So what do you do when Central MyTown gets treated to a rare break in the August heat but you’re scheduled for a rest day? A 60 degree morning drops out of nowhere but you’re technically not supposed to run that day. What do you do? Run anyway and rest tomorrow? Well that depends on why you’re resting and from what you are resting. Most runners will tell you that it’s a crime to “waste” such a rare gift by not taking advantage of a chance to run on a cool morning in the dead of summer. But then there are others who are taking a risk; who might be committing a worse crime against an injury on the mend or one waiting to happen. Such was my dilemma this morning.
The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the top of shin. It’s made of thick fibers that become compromised due to overtraining, tight thighs and hamstrings, too much hill running, or weak quads. Overtraining is considered to be too much too soon; either too much speed or too many miles added faster than the body can adjust to the workload (or not enough rest between workouts). Running in general tightens the thighs and hamstrings through repetitive motion. Hills are a fact of life in MyTown. The term weak quads is misleading. It doesn’t mean puny or underdeveloped quads. It means quad strength performing out of proportion to hamstring strength, causing the leg’s overall workload to become unbalanced.
When the patellar tendon becomes compromised there is a stiff tugging sensation south of the kneecap when beginning a run. It’s easy to talk yourself out of concern because that tugging sensation goes away as you continue running, so you can rationalize that you just didn’t warm up well enough. Ignoring it leads to the tugging sensation continuing at the beginning of every run and lasting longer, until it doesn’t go away at all and eventually becomes pain. Pain means the tendon is being torn. Tugging is the warning. This is one injury you can’t run through or the tendon will completely rupture. Ruptures require surgery.
Patellar tendons that are stressed (stiff and tugging) but not torn can heal but the healing process is complicated. A reduction in training is necessary but complete rest prevents the body from laying down new fibers within the tendon to make it stronger. You can’t completely rest; you still have to stimulate the knee with activity but you can’t train at full steam either. It’s a delicate balance when you aren’t injured enough not to run but race training looms ahead on the calendar with more miles than you can muster.
My patellar tendon is stiff and tugging. It started three short weeks ago. I’m committed to seven more races through the end of the year and one of them is a marathon. You can imagine my frustration. Nonetheless, rest days aren’t just days off right now, they are rehab for that cranky tendon. Skipping rest because it’s unexpectedly 60 degrees outside? Stupid. Seductive but stupid. But waste this morning? Also stupid. So instead of laying out my running gear the night before I prepped my deck for morning yoga and meditation. Lights, broom, coffee, spider removal, no more effort than charging a Garmin and hunting down clean laundry would have been.
Yoga poses like Chair pose strengthen the quads and there are dozens of poses to release tight hamstrings, hips, quads, and lower back, all of which affect muscle balance in the legs. Meditation eases a mind worrying about mileage and registrations already paid and declared goals not yet met. Slobbery dog notwithstanding, there would be no waste of the bonus temperate morning. I would be a participant in the healing process and enjoy the weather at the same time.
These were my thoughts last night before bed, sweeping rocks off the porch, clearing spiderwebs, digging out extension cords and programming the coffee maker. Wellness is an active process from thought to plan to action.
This blissfully cool morning is my reward; a lovely place to rest my knee, work my quads, and calm my thoughts.
Okay, so I didn’t get all the spiderwebs and the dog kept barking at people running by without me, but this is why we practice–not for the times when everything is going well but for the rest of the time. So we don’t make stupid choices. Or so that when we do make them we better understand the point of our practice. And we waste nothing.