Obstacles during the half marathon
I mentioned in my last post that running the half marathon helped me uncover some underlying issues with my health. Here’s why:
The race took a big hit to my lower body. I had been experiencing a lot of pain in my ankles and tension in my hip flexors, and the long run only exacerbated those problems. My right leg in particular felt extremely tense. It locked up so badly that by mile nine I could barely run.
When that happened, I decided to take 20-30 seconds to do one of the lower back stretches Terry taught me (my whole life I’ve had achey lower back pain, so in March I asked Terry for a few stretches to help with that).
I wanted to see if releasing the tension in that area would have any impact on my legs, so I stopped with four miles to go on the route and stretched.
My right leg hurt the most, so I kicked out my left leg and leaned my torso all the way to the left, and then curled forward so that my body hung over my left leg. This activated the muscles on the right side of my lower back, and I moved my torso around to loosen different areas.
Luckily, that simple movement released an enormous amount of tension in my hip flexor which allowed me to actually run with a decent stride again. It definitely didn’t take away all of the discomfort or tension, but it was enough to get me running at least three times faster than I had been for the remaining four miles.
A new connection
Discovering the direct connection between lower back tension and hip flexor mobility / leg function was incredibly useful to me. Firstly, I was pumped that I now knew how to alleviate some of the pain I was experiencing in my lower body. For so long my focus had been solely on my head and neck, and it was helpful to have a better understanding of other referral pain patterns in my body.
But more importantly, I had a feeling that the tension in my lower back, which was predominately on my right side, played a role in my original neck injury.
The whiplash injury contributing to my concussion-like symptoms also stems from the right side of my body. It didn’t seem coincidental that the right side of both my neck and my lower back were overly tense.
I wondered if the chronic tension on the right side of my lower back was preventing the muscles on the right side of my neck from properly releasing.
It was worth considering because I was continuing to have a very hard time getting my upper neck muscles to stay loose. Stretching and running did give me significant relief, but it was very rarely complete relief, and it never lasted very long. I constantly had to stretch or run (hence running twice a day) to maintain a decent level of comfort.
This didn’t seem normal.
I didn’t know anyone who had to run twice a day to get relief from headaches.
I couldn’t understand why my neck muscles wouldn’t just release and stay loose - permanently. So I decided to switch my focus to my lower back and began incorporating stretches targetting that area into my daily routine. I returned to Guelph again in July and this time we used the MyoWorx machine on my entire spine instead of just my neck and upper back.
Weird things started to happen after that…
I started to like… not have constant headaches. Not even light headaches. I began to have periods of no headaches at all.
And I started be able to read without getting intense strain behind my eyes after a few minutes.
I could like… read again.
Yeah I get that all sounds weird… but think about the way the body works:
Everything is connected.
The tension on the right side of my lower back caused my right hip to shift upwards, which was throwing off the linear alignment of my entire spine and keeping my right-sided neck muscles in constant spasm. In order to effectively release the tension in my cervical spine (neck) and have it stick, I had to release the tension in my lumbar spine (lower back) too.
Once I addressed both areas, things started to hold, and steady relief followed.
This was huge progress for me. The last puzzle pieces of my health were finally coming into place.
My final goal
This meant, of course, I could begin considering when to fulfill my big goal – a run with my dog. For years – literally years – the idea of being to do this once again felt like a distant fantasy.
I lost count how many times I broke down thinking that I may never be healthy enough accomplish this.
It was this beautifully simple thing; one of the most effortless, routine, everyday acts.
Except for me, it felt like an insurmountable goal for over two years.
We’re talking about the kid who spent month after month after month in bed with the lights off, who couldn’t even walk down a grocery store aisle or read words on a page.
Those days were the darkest I’ve ever known, but I never lost sight of the idea that I could run with my dog again. I thought about it every single day, imagining the entire route in my head and day-dreaming about what it would feel like.
There was just no way I wouldn’t find a way to make this happen, despite how impossible and unattainable it seemed for so long.
I had always envisioned that I’d be 100% symptom free when I ran with Jenny. The truth is, I’m still not totally at that point. But I decided that was okay. Life is too short to wait for the perfect opportunity to do something. I had made insane progress and I was more than healthy and capable enough to do it…
So I did.
On July 17, 2016, two years and eight months’ post-concussion – exactly 968 days since the hit – I accomplished this goal.
I built this run up in my head as a very symbolic and meaningful turning point in my life. It’s why I felt more comfortable running a half marathon before running a light two-mile jog with my dog.
This run was special.
For me, it signaled the end of so many years of deep struggle. It meant that despite all the pain, setbacks, uncertainty and hardship, I didn’t let this crazy injury win. I made a comeback, and when I started this blog a year ago I didn’t know if that would be possible. Nowadays, I look at possibilities a lot differently, and it’s motivated me to set some new goals. I’ll share them with you in my next post.