Running injuries are usually a result of over-training or pushing too hard, but in this instance it was just a matter of bad luck. I was out on my regular Wednesday group run and we had gotten a bit stretched out due to varying paces, so I turned around to head back and get everyone together. Unfortunately, there was some loose gravel on the sidewalk where I elected to make that turn and I ended up loosing traction. In the fall, I got a bit of road rash on my left hand and twisted my left ankle.
At the time, the ankle really didn't hurt that much so I figured it was just a minor issue. One of the other runners had a band-aide, so I patched up the hand and kept running. The ankle was a bit sore, but wasn't really enough to cause alarm so I kept the pace low and just finished off the distance. When I got to the store I did my stretches and then headed in and cleaned out the wound on my hand. Unfortunately, after I drove home (and it had some time to cool down) it was hurting a lot more. On inspection, it was swollen up a bit so I made an appointment with the family doctor the next day and R.I.C.E.d it in the meantime.
I headed in the next morning and after examining it he didn't think it was broken, but had me get some X-Rays to be sure. Unfortunately, when the film developed and he took a look at them there was a small fracture on my 5th metatarsal. On the upside, there was no displacement and the ankle itself was fine, so it was just a matter of giving it time to heal. I left the office with an aircast and instructions to keep the weight off of it.
While I was told that swimming would probably be okay, the logistics of getting in and out of the pool were enough of a deterrent. I had to use crutches to get around and the slippery tiles on the deck were a bit of a worry, plus with a foot out of commission the ladders weren't an option and jumping in didn't seem wise. I probably should have sucked it up and taken the chance to keep my cardiovascular fitness up, however I didn't want to risk anything to foul up the healing process (eg accidentally kicking off with the bad foot).
Either way, fast forward to last week and I headed back for another set of X-Rays. Fortunately, the healing was going along better than expected and he gave me the okay to start walking on the cast. He did warn that the bone would take a couple of months to fully calcify, so I'd have to be careful and stop whenever I felt pain. I was cleared to stop using the aircast after a week, at which point I could carefully restart exercise. I was instructed to maintain easy running paces in the near term, and to avoid any large hills on the bike, so any races this fall are out of the question but at least I'll be able to start getting back into a routine.
As walking was still hurting, I stayed on the crutches for the majority of last week and have been testing it a bit every day. I'm now moving around with a cane with a bit of a mild discomfort (which is likely just tightened up connective tissue), but fortunately no pain. Once I work my way off of that, I'll head back to the pool as much as possible and integrate a bit of walking. If that works out well, I'll start cycling around the neighborhood and use that to evaluate my fitness level and what I can do.
Aside from dealing with the bone itself, I've developed a pretty significant muscle imbalance between my legs. As my right leg has been doing all of the work for the last few weeks, it's still got some of the muscle left but the left leg is pretty much all jelly. The doctor didn't seem worried about it and said that it would come back quickly, but I still want to be careful about it as I don't want to foul something else up. The bike should be able to help a bit with this, as if I can find a stretch of straight/flat road I can unclip the strong leg and pedal exclusively with the weaker one to build it up.
The other potential difficulty will be weight gain. One of the hardest things with the time off has been eating, as someone used to burning 6,000-8,000 kcal per week that's a lot of food to take out of one's diet. Naturally, some of that was in the form of sports drinks and gels that were easy to avoid, but I still had to make my normal meals a lot smaller. I haven't weighed myself as of yet as standing on a scale with one leg isn't going to be very accurate (and the loss of muscle mass is going to mask some of it), but I'm going to be a few pounds up. As such, getting myself back down to battle weight is going to be a high priority at the start.
Either way, I'm chomping at the bit to get back out there and see where I stand. I'm especially eager to get back on the bike, as the window of opportunity to ride outside is closing fast. It's likely going to take some time before I can regain enough strength to do significant distances again, and I want to get that process underway as soon as possible so I can get to that point. I managed to get a handful of rides in before the injury, and I don't want to go back to the trainer without getting a few good outdoor sessions in.
As such, the next few weeks are going to require a lot of work to figure out how I'm going to do this. While Running has always been my strongest sport, it's going to have to take a back seat for the next little while. Since racing isn't an option, the objectives for the remainder of the season are basically going to be:
- Safely rebuilding strength and avoiding injury. This will inherently be a tricky balance, as I have to be conservative to be safe, but if I'm too careful it will take the fitness a long time to come back. Finding the appropriate balance is going to have to be central to my focus.
- Building up a strong base in order to prepare for next season. The upside to this is that it will allow me to take a longer-term approach to preparations for races next year, rather than having to parlay fitness from one season to the next. Once I've rebuilt the fundamentals, I can devote more time to working with my weak spots.
- Getting my weight back to where I'd like it. Aside from the short term gain due to the injury, I was running a few pounds heavier than I would have liked before then so this is a good opportunity to get myself down to an ideal level. As counter-intuitive as it may be, it's difficult to maintain weight under heavy volumes as you need to take in a lot of calories to fuel all of the exercise. Taking in too little fuel can significantly impede performance, so it's often safer to err on the side of caution. Unfortunately, doing that continuously leads to a slow creep upwards in weight.
- Taking some time to simply enjoy the exercise. While training for a race is certainly enjoyable, often one has to make tradeoffs to get to the final objective (eg foregoing the temptation to add a little extra to a ride/run when you're feeling great because it would negatively effect performance for the next day). In the macro sense the payoff of a well executed season is certainly worth these short-term sacrifices, sometimes it is nice to be able to just wing it and do what you like rather than what the plan says.