I fully expected a clean bill of health when I returned to the doctor last Monday for a follow-up on my quartet of stress fractures. The pain had subsided, I was walking several miles every morning, and I felt ready to return to the racing circuit. I knew I’d be admonished to listen to my body, stop when pain reached a level of 3, and walk slowly to lesson impact on my osteopenic bones. Okay, I could do all that.
Imagine my surprise and consternation when the MRI taken that morning showed an actual break in my big toe plus 3 new stress fractures in different locations than the original ones. It seems I just can’t win! Even with rest, physical therapy, a healthy diet, and additional calcium and vitamin D, broken bones and stress fractures seem to be my destiny. It’s an understatement to say I was depressed.
The doctor was worried about the effect osteopenia would have on my racing and vice versa so he hesitated to give me any advice about drugs to strengthen bone or how to deal with the ramifications of postmenopausal osteoporosis. It was outside his area of expertise (which was sports medicine) so my planned visit next week to an endocrinologist seems timely. He did caution me to avoid high impact activities like running (walking was okay), to wear double rocker shoes like Hokas to minimize pressure on my forefoot, and to seek that ‘sweet spot’ of mileage that would feel ‘just right.’ That might mean walking every day or every other day or even every 3rd day, while I use the off days to lift weights or cross-train. All good advice but not what I wanted to hear. I want to do ultras, not a couple of miles every few days. I want to test my ability to see how many miles I can accomplish in a set time period, and not be satisfied with a measly 2 or 3 miles every day or so.
But reality has interceded. Against medical advice and dire warnings from my husband, I decided to try the 24 hour Southern Discomfort race this past weekend. I told myself I would stop at a pain level of 3. I reassured myself that I would be okay with cheering on runners while I rested and sat on the sidelines – even if I had to stop after 3 or 4 miles. I lied. I cannot watch others take part in a race that I want to do so much. It’s like watching people dance. I also cannot put only 75% into a race when my gut wants to go full throttle at 110%. At Southern Discomfort I should have stopped at 10 laps (about 12 miles) when my pain reached a 3 but I persisted for another 10 laps. Full disclosure – my pain level at that point approached a 6. Had I not spent the last 4 months with my left foot encased in a boot, I would have pushed on for the full 24 hours. Only 9 more laps and I would have achieved a 50k. Fortunately, the thought of ending up in a boot again scared me and I stopped at 20 laps, only 9 hours into the race.
I know that I made the right decision to stop at that point (although I should really have stopped earlier – yes, I know that, really I do). This morning both my feet are slightly painful (in the interest of full disclosure, my right foot often hurt but not as badly as my left, so I don’t know if I have stress fractures in that foot as well). I don’t think I did any irreparable damage, but I have decided to take a break (no pun intended) from ultras for a while. Instead, I am considering doing 5k events that have generous finishing time allowances so I can walk at a slower pace for a shorter distance. It’s also probably time to try medication to build up my bones, an idea I’ve resisted so far, but if it helps, I may be able to do ultras once again.
I’ve learned that it is essential for me to walk at least 30 to 60 minutes every day if I am to retain my sanity. It’s probably healthier too, and when I return to ultrawalking I will limit myself to 3 to 6 races a year instead of the 25 or more I’ve been doing over the past decade. I will certainly include Southern Discomfort on that future calendar. The heat and humidity of Georgia in July didn’t bother me in the least and this year it didn’t rain, at least during the hours I was on the course. Physically I felt fine, with no pain or fatigue at all, except for those nasty stress fractures. John and Kelli, the race directors, are a husband and wife team who do a tremendous job and the organization is superb. The course is a paved 1.1 mile loop, partially shaded and mostly level. Goodies include a soft cotton tee shirt, cap, bag (new this year), and finishers get a hand-painted emu egg with stand and a pint glass (for those who meet certain distance requirements). We stayed at a remodeled Hampton Inn near the Albany Mall and were pleased with the accommodations. There are lots of popular eating establishments nearby (we ate at Applebee’s and Olive Garden). The race, with 6, 12, 24, and 30 hour options, is definitely a keeper!