Over the past three months I’ve accelerated my normal exercise routine, increasing the intensity and duration and frequency of workouts. In addition I’ve augmented these with an 8-10 mile trail hike every weekend. In addition I’ve maintained a stretching and strengthening program I began in February, the goal of which is the correction of assorted skeletal mis-alignments that plague most everybody who works at a desk. All together this comes to about 11 hrs/week spent working out.
One of my exercises was designed to first loosen and then strengthen the ankle, to support proper foot position. Whenever I’d complete this exercise, I’d feel muscles burning in my lower leg. This is apparently normal. Then one day, the burn didn’t go away. I followed up the exercise set with my standard period on the incline treadmill, and I felt a dull ache in my left shin. I have almost no experience with injury, so I kept walking. The sensation didn’t get worse, but didn’t go away. And now, three weeks later, it’s still here.
I have two problems with leg injuries. One is that the treadmill has become my primary form of cardiovascular exercise, and it’s the means I employ to stay in shape. Without it, I fear I may regain the corpulent and complacent existence I shed two years ago.
The second is that I have a serious hike planned for this weekend.
But this injury is not something I can control. The diagnosis is extensor tendonitis, which I believe is one of the injuries more commonly known as shin splints. It’s an overuse disorder, the two symptoms of which are inflammation and pain, and the only real treatment of which is rest (although compression and ice can help).
My pain was never that bad, but I’m frustrated by its tenacity. I’ve rested for three weeks — no hiking, no treadmill, minimal walking even around the house. This is the longest break I’ve had from exercise in over two years. I got to a point where there was no pain or even minor discomfort in my leg… And then I ran up a flight of stairs, and the pain came back in full. That was late last week.
So now I know all about Ace bandages and ice (my preference: Safeway frozen peas, in a 2 lb. bag). A sports medicine doctor tells me that prescription anti-inflammatories are simply 3x doses of ibuprofin, and suggests that a regimen of 2400 mg/day would be appropriate to see me through Saturday’s climb. She says that I can hike with tendonitis because there is little to no risk of permanent damage.
But it’s not great news. I think I was in good shape for this hike three weeks ago. Today I’m not so sure.
Tomorrow and Friday I’ll take 1-hr warmup hikes on the Barr Trail. Saturday morning at 2:00 AM, we’ll set out to do the whole thing, a 25-mile roundtrip. In my pack will be a bottle of Advil and a chemical cold pack (and about 10 lbs of petroleum-based fabrics and extruded food bars, of course). On my left leg will be a 6'' Ace bandage, wrapped tight to the knee, making my lower leg appear mummified.
My personal prognosis is that in spite of the injury, I’ll reach the summit, take a picture, and then hike back down. But I might instead get my ass kicked. If I’m spent at the summit, I can ride the train down. If I don’t make it to the summit, the options are poor — in a nutshell, I can hike up, or hike down. Not to be melodramatic, but there’s no other way off the mountain.