I walked out of my sports medicine doctor’s office yesterday with some information I needed to digest. The first unexpected news came as a result of an MRI I had gotten the previous day. Since my last race a month ago, I have had a series of mystery ailments that have left me cautious and nervous about how they would affect the rest of my race season. I have not been running for the last 2 weeks for fear of making some lower back and hip pain into something that left me on the sidelines for the summer. The first news that he gave me was that the results of my MRI show that I have a congenital defect in my spine where an extra joint has formed between my lowest vertebrae and sacrum. This causes my hips to move independently from each other during activity instead of parallel. The result of being highly active with this type of faulty anatomy is inflammation build up and cysts in the SI joints from all of the friction in the extra joint. The inflammation is always hovering right around my sciatic nerve which is the culprit for my lower back pain.
I have mixed feelings about this information. On the one hand, there is no specific injury that needs to be healed and therefore no surgery or time off of training needed at this point (huge sigh of relief) because this type of defect cannot be permanently fixed. On the other hand, I am left with a problem that although is only intermittently painful in nature, will be something I have to deal with as long as I choose to continue with a highly active lifestyle. The solution to the problem is simply a regimen of anti-inflammatories or a steroid shot and just enough time off to get the inflammation to leave the nerve alone. I can probably deal with that. I suppose it depends on how inconvenient of a time it decides to be a naughty bugger.
One of the cysts burst a month ago, two weeks before a marathon that I was trying to PR. I had no idea what the heck had happened at the time. Based off of the acute pain, I assumed I had a pinched sciatic nerve but no idea why as I have never had nerve pain like that before. I was pretty much bed ridden for 5 days. The good news to that story was that I was able to get the sensation to go away with one week left before race day and probably no fitness lost. Although I did not feel any lasting effects from the problem, I do feel like it took a toll on my mental game as I was unsure whether I could even run so close to my race. Therein lies the second tidbit of information I walked away from the doctor’s office needing to process:
The doc pretty much told me that I wouldn’t have to deal with this problem if I choose to give up my love for ultra running. BUT he also told me that as of right now, there is no damage being done other than inflammation so he wasn’t going to tell me I had to stop running. Hmmm. Is continuing on a path of training for what many people consider to be an “extreme” sport worth the investment of countless hours of training for a race I may end up sitting out of due to an untimely bout of back pain? The emotional toll of watching something from the sidelines that you invested your heart and soul into is pretty rough. Perhaps I take these kinds of things a little harder because 90% of my running passion comes from its emotional benefits. High emotional risk for high emotional reward. This was what I was left thinking about all night last night.
My conclusion: Life is simply a game of trial and error, of action and consequence, of risk and reward. We take stories away from each experience that make up who we are and who we strive to be. Those sweet moments when my body and mind are in a rhythm together have more value to me than any amount of emotional or physical price paid. A race is so relatively short compared to the amount of time spent preparing for it. And you know, when I really think about it – the thought of crossing the finish line isn’t what gets me out of bed at 5:00am to hit the trails. It’s the time spent ON the trails. It’s the time spent running with people I love. It’s the time spent being amazed at what the human body is capable of. It’s watching perceived limits melt away on the horizon of my backyard peaks. It’s crawling out of emotional and physical hell being a stronger person than I was when I dropped to my knees.
Give up all of that to avoid the possibility of temporary setback?
I’ll see you on the trails.