Last September, with just four weeks remaining until my third marathon, I was out for a run when I noticed a pain in my foot. It was an ache along the inside of my right arch, and I recognized it as the same pain that had been bothering me every now and then for the last week or two. It was uncomfortable, but not debilitating, and I kept running. Unlike the other times I had ignored the pain, though, this time it got worse. By mile 4 the pain had crept up into my right ankle; by mile 5 I was limping back home. I iced and rested — those age-old actions of every injured runner — and the pain subsided.
Unwilling to admit defeat after months of training and my race so close on the horizon, I continued this cycle — run, hurt, ice, rest — for three more weeks. I had a half marathon scheduled for the weekend before the full, and I went forward with it as planned. By the end, I was hurting badly and having trouble walking. Worried for the big race the following weekend, I decided to see a doctor, who ordered an MRI and eventually delivered a diagnosis of posterior tibial tendonitis. It’s a fancy name for “anything over two miles is probably going to be excruciating.” I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my race completely, so I dropped down to the half marathon distance and tried to ignore the pain as much as possible as I ran. After that, physical therapy and a hiatus from running began.
By the time I felt well enough to return to regular exercise, it had been four months and I was determined to ease back into things and not risk re-injury. I wanted to build up my strength through activity that wouldn’t place the same repetitive stress on my foot that a fast return to running would. I had always been primarily a swimmer at UVAC and knew that I would continue that activity, but I decided the time was right to see if there wasn’t something outside my usual fitness routine that might help me bounce back from my injury. As any readers who’ve enjoyed the group fitness classes can attest, there certainly was a new world for me to discover.
I began frequenting a variety of group classes, focusing on those that emphasized full-body workouts and strength training. I was excited to find that several were good fits for me, and especially enjoyed learning the ropes (or the resistance bands) of TRX suspension training. Within a few weeks of starting my new fitness adventure, I could feel muscles I had long neglected getting stronger, and more importantly, I noticed my confidence in my own abilities returning. On top of that, I was having fun learning new things and interacting with new people. Soon I was adding short treadmill runs on to my schedule after class, and after two months of diligent exercise, I felt ready to make my triumphant return to distance running. I ran my first post-injury half marathon a few weeks ago, and I did it nearly pain-free.
I hope my fellow UVAC members never experience posterior tibial tendonitis, or any other injury for that matter. But as we all know, athletics come with accidents, and so does life in general. If you, like me, find yourself climbing up the daunting hill of injury recovery in the future, I’d encourage you to think outside the box of your usual approach to fitness and explore all that your gym has to offer. It might take some trial and error, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll find a new corner of the fitness world that’s perfect for your recovery. And when you do, your muscles and your restored confidence will thank you. It’s never fun to face setbacks, but once you find the right method, it sure can be rewarding to overcome them.
By Caitlin Birch — UVAC member; Canaan, NH resident; Digital Collections and Oral History Archivist at Dartmouth College