and other problems that can cause shin splints.

Notice that second line, “Rest your body so the underlying issue heals”.

I just threw up in my mouth a little. Because, if there’s one thing I’ve got going for me, it’s momentum.

So, I’ve cut back on my miles this week, opting instead for some bike riding (cycling sounds so pretentious when your “cycle” is a one speed beach cruiser made by Schwinn) and a little bit of work with weights (I’ve lost 80 lbs, the state of the under side of my arms is absolutely appalling). And some running. Because it makes me happy. In fact, if I go too long, I’ll get depressed enough that one of my teens will say “Will you please go for a run?”

On top of cutting back, I’ve made an appointment with a doctor who isn’t just the internet and intend to visit a local running store to make sure I’m wearing the right shoes (besides overuse, this is another common cause of shin splints).

In other words, I’m being fairly proactive. But I’m scared. If you take a peeksie at the top of the column, you’ll notice that I have only a little over a month until the Richmond Marathon, and I really, really want to do this thing. That being said, permanent damage to my body that results in my inability to ever run again sounds like a fate worse than death–I love it that much.

Rest assured that, whatever happens, I’ll be sharing it here. Because you guys are my team, and I couldn’t feel luckier for that. As always, if you see me on the streets, high fives and hugs are welcome. Just make them gentle, because this girl is healing.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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