Keeping You on Pace

by Michelle Collie, Providence, RI

It’s official, we made it through another New England winter and the first signs of spring have arrived.  The longer daylight hours, emerging daffodils, birds singing, and comfortable temperatures are natural motivators for everyone to exercise. For me, simply looking at the date motivates me. Springtime is packed with races of various lengths, from 5K walks/runs to marathons and ultra-marathons—catering to all types of athletes – novice to elite. Athletes of all ages and abilities are planning, training, and paying close attention to the number of weeks they have left to prepare for their spring event.

My training was going remarkably well for the May 4th Cox Providence Marathon with my total weekly mileage increasing by the standard 10 percent. On a brisk afternoon, with 10 weeks until the race, I headed outdoors for the planned 8 mile run. I ran at an intended easy pace, enjoying the solitude, and listening to my book. Then I noticed an ache. No longer relaxed, I continued to run and the suspicious ache located on the inside of my shin lingered. As I completed the 8 mile run, a fleeting thought raced through my mind, “this may be your last run for a while.”  I immediately iced my shin and applied a compression sleeve but the ache (and tenderness along the inside portion of my leg) continued into the night.

Nearly 70 percent of runners will become injured at some point during their training. Despite this statistic, runners of all levels are devastated when it happens. Questions raced through my mind; will I be able to run the marathon? If I keep running “through the pain” will I end up with a stress fracture? Where did I go wrong with my calculated training plan? I was upset because I knew the injury was my body’s way of telling me to slow down. But my mind was pushing me to go further and faster. The balance between what I want to do and what my body is capable of doing can be difficult to naviagte, and often leads to frustration and disappointment. But I truly believe an injury is simply a challenge, not a reason to quit.

I was, in fact dealing with a common running injury, medial tibial stress syndrome, or shin splints. Shin splints occur when the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue of the lower leg are overworked and inflammation develops. Shin splints are commonly due to changes in running frequency, duration and intensity, improper or worn-out footwear, abnormalities of the feet (including flat feet), poor muscle strength, flexibility limitations, or poor running technique. Often the reason is multifactorial and a thorough assessment is essential for treatment to be successful. I immediately sought treatment in the days following that fateful run and developed a plan to address the underlying causes of my shin splints.  Thankfully, my marathon training schedule was barely affected.  My injury was a bump in the road on the journey to reach my goal on marathon day.

An injury can bring a sudden end to one’s exercise regime or sport, but I encourage you to consider an injury as a way to learn more about your body and make it stronger so you can stay on pace!

Michelle Collie PT, DPT, MS, OCS is a Physical Therapist, the owner and CEO of Performance Physical Therapy. She lives on the East Side of Providence with her husband and 2 children. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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