Running, Injuries and the Pittsburgh Marathon

Fair warning: I’m really cranky this morning. Even more so than usual when I have to start my day watching local TV news and chasing the treadmill for an hour or so. But I better get used to it. I may be off the concrete for a while. Here’s why.

I was planning to run a half marathon in Pittsburgh May 3. And since I run 30 or more miles a week — every week, good weather and NE Ohio bad — getting to 13.1 miles on any given morning isn’t all that much of a stretch. But for the past several weeks I have been experiencing some pain in my left foot. A slight tingling sensation and numbness in the toes at first. Now the feeling that the ball of my foot is on fire — while walking barefooted over marbles. WTF.

So yesterday morning I did the only sensible thing. I ran 10 miles to see how my foot would hold up. Ah, ouch. To steal from astronaut Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 fame: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”  (Note: Quote subsequently attributed incorrectly as “we have a problem.” I digress.)

The reality, of course, is now I have a problem. A quick medical diagnosis yesterday via Google indicates that the condition presents itself as a classic case of Morton’s neuroma. Essentially, we’re talking about (obsessing about?) a thickening of the nerve tissue between the third and fourth toes. Oh, boy. Or maybe not. Maybe we’re talking about a stress fracture.

Arrrgh. I’ve been running now more than a thousand miles a year — every year — for three decades. Most of that running has been thump, thump on concrete, not exactly the most flexible or forgiving surface. Yet amazingly — an fortunately — I’ve never been injured running. (Tore the calf muscle in my left leg a few years ago playing men’s senior double tennis. So much for that. More exercise watching paint dry anyway. I digress again.)

Not everyone is so fortunate. Sports injuries are common, with the foot very much at risk because of the pounding and stress it takes. (A reason, I guess, why many recommend swimming.) And in any given year, a third of all runners — elite marathoners to weekend warriors — can expect to suffer a foot injury, according to an article in The New York Times a few years ago by Jane Brody.

So now what?

Well, as much as I don’t want to, I guess I’ll have to contact a doctor. Everything I’ve read indicates that early treatment can prevent more serious injury. And that’s the easy part.

Harder is to take this common and correct advice: rest (ah, stop running?) or at a minimum switch activities to reduce the stress on the foot. Correct. But harsh.

Harder still is to make the decision not to run the half marathon in Pittsburgh in two weeks. Still in the back of my mind is that I could manage it — pain and all. So we’ll see. I still have the coming weekend — and maybe some hope. Hey, you’ll never believe in a stock market recovery or that GM (Government Motors) won’t go belly up if you don’t think you could shuffle along with a numb foot for 13 miles. Could you?

And in the meantime I’ll follow with great interest the runners who will take the on-foot tour of Boston today in the 113th running of that marathon. I’ll never run another marathon. I’ve made peace (arrrgh) with that. But another half-marathon? Well, I guess we’ll see.


7 responses to “Running, Injuries and the Pittsburgh Marathon

  1. Noooo! This is a serious bummer, Rob. Sorry! I am glad, however, that someone else diagnoses themself on Google. I once WebMD’ed tingling first finger and convinced myself I had diabetic neuropathy. My doctor banned me from WebMD…so here’s hoping that it’s an easy fix for you and you’re hitting the pavement again soon.


  2. Kait, thanks. Well, we’ll see. Sometimes these things do work out, with just some rest and maybe a little luck. But the foot pain has been getting progressively worse. Probably not a good sign.

    And thanks for the tip about WebMD. Wonder if one of the docs will make a house call 🙂

  3. Seriously, WebMD is NOT good for people OCD in any even slight way about health or injury. When I actually had that muscle tear in my shoulder blade few years ago, I went to the hospital in Kent convinced (b/c of WebMD) that I had gallstones and was in imminent danger of death.

    Still, sorry to hear about it, it’s a bummer. But if you’re not able to run in Pittsburgh next month, we’ll definitely sign you up for the 1/2 marathon in Budapest when you and mom visit next summer! We’ll be drinking palinka while you put in the hard miles around the castle!

  4. The Budapest half marathon sounds good. Although something tells me there may be better and easier ways to see the city 🙂

    And don’t worry. I don’t pay much attention to WebMD. It just gives me something to do when I’m not fixated on Twitter 🙂

  5. Hi nice blog 🙂 I can see a lot of effort has been put in.

  6. Sorry to hear that Dad. I’m sure you can tough it out though…. After that, its time to start biking!

    • Well, if I head for the bike it will be on a surface similar to a pool table — not up and down the Rocky Mountains like you. We’ll see. No matter what I’ll be ready for Colorado this summer.

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