Lesson Learned: Respect the Niggle

Just a little soreness, nothing to worry about.

Only my second 18 mile run ever, things are bound to hurt a little.

If I just stretch more and take an ice bath, I’ll be fine.

These are the lies I told myself as I trained for the 2016 Boston Marathon. Little mantras on repeat, pushing me forward day after day.

The pain appeared gradually, barely noticeable at first. In the beginning, it truly was nothing more than a little soreness. Just something requiring a little extra TLC. But the soreness lasted for days, and as the mileage increased, soreness evolved into pain.

I could have stopped. Taken a few extra rest days. Checked in with a physical therapist or doctor. But I was training for my third marathon and my first Boston. I was determined to work as I hard as I could to run a PR, so I ignored the niggle.

I’d had injuries in the past, but they were serious injuries involving nerves or bones. They were the kind of injuries that stopped you in your tracks, hurling you to the ground with the snap of the bone. They were injuries that could not be ignored. The type of injuries that could not be run through, at least not for long. This was different. This was pain that could be managed. This was pain that I looked at and felt tough for running through. I thought this pain could be ignored and resolved with a week off after my goals were achieved. I truly believe that’s all I’d need.

So I ran and I ran and I just kept on running. I didn’t rest and I didn’t back off the pace. I did everything exactly the same and refused to look anywhere other than my big goal, a PR at Boston. A short-term goal that now seems so trivial.

Boston 2016

I ran that race and I achieved my goal, running a meager 11-second PR, but after 26.2 miles there was no more denying it. I was hurt. I took a week or so off before trying to run again, but when I did, my body was overcome with pain. The lingering soreness that I’d brushed off as a minor annoyance was now full blown, stop-you-in-tracks pain. I took another week or so off to try to self-remedy the damage, but to no avail. It was time to give in, to admit my mistakes, and determine what the problem was.

When I finally saw the doctor in early June, I was diagnosed with a micro-tear in my hamstring. Sounds minor, but it wasn’t. The sentence was 6-weeks of physical therapy and at least 8 weeks off from running. Which translated to me as an entire summer stuck inside cross-training, unable to do the thing I love most during the season I love most. The recovery was slow, the PT was painful, and the return to running in the heat and humidity of late DC summer was discouraging. But the worst part of it all was that I knew if I’d made a different choice months earlier, significant time off could have been avoided.

Lesson learned.

I could have stopped. I could have taken a few extra rest days. But I didn’t.

When I look back, it would have been so easy to avoid a full summer of injury. If I’d just listened to my body for a moment. If I’d focused less on my time goals and more on my long term goal of running healthy well into adulthood, I would have likely run happily through the summer.

Summer time run views are my favorite run views

Lesson learned.

Now, I listen to my body every chance I get. With every ache and pain and niggle that lingers a little too long or comes on a little too strong, I proceed with caution. I’ve willingly taken more unplanned rest days (rest weeks even) in the past year than I had since high school and in that same time period I’ve run faster and happier than ever before. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most important.

Lesson Learned. Respect the niggle.


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