The Freak-Out Which Must Not Be Named

Tuesday, March 16. Last long run, 10 days before the half. Almost 12 miles. Hard-fought and satisfying. At about mile 8, I feel a hard tweak at my shin. "Uh oh," I say, "shin splint on the tracks." I correct my form, stop and stretch, and it feels OK.

Wednesday, March 17. Legs feel fine. I hop on the bike trainer in the morning for a happy spin.

Thursday, March 18.

Me, to Trainer Kevin: Hey, I have a little hot spot on my shin. What can I do about that?
Trainer Kevin: (runs thumb up and down shins) Um. That could be a stress fracture.

Who knew. The phrase "stress fracture" is the "Voldemort" of the running world. Speaking the words provokes cringing, wincing, and outright fright.

I passed the next couple of days gathering opinions, runners' personal experiences, advice; letting my legs rest (and get stiff); and worrying that if I ran, my shin was going to snap like a pretzel. The half marathon was just over a week away.

Do you want to know how worthlessly crazy it can get in my brain? "Oh noooooooooo I will try to run and will trash my leg and need two years of rehab and I won't be a triathlete anymore and if I can't run or bike my body will go all soft and uncontrolled and weak and I will feel horrible and be depressing and N. will run away with some 30 year old ex-podium girl/professional rock climber who speaks six languages and I will be old and alone and have no endorphins."

I told you it was crazy. Not running the half would be kind of a bummer, losing April to bone healing would be annoying, but of course why stop at annoying bummer when you can have INSANELY TERRIFYING.

Trainer Kevin: If it is a stress fracture, you won't be running for a long time.

Next door nurse Peggy: I can't tell any difference, maybe a little swelling, but with this kind of thing I'm very conservative. You should get the x-ray.

Online wisdom: X-rays don't detect many stress fractures. You will need a bone scan or an MRI.

Jeff: Ha, if you're not one hard run away from possible injury, you're not working hard enough.
Follow the old rule: if it doesn't hurt while you're running, go ahead; if it hurts while you're running, don't run on it. And if you know you're going to run, just do what you can and don't worry about it.

Troy: (after listening to this incessant story and offering lots of sympathetic expressions) I'll bring you some Blue Emu and you can see if it helps.

Austin: Pfft, stress fractures. They hurt but they don't have to be a big deal. You heal, you keep going. I ran on mine for a long time.

Mallika: I'll give you the bad news and the good news. If it's a stress fracture, your rehab could be four weeks, could be four months, could be a year. The good news is, if it's a stress fracture you'll know it in three miles.

I test the leg on Sunday afternoon. Four miles, good news, the shin is pain-free. But because I've let the legs go stiff and unused, my right soleus seizes up, vise-like, and spasms start rippling up and down my calf. Great. Calf strain. Perfect.

Mallika: Go see your chiro. He can work out the calf, check for the stress fracture, and order you diagnostic imaging if you need it. It's peace of mind. And hey, it may be just a taper week ache. What — did nobody ever tell you about taper week aches and pains? Ha ha ha ha oh my God! Every muscle pain imaginable happens during taper week while your muscles recover from all the stress you've put them under. It drives a person crazy. That's why distance runners hate taper week. Go see your chiro, he'll work it out for you.

Yesterday, I visted the amazing Dr. Joel Terry at JET Chiropractic. After the regular tuneup of neck and back, he tested my shin by holding a vibrating tuning fork to points up and down the shin.

Doc JET: Does that hurt? No? OK. That? OK. It's not as fancy as an MRI, but... if I hold a vibrating tuning fork against a break in the bone and periosteum (that's the membrane around the bone), you'd be jumping off the table in pain.

OK, good to know. Doc JET went to work on the knots in the calf. And it's a new leg today. Or rather, my same old leg that I didn't think much about while I was running. No weird calf spasms. No pain.

I kicked out four easy miles this morning and it felt so good that I ran another mile. Feet feel great. Knees not even making their usual rice krispie noises. Quads and hamstrings, fantastic. Endurance — if I were doing a sprint distance tri this weekend, I would absolutely slaughter it.

So, half marathon. I think this will be okay. But now I am mentally prepared to DNF and cross the course to cheer for the field. Tuning fork test or no, if the shin bone hurts, I stop running. And spend April becoming an amazing swimmer.

Either way, wish me luck and know that I am having FUN. Crazy body. Fun!