Retreating fear

My greatest fear these past three months or so has been a big imaginary finger on a rewind button. Every time I felt a small sore spot to the right of my spine, about a hand’s width above the top of my glute, I’d worry that my back pain was returning.

You see, that was the final part of it all, this sore spot to the right of my spine, above my glute. Around when that stopped showing up regularly, that’s about when the physio discharged me, so my greatest fear wasn’t so much re-injuring my back, but rather a niggle appearing, and all that physiotherapy treatment reversing and my being in the state I was in mid-June, bent at a bit of an angle, trying not to cry and really not wanting to move.

I didn’t say it was rational. I mean, it’s fear – fear generally has no basis in rationality at all; if it had a rational basis, it wouldn’t be fear. It would be justified. So I knew the fear was irrational, but it didn’t stop it showing up. If your injury progression consisted of it continuing to flare up with no discernible pattern, you get a little gun shy.

I can’t remember if I’ve told you this, but my new “you’ve got a race on Sunday niggle” stopped being shin splints and starting being that small sore spot. It showed up the Wednesday before Stay Puft, and I worried about it a little, but also noticed that I hadn’t developed shin splints, so I figured the back spot was my new pre-race psychosomatic injury. When it showed up again before Wallygrunta, it semi-confirmed my theory it was my new pre-race psychosomatic injury, but this time it hurt a lot more, so my fear that I’d actually done some damage and the big imaginary finger was parked on the rewind button was more debilitating than the actual lower back pain.

Now, let me say, I call it psychosomatic, because I’m fairly sure given a barrage of radiological imagery there’d be nothing visibly wrong, but just because you think it’s probably all in your head doesn’t mean it doesn’t bloody hurt.

I’d gotten used to shin splints, and when they’d regularly recur just before a race it became a part of my preparation; Bodyglide, shorts, socks, sports bra, shirt, shoes and shin splints. I’d wake up on race day and they’d be fine, but they’d niggle away the week before and became a good physical reminder to take it a bit easy beforehand – yes, I might be in Sydney on holiday, but if Sunday is half marathon race day, then maybe don’t walk about 15km sightseeing on Saturday.

But the spot was something else. Shin splints hadn’t effectively taken me out of action for 6 months. Shin splints was about 2 weeks of me running while they developed then I realised what I’d got, nipped down the physio round the corner and sorted it in a few Saturday appointments. I also knew how to fix shin splints – a boatload of calf exercises, icing of shins and some self massage. My initial back injury had me going to the physio three times a week and sometimes having to resort to popping ibuprofen like they were M&Ms. As to knowing how to fix it, I’m still in the throes of learning that.

That’s the best thing about pilates. I bowl up to class pleased that I felt the sore spot when I leant over in the shower that morning. I spend 10-15 minutes of the class learning four new stretches and some manoeuvres on the foam roller and the sore spot dissipates. Next time it shows up I throw everything at it, admittedly resorting to searching Google Images for “hip flexor stretch” because I couldn’t remember how to hold my pelvis when I dropped my knee a bit in order to stretch my hip flexors.

Last week I’d had the sore spot recur and I’d thrown everything at it again, but I hadn’t been able to get my iliotibial band stretches to work properly, so when I rocked up to pilates I asked Lauren how I needed to do it again, and I was successful on the left, but on the right I was locked up solid, so I learnt some more manoeuvres on the foam roller to loosen that up, and bingo, I was able to do the stretch. I threw everything at it again, and it all came good.

It seems to be all the muscles that connect to my pelvis; and there are boatloads of individual muscles that connect to the pelvis – double digits. If they’re tight, then I get back pain as it all pulls on my lumbar spine. It’s a daisy chain effect; I’ve used the Bakballs to loosen my back muscles, so when I lie down and stretch my hamstrings, I’m able to then stretch my glutes. I’ve had to stretch my quads so I can then stretch my iliotibial bands, which once they are loose, will let me stretch my hip flexors.

Saturday this past weekend was the Busselton Half Marathon and Fun Run; Jeremy did the half and I did the 10K (57m09s). I signed up to race on Thursday so I don’t think my body had time to develop my pre-race psychosomatic injury, but today when I was driving to pilates, my back had that small sore spot. I wasn’t worried, because I’m learning how to make it go away.

Room to move

There is a room at work, the Wellness Room. It’s the room the massage therapist who used to come into work each month used (she left the organisation that we had the agreement with and they haven’t replaced her – we miss you Daniela!).

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The room looks like all of our glass offices, but the Wellness Room glass has a floor to ceiling opaque coating. It has a bed and a small sink and gets used by new mums who are still breastfeeding and need a place to express breastmilk. It’s got a little mini fridge, a full length mirror, one of the firm’s first aid kits and the defibrillator hangs on the wall.

It’s also where I go when I need to stretch out muscles. Or roll around on a massage ball. You see, you can’t just lie down on the carpet behind your desk and roll around on a massage ball to try and release a niggle. If you need to do more than lean against a wall with a massage ball jammed in your upper glute, some people think lying on the ground between the shelves making faint whimpering noises is ‘unprofessional’.

I was ecstatic to have our first session of pilates since before Christmas on Monday morning, because I’d had a persistent ache in my glutes. The cheap Chinese massage place in the retail space below work was only about 60% successful to clear the problem last Wednesday; the worst was gone, but parkrun on Saturday and then 9k on Sunday probably didn’t help me work the rest of it out.

Anyway, Lauren explained that there are about 8 muscles that make up the glutes, and showed me a couple more stretches that worked that sucker out almost immediately. The only issue is, unless you’re in trousers or shorts, glute stretches aren’t something that you can do in the aisle next to the legal encyclopaedia. And I tend to wear skirts.

Now I have been able to run without issue, I’ve been stagnant when it came to speed – I’d push at parkrun and still sit around the same times. It means it’s time to start speed work. I was going to run intervals last Thursday, but it was baking hot at 6:30pm, so I decided against it, and ran intervals on Tuesday night instead. It felt pretty good, except cardiovascularly, as you’d imagine. The field laps totaled a mile, then on the main course a 2 km warm-up with the collie dog loops, then I went off by myself to do 6 by 1 minute, with 30 seconds float, and rejoined the group for a further 2 km to the finish. I had to walk the last two or three floats. But I didn’t die, so that’s a win.

On Wednesday at lunch I sat down and worked out four more interval workouts – some simple, one slightly more elaborate and a pyramid session. They’re loaded on my Garmin along with a Cooper Test workout, so now when it comes to Tuesdays I can pick one out and do that. To get faster, you have to run faster. It’s a pretty simple principle, but it’s true.

Last night I lay in bed and felt the most amazing ache in a belt around my hips – not quite as bad as it was after I did the first 5km of Six Inch out and back, but it was close. It’s a sign I have been using my glutes – more than before – and the niggles and aches it causes are persistent buggers, so I think I’m going to be using the Wellness Room floor for a while yet.