Dave and I started out later than usual this morning, and I had to admit to myself that I was hurting. I was regretting how fast I had gone out on the Outer Banks, and my shins, feet and ankles were starting to reflect my early exuberance. Dean, Chuck and Dave were all encouraging me to listen to my body, but I was determined to tell my body to go jump in a lake.
I haven’t ever had shin splints before I started running across the State of North Carolina, and I certainly don’t recommend them. Shin splints (also known as “medial tibial stress syndrome”) are a result of inflammation of the tibia and connected muscles, and they lead to “I hate everything and everybody” pain on the front outside of one’s leg. Often, shin splints are caused by repetitive physical activity – for example, running. The longer one runs in a single day, the more likely one is to develop shin splints. Run for long long long distances on back to back days, and, well… you get the picture.
Every movement, including moving the bedcovers off my legs in the morning was done with conscious effort to avoid making the pain worse. Wearing shoes didn’t seem to make it any worse, but it didn’t make it any better. I winced as my forefoot stepped down, and I found myself unconsciously trying to keep my foot from bending at less than 100-110 degrees back towards my leg. Anything less than that seemed send a pain up my leg that made me grind my teeth and squirted tears out of the corners of my eyes. No really – this sucked.
This was only a week into the trip and I had to keep moving. Plus, I was really trying to avoid embarrassing myself in front of David McConkey – a complete badass in the world of ultrarunning. David McConkey, a Canadian Multiple Myeloma fighter and podium-placing Ultramarathoner since the 90s, who took the time, energy and money to support me on this run was here, and I didn’t want to let him down.
This physical and emotional setback and was the beginning of setting realistic and attainable expectations for myself. I needed a lot of pain and suffering to get a lot smarter. This seems to be a theme for me. More on that at another time.
The day was short. The roads were calm, we didn’t fight off too many drivers, and we made good time. By the end of it, though, my legs were shot. I needed the time off my feet, and I’m ashamed to say, I was really looking forward to not having to move forward. How the mighty have fallen. Did I mention shin splints suck?
Dean took us back to Whispering Pines Campground in Newport. We ate lunch. There was a lot of silence as we ate, and I mostly stared as I refueled. The normal laughter and enthusiasm was missing from the crew. I painfully waddled to the shower, and I could almost feel the furrowed eyebrows as Chuck, Dean and Dave watched me climb out of the RV. At this point, what was I supposed to do?
Even showering was an exercise in minimal movement and body torquing. It didn’t help that I was trying (unsuccessfully) to not touch the tiled walls of the shower or the shower curtain with any part of my body other than my hands while not pressing on the balls of my feet, bending my ankles in either direction or bending over at the waist. I dropped my shower gel bottle 10 times before I was able to get any soap on a washcloth. Then I dropped my washcloth.
I finished cleaning myself with minimal bloodshed, headed back to the RV, where the gang was waiting. I could tell by their faces that they had an idea – and they didn’t expect me to like it.
“We think you should go do fewer miles until you feel better,” Dean said. “This is just the 7th day of the run out of 54, and you’re obviously not going to go much further if you keep hurting more. We can make up time as you start feeling better. You have to get the shins under control. You’ll probably feel better and you can pick back up the next day. We can always add a mile or two later. Better to get healthy now, than crash and burn. I have one goal, and that’s to get you to the finish.”
“Yeah, you have tons of time, and lots of days that we can add on miles,” chimed in Chuck. “We can really work on elevation, ice and heat. You just started out to fast. Like I said, ‘Start out slow, and taper.'” We always chuckle at that one.
I looked at Dave, who looked back at me sheepishly with a warm smile on his face. “I think it sounds like a good plan. Don’t worry about me.”
They expected inevitable pushback, and I could tell that they had their arguments ready. This wasn’t the first time they had seen injuries. They have even seen their fair share of folks that didn’t finish long runs. They had even felt the pain of disappointment themselves. Here, they could be objective. They didn’t need to know my mental anguish. They weren’t thinking about any embarrassment I might feel by not running 20-30 miles every day.
It really didn’t matter. The mission wasn’t to look cool, run every day or to be a bad mamma jamma. The goals were three-fold: to run across the state; to raise funds for Throwing Bones for a Cure; to inspire.
“Okay,” I said. “Tomorrow we slow down.”
Sometimes, we don’t grow linearly. We grow still. We grow thoughtful. We grow. Keep Moving Forward.