Running's Dirty Little Secret

People who run: I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret. Ready? You sure? Because you may want to turn your computer screen or hold your hand over your phone so no one can see what you’re about to read. Okay? Good.

If you run, you will be sore. Pretty much... always.

Not in a bad way, mind you. You'll probably get so used to it you won't even notice. And, you know, maybe it's just me. (I am kinda gimpy.) But I'm starting to realize that, if you run, some part of your body will, at all times, hurt. Some part of your body will, at all times, ache, throb, cramp, be inflamed, or suffer from the infamous “stabbing sensation,” which is often described as feeling as though you are being run through with an ice pick. The intensity of the soreness will vary. The location of the soreness will change. At best, you will improve to a slight stiffness: a momentary hiccup in the fluid motion of standing up from a chair or the barely perceptible tightness in your calf as you descend a flight of stairs. At worst, you will feel as though you were plowed over by a semi-trailer. Actually, two semi-trailers, one going in each direction. These eighteen-wheeler days usually occur after a tough workout or a race on a challenging course, but sometimes they happen out of nowhere, seemingly for no reason at all. On these days, you are the lottery winner of soreness. But it's like those motivational posters: "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

I mean, that's cool and all. I guess I just didn't realize weakness would be leaving my body ALL THE TIME. 

Now, let me clarify: there is a colossal difference between being sore and being injured. You will not, I repeat, not always be injured. Actual injuries, in contrast to soreness, include but are not limited to shin splints, sprained ankles, stress fractures, broken bones, any injury that involves the word “torn” or “ruptured” (especially when coupled with the words “muscle,” “tendon,” or “ligament”), as well as any stabbing sensations caused by actual impalement by an ice pick or other pointy object. These injuries are serious matters and should be treated with great furor and indignation.

But as long as you are simply sore and not injured, you may as well come to terms with your soreness. Because as long as you run, you will be sore. If you’re not sore, you’re probably dead. 

I don’t want to brag, but I consider myself something of an expert on the topic of “soreness versus injury.” My personality constitutes the perfect blend of enthusiasm, determination, and stupidity to occasion a bevy of training and racing injuries. And because of my many years and miles of experience, I can say with confidence, “You’re just sore! Unless you’re injured!”

I could literally, like, be on an NPR discussion panel on the topic. (Hey, @NPR! Hit me up!)

Lest you think perpetual soreness a rather macabre idea, fear not. Eventually, you’ll grow so accustomed to being SORE ALL THE TIME that you won’t even notice all the aches and pains. For instance, last weekend I hammered a thirteen-mile run around Forest Park. I didn’t plan to hammer the run; it just happened.

“I don’t know… I just felt great!” I explained to a friend at breakfast after the run in question.

But really, I felt great relatively speaking. My quads were still a bit sluggish and stiff from the previous weeks’ races. My calves, especially my right calf, we’re tight to the point of pain. And my left ankle was severely “tweaky.”

Running's Dirty Little SecretIn other words, I felt, you know, like I always feel. 

I was sore, but I wasn’t injured. I know this because my injury came an hour post run. I had just climbed out of my car (side note: I parallel parked like a champ), and was about to grab my gym bag out of the trunk when my right leg disappeared beneath the surface of the earth.

Guys, I stepped in a hole. 

It was at least ten inches deep, hidden by leaves, and just wide enough for my entire foot to sink down until my shinbone came crashing against the concrete curb. The curb effectively scraped the skin off my tibia and left a large, donut-sized, rapidly swelling, deeply bruised lump on my leg.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yum! Donuts!” But that, my friends, was an injury.

Most people don’t know this (probably because most people don’t know me—it’s a math thing), but I start every run with the following monologue:

“Ow!”

“Ooo…”

“Eh…”

“Ouch!” 

The beginning of every run is like a United Nations summit for aches and pains. Everybody’s there but nothing really happens. (Ha! Sorry.) For the first few steps, my entire body feels like it’s going to fall apart. I never know how much the next stride is going to hurt, and I usually spend a good portion of the first one or two hundred yards wondering if I’ll be able to finish the run at all. But after a few minutes, the agony and discomfort shakes out to what I call the souffrance du jour, which, of course, is French for “suffering/pain of the day.”

At least, I’m pretty sure. It either means that or “the right to vote of the day.” 

Yes, as long as you are a runner, you will be sore. Your soreness will mosey and ramble to different parts of your body on any given day. Sometimes it will invite friends to take up residence in multiple parts of your body at once. Some days it will be negligible. Other days, you’ll start Googling things like “botulism” and “How do you know if your femur is broken?”

Foam RollerBut don’t despair. Being sore is a good thing. Being sore means you’re not dead. Being sore means you’re a runner.

Oh, and if someone ever tries to explain your soreness with the Sherlockian deduction, "Well, you're no spring chicken" (yes, this happened to me last weekend), simply inform the kind observer that it has nothing to do with your chicken and everything to do with the twenty-mile run you hammered earlier that morning... while he was sleeping. You earned that limp, by golly. 

And, hey, that’s what foam rollers are for.

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