A February to Forget

By Scott Ludwig

Whoever thinks that February is the shortest month is wrong. Dead wrong.

Maybe it was payback for my memorable December. Or maybe—just maybe—it is simply a sign to slow down.

Whatever the case, I’m glad it’s over. Once you read this, I trust you’ll understand why.

I’ll start by sharing my running log entries:

Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday
	  9	   9	    9	       11       9	26.2
  11	 11.5	   9	    9	        9.5	9	12
  26.2	 12	  11.5	    9.5	       11.5	9	31
  23.5	  9	  14.5	    8	        8.5	8.5	13
  13	  9		

Truth be known, January wasn’t so memorable, either

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my January performances first (and they say February is an ugly month):

  • First Light Marathon (Mobile, Alabama) on January 2 – a 3:54 on a right leg that was working at about 70% of its normal strength, and about every two miles I experienced a shocking sensation in it that almost caused me to collapse each time.
  • Fat Ass 50K (Marietta, Georgia) on January 8 – a 6:12 on a right leg that was working at about 50% of its normal strength, and about every mile I experienced the same shocking sensation. Now I have an idea how a dog feels like when they run up against an electric fence.
  • Museum of Aviation Marathon (Warner Robins, Georgia) on January 15 – a 3:54 on a right leg that was working at about 30% of its normal strength, and felt like it was literally ‘dangling’ in its hip socket. Not only left, my left leg is now sore since it’s doing more work than the right.
  • Callaway Gardens Marathon (Pine Mountain, Georgia) on January 30 – a 3:52 on a right leg that was working at about 20% of its normal strength, and about every half-mile I experienced the same shocking sensation. It also felt like I had a stake being driven deeper into my right heel with every step.

You’d think I would have had an inclination as to how long (and slow) February was going to be, but not me…the eternal optimist. I just knew my recovery was right around the corner, and I wasn’t going to slow down until I found it.

The Ugly Truth: Sub-four no more

I started February by running slow and easy, hoping I’d ‘recover’ in time to run a solid Tybee Island Marathon on February 5. Race morning, I knew I was still hurting, and ran the first 20 miles with Eric Huguelet. Paula May joined me for the final six miles, and by that time my right leg was hurting so bad and I was running so slow that I’m quite sure Paula didn’t even work up a sweat…even after finishing a hard half-marathon less than an hour before. My time? Another 3:54 (like a broken record!). The next morning I ran what may have been (up until that point, anyway) the most painful 11 miles of my life.

Undaunted (in my dictionary, ‘undaunted’ is a synonym for ‘oblivious’), I ran the next week slow and easy, hoping I’d ‘recover’ in time to run a decent Mercedes Marathon on February 13. Race morning, I knew I was still hurting, and Susan Lance and I decided to start the race at the back of pack. Literally at the back of the pack; even behind the ‘balloon lady,’ a tiny gray-haired lady who the announcer referenced earlier by saying that runners falling behind her would be asked to leave the course. Then it struck me: I may not be able to keep up with the balloon lady! Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to run a step; in fact, Susan and I optimistically anticipated a 5 ½ hour finish. After running the first six miles at a ten-minute per mile pace, we somehow managed to pick up our pace during the race and actually ran a negative split, finishing in what may have been the finest 4:19 in the history of marathoning. Coincidentally, it was the first time I failed to break four hours in a marathon. Ironically, I was happy with it!

The Uglier Truth: It’s Getting Worse

Oblivious, I ran the next week slow and easy, hoping I’d ‘recover’ in time to run a decent Silver Comet 50K on February 19. Race morning, I knew I was still hurting, and fortunately for me, I showed up late for the start of the race (it started in Rockmart, Georgia, which I thought was just outside of Atlanta; I didn’t realize it was almost all the way to Alabama!). I had planned on running 50K with Prince, and then he would turn around and run the next 50K alone (he was going to run the 100K option). He wanted to run a nine-minute pace for the first half of his race, and I thought I might be able to do that. Like I said, fortunately for me, I showed up late for the start of the race.

Susan, who was working the finish line, had some time to kill before she had to work. Since the race had officially started 20 minutes earlier, we decided to run out nine miles (the course was 15 ½ miles out-and-back), turn around and come back so Susan could report for duty, and I would go back out on the course, catch Prince and run to the finish line with him. Did I say ‘run’ out nine miles? I meant ‘hobble,’ in my case. By the time I caught Prince with five miles to go, I was in pain reminiscent of the pain I felt the day after the Tybee Marathon. Once we crossed the finish line, I still had two more miles to run to get my full—albeit improvised—50K. Prince (wisely) called it quits after 50K. Actually, Prince wanted me to write that he ‘opted’ for the 50K; read into it what you want.

The next morning (Sunday), I walked 3 ½ miles to meet up with Paula, Susan, Eric and Al Barker for our regular Sunday morning run. Almost five hours later, my 23 ½ mile walk/run was over. Remember the day-after-Tybee pain? Well, that was small potatoes compared to the pain I felt the next morning (Monday), when I ran and (mostly) walked nine slooow and painful miles. I made an appointment to see my family doctor the next day.

If I mention ‘doctor,’ you know it’s bad

Tuesday was another slooow but not as painful nine miles. I saw my doctor that afternoon, and he took an X-ray of my right leg and saw a small ‘bump’ on the shin. He wasn’t sure what it was, but said that the bone breaking and piercing through my skin during a run was a definite possibility. Seeing as my doctor knows my running history, he asked if I would ‘cut back’ (as opposed to ‘stop altogether’, advice he gave me the first time he saw me) for a while to let it heal…whatever ‘it’ is.

When I got home that night, I put my ‘mind over matter’ philosophy to the ultimate test. I just knew I could run a pain-free 5 ½ miles. Boy, was I wrong. I walked a very painful 5 ½ miles (once I get a distance in my head, I stick with it!). I called Andy Velazco—ultrarunner, friend, and orthopedic surgeon—and asked if I could see him the next day.

After walking a gentle eight miles Wednesday morning, I took my X-ray to Andy. He said the ‘bump’ was most likely an old stress fracture with a lot of scar tissue formed over it, and told me it was nothing to worry about. He also I suggested I walk my daily minimum (which is three miles, although the Streak Registry says one mile is enough to sustain a streak) for a while. He said he recovered from a running injury once by biking for a month. Personally, I’d rather knit than bike. So ‘walk’ it is.

Walking takes (freakin’) forever

I decided to walk exclusively for the next ten days, which meant I would run again on Saturday, March 5. I learned a lot during those ten days:

  • While your body temperature raises 20 degrees when you run, it does no such thing when you walk. I literally froze the first week because I was dressing as if I was running; I would have been better off walking in my pajamas.
  • Running in the rain feels sensational. Walking in the rain just sucks. Next time I walk in the rain I’m taking an umbrella.
  • When the temperature is 22 degrees, it is almost perfect running weather. Conversely, when the temperature is 22 degrees, it is almost deadly walking weather.
  • A decent walking pace for me is 15 minutes per mile. It takes a long time to walk just a portion of what I ordinarily run each day. I spent a long time on the roads and trails during those ten days—about 24 hours (one full day!) to walk a mere 96 miles. Did I say 96 miles? I meant thirty, Andy!

The Test

Saturday, March 5. 7:00 a.m. I am dressed to run, and anxious to see if my ‘rest’ paid off. I haven’t been this nervous since I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time or for that matter when I was at the starting line of the Badwater Ultramarathon. Heck, I wasn’t even this nervous the last time I had blood drawn (if you knew about my fear of needles you’d understand). I walk the first mile to be cautious, and attempt to run around 7:15. A mere four steps later I realize the rest didn’t help; I am still hurt. Around five miles the pain subsided. Perhaps my leg was going numb. Perhaps I am just accustomed to the pain. Perhaps my thoughts of ‘mind over matter’ were working. But I do know one thing: I am hurt; seriously hurt.

I’m pretty sure I was utilizing ‘mind over matter’ to the max, and managed to eek out 13 miles. As I write these words a mere six hours later, I am considering my options for the immediate future:

  • See another doctor, perhaps a neurologist.
  • Try another ‘recovery through walking.’
  • Shut up and run.