Meet Pat, the Cause of Running Injuries

Wow guys, I’m in way over my head here. I have NO business making this absurd proclamation, but I think I figured out what causes running injuries. Yeah, I know, I’m totally unqualified, and if the discussion starts to involve anything sciencey I’ll glaze over like a donut. Man, I’d love a donut right now. As in the eternal now, like, always. I would always love a donut.

Alright, FOCUS Josh. Pat is the unisex name I’ve given to the Central Governator (unisex because I don’t want to be accused of either misogyny or, uh, mrogyny). That’s right, the same Governator that Noakes says prevents us from running as fast as we can. Pat could also be an acronym if you’d like; how about Pain in the Ass, Totally. As for the word, “Governator,” Ahnold has forever changed that word for me.

Pat is also what makes placebos work. Taking a sugar pill, or putting on Hokas, or even running barefoot (gasp!), anything that makes Pat think action is being taken to make something better causes Pat to do his/her job, which is pull the levers and push the buttons in the brain that releases all the healing magic the body has to make itself better.

Oh boy, this is getting bad. Should I continue? I’ll continue.

Pat is a drama queen, as is evidenced every time we try to run a fast 5K. “OMG, we’re gonna DIE!” cries Pat. You say, as calmly as you can, “Pat, we’re only going a little faster for a little longer than usual. Just chill,” usually to no avail. Pat puts the squeeze on the lungs, zaps the legs, and even tries to make you throw up. ANYTHING to make you stop. Ugh, stupid Pat.

So here’s the thing: if you get hurt while running, even if only a little bit, Pat gets real panicky and might decide to shut the hobby down entirely. “No more running for you!” says Pat, pushing the inflammation button as you step out of bed. You can rest and ice and yoga and rub healing crystals all you want, Pat has made up her/his mind. Even if you’re COMPLETELY FINE, Pat says “Too bad, we’re playing it safe, stay on the couch and eat another donut!” basically duck taping the inflammation button down in the ON position forever.

Mmm, donuts.

Where is this all coming from, you ask? Well, last year about this time I was in a severe funk. I was in the middle of a self-imposed running hiatus due to a pain in my right calfachillankle. I was in a bit of denial, as you will note if you read the link. Basically, in mid-April of 2012 I was on a run with the Sun Beast when out of nowhere a sharp pain in the bottom part of my calf made me limp to a halt. The pain showed up randomly, with greater regularity as time went on. I took it really easy, assuming it was my achilles about to snap. The pain was kind enough to not appear during the remaining races I had signed up for, but once I was done with The Scream Half in July I stopped running, started eccentric stretching, and hoped for the best. After six weeks and no improvement, I did something drastic: I went to a podiatrist.

I stacked the cards in my favor, of course, and picked a doctor I knew was barefoot friendly. He was on a barefoot/minimalist running and injuries panel discussion with me a year prior. Still, I expected him to tell me my achilles was about to rupture, no doubt caused by too much (gulp) barefoot running, here put on these heel-elevating shoes for the rest of your life and shut down your silly blog.

That’s not what happened. He put me through some exercises, and seemed a little puzzled that I was able to stand on my toes without pain. It also didn’t hurt to the touch. “Oh, I can make it hurt,” I told him. “All I have to do is point my toes and push my heel like this,” I demonstrated. “OW GODDAMMIT. See?”

“Wait here,” he said, as if I was going anywhere. He left and came back with a plastic foot skeleton. “See this little knobby bone here?” he pointed to a little knobby bone on the heel. “For some people, part of this bone never adheres to the rest when all the bone thingies happen when you’re a baby.” That’s not what he said, but that’s how I remember it, probably because donuts. “I can’t say I’m 100% sure, but I’m about 90% sure you have a little pebble bone that gets caught up in the ankle-bending equipment, causing pain. People can go their whole lives without ever knowing it’s there, but if you suffer any kind of ankle trauma like spraining or twisting, it can aggravate it. Have you twisted your ankle recently?”

“Uh, yeah, like every time I run on a trail. Stupid roots.”

“That would probably do it,” he said.

“So is there anything I can do to fix it?”

“Well, I could scoop it out, which will involve cutting you open and risking I mess something else up real bad.” Again I’m going from donut memory. “But, I think there’s a simpler solution. I want you to take a high-dose of NSAIDS three times a day for a week. Oh, and you need to run a lot.”

“Like, barefoot?”

“Of course, unless you’re really one of those “barefoot” barefoot runners.”

I pretty much cried. “OK, explain the NSAIDS thing to me,” I said between blubbery sobs. “I hear they eat your tendons like um, donuts.”

“Only with prolonged use blah blah blah blah” I confess I didn’t really listen very well. He not only said I COULD run again – he said I SHOULD!

“So why do I need to start running right away, instead of resting?” I asked, pushing my luck.

“To trigger the inflammatory response,” he said, then paused. “Look, what I’m about to tell you has not been clinically proven; it’s one of those things that seems to work but no one really knows why. Here’s my guess: your body has developed an overactive inflammation response (PAT!), so that every time you try to run it acts like you’re injured. The NSAIDS will counter that response and retrain your body to allow you to run again. Therefore, you need to do what triggers the inflammation so the NSAIDS can work. If it hurts, keep running – you’re not causing any damage. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this should work. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run.”

“Why would my body sabotage me?”

“Because your body is a wussy jerk.” He may or may not have used those words.

So I did what the Doctor ordered, ingested a lot of Advil and started running again. I ran sixteen miles in five days – the most I had run in MONTHS. The first couple of runs caused a little pain, but not as sharp as before thanks to the Advil. Each day the moment of sharp pain grew duller and duller. After the end of the Advil regimen, the pain continued to recede until it went away completely. A week after that, I ran forty-two miles in a day at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Classic. You know, for science. Oh who am I kidding – for joy.

Take that, Pat.

Think of all the running injuries out there – they make no sense! The honest doctors shrug their shoulders and say who knows; most are getting cash under the table from Pat and tell you to quit running. A real solution should work for everybody, not “whatever works for you.” If accupuncture is the answer, it should work for everybody. It doesn’t. If Hokas are the answer, they should work for everybody. They don’t. If BAREFOOT FREAKIN RUNNING was the answer, it should work for everybody. Seeing how almost all the barefoot running advocates have bailed ship, it’s safe to say that’s not it either. The answer, in my ridiculously overestimated opinion, is CONTROL YOUR PAT.

How? That’s the next post. This one is too long. You’re not going to like the answer. Or maybe you will. Who the hell am I to say?

The Universe is Random

– Slight change of plans, should we ever sell this house: although we really enjoyed Port Angeles, there was something missing. We were out on the North Olympic Discovery Trail on a beautiful Saturday morning, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. Where were the runners? The race calender for the vicinity is pretty empty, too. We’d rather live in a place with a thriving running community already in place, than to try to get all Pied Piper/Music Man/Jim Jones and build one ourselves. So unless anyone out there convinces us otherwise, we will instead be moving to rainier (ha! a geography pun) but runnier Olympia WA. Assuming we ever sell this house.

– But, that could be eons away so life goes on here contentedly enough, especially now that summer is over and the bugs have finally(?) stopped biting. I’m continuing the gradual process of getting myself back in shape to start a consistent base. I feel slow, but good. Tentative goal is to focus on the Umstead Marathon in March, hoping to beat ac on his home turf.

– I’ve been volunteering at races a lot lately and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I got to start the marathoners and forty-milers at Triple Lakes. Instead of saying “go” like a normal person I yelled “KICK IT” as if I were a Beastie Boy. It was all I could do not to continue with “you wake up late for school, man, you don’t want to go.” I don’t know what came over me. The mic was in my hand, I had an attentive audience, and something just happened. What I’m trying to say is, you should volunteer at races every once in a while, if you don’t already. Obviously.

Iris has found the perfect hydration system: The Josh-Held.

– Next weekend I’ll be volunteering at the New River 50K. I look forward to meeting the race director and ultra champ Annette Bednosky!

– Speaking of ultras, that is, if one were to bring them (and my full-effort participation in one) up in conversation, I would respond with a totally sincere “who knows?” By “totally sincere” I mean not mysterious or coy in any way. There is no wink-wink involved, a practice I do not condone under any circumstances. I mean I really don’t know. And by “really don’t know” I mean possibly maybe. If I were to do a distance ultra, wouldn’t it be neat to return to the state of my upbringing and run the Ice Age 50? That might be neat. Possibly. I mean, who knows.

– Which reminds me, congrats to all the finishers of Grindstone. You’re all nuts. You too, Jason Robillard.

– Bob Neinast continues to make sense with his recent post, A “Perfect Storm” Of Myths. It’s a rundown of the main myths about bare feet. A conversation developed on the book of faces (where I had linked it) with an old friend that veered off to the subject of the where/how/who of anti-barefoot bias. I’d like to add one possibility to the pile that includes hippies, Victorian society, Kellogg’s, association with poverty, and the obnoxiousness of gravel: useful feet conjures up the image of monkeys holding bananas with their toes, and most people are uncomfortable with the notion they’re relatives. Feet remind us of our animal nature, so covering them up makes us feel less animal. Just thought of that one up, while eating a banana with my feet.

– There. a post in under 600 words.

Benjamin Franklin = More Shoes?

Once upon a time, Benjamin Franklin had a rival of some sort who was calling him out. Rather than fight the guy (intellectually, not fisticuffedly), Benji Boy instead asked to borrow a book. “You are well known as a learned man with an impressive library,” said Benaroo, “and I have need of one of your books to study this thing I’m studying.” Not the actual quote. The rival, now an ally, was flattered and sent Benjamina the book. He became an ally not because he was flattered; rather, the human brain cannot handle the dissonance of hating someone you were just nice to. Slicker than Willie Pep, BF won the fight without throwing a single punch.

Have running shoe companies employed The Benjamin Franklin Effect on barefoot runners? Could this be why barefoot runners don’t run barefoot all that often?

For the record, I still run barefoot most of the time, but don’t think any less of barefooters who have gotten more shoey. It does baffle me a bit, though. I would have thought that once a runner (ha!) figures it out, they wouldn’t want to go back.

Having said that, I’ll be wearing a new pair of Merrell (I was Franklinized!) Trail Gloves for The Scream. I actually bought them. Well, Iris did, but money is fungible, and so on and so forth. Any of the shoes I own would have done the trick on that dirt road with rocks spread out at just the right density level to be a real pain education, but I’m going to wear what ac is going to wear to even up the playing field. I might even shave and give myself a goofy haircut.