The Comeback Series Gets Personal

Whatever, LL.
Now we’re getting personal.

If you’ve been following along with my comeback from having baby #3, at this point you might be wondering what the heck happened to me. I was updating my logs and then I stopped. I alluded to an injury, but never explained what it was. Today I am going to fill you in.

Comebacks are not always linear. There are often ups and downs. Setbacks happen and then are followed by mini comebacks within the big comeback.

I guess you could call this a setback. 

First, I need to tell you about this injury. I’ve struggled with a cranky butt muscle, the piriformis on and off since I’ve been training to run competitively. It’s just something I’ve learned to live with and manage. It became really bad in 2011 and forced me to take a break at the beginning of 2012. During my pregnancy, it mostly behaved. During the postpartum period it was pretty quiet until I resumed formal training over the summer. It wasn’t that bad, but it occasionally flared up, but if I rolled around on a ball and stretched it was tolerable.

In the meantime, my back was bugging me on and off. Back in the beginning of June I strained it lifting my middle daughter out of the car in a funny position. It was annoying, but went away. But then when my piriformis injury flared, so would my back. After one workout in mid-August, I woke up in the middle of the night from the pain. My piriformis was spasming and my back hurt tremendously. I cried uncle and went to see a sports orthopedist.

The ortho took x-rays that showed a 20 degree curve of my spine and two potential disks that might be the problem. I was actually hopeful to have an answer, even though I know dealing with disk issues is no fun. But at least it’s one concrete thing to fix rather than some weird diffuse injury. I went in for the MRI.

Much to the ortho’s and my shock the MRI came back clean! My disks look great! This felt like bad news. But of course, it’s not. I wanted so badly to have an easy diagnosis. Again, recovery from muscular issues is way easier than disk/spine issues, but to have one easy answer seemed more palatable than the alternative. So with the clean MRI, that means my back muscles are so tight they curved my spine 20 degrees! No wonder it hurts!

I felt pretty good running a half marathon a few weeks ago, but since then my problems have crept back up.

I was diagnosed with a sprained back and piriformis syndrome and sent to physical therapy. If the physical therapy did not eleviate the pain in my back and butt, then we’d discuss alternative therapies to easing the pain. The good news was that I could keep on running as long as I didn’t race or go to the track (where I would be tempted to push it too hard).

Along with my first 2 PT appointments, where my therapist adjusted my pelvis and back and gave me some strengthening exercises, we went on a mini family vacation the next week so I only ran 5 days with no long run. Everything felt great! The next week I bumped the mileage back up to 58 with the half-marathon as long run and then the next week I did 60 miles with a fartlek and tempo. And then everything hurt again. I felt defeated, almost in despair. I suddenly wondered if I should just quit training. Quit my team. Just focus on other things in life and give up the dream.

I did a lot of soul-searching over this time. What do I really want from running? Whatever it is, it’s not worth constant pain. It’s not worth being a cranky mess or feeling emotionally occupied when I’m spending time with my family. It’s funny, because on Monday, Mint commented on Ginger’s marathon race report that running doesn’t have to be all or nothing. This is something I’ve recently realized for myself.  I can be a competitive runner and go for goals without fixating on them and while listening to my body and taking a break when warranted.

And my friends, my body is demanding a break. Not suggesting. DEMANDING. I realized this the night before my follow-up ortho appointment. I walked in and told the doctor that things were better, but I was still not right. He looked at me and I think he assumed I was going to demand he fix me, but I was completely open-minded. And then he helped me understand what’s going on.

I’m a mom first and the great thing about taking time off from training means I get more time with this little pumpkin and her brother, sister and daddy!

I am nursing a baby. This is the third baby I’m nursing in a short time and I nursed the other two for two years each. I’ve been pregnant and/or nursing a baby since March of 2008. My doctor put things in perspective. He told me that when lions nurse their cubs they do not hunt. They lay around for months so their energy can be directed to nourishing their young. His conclusion about me: my body is pulled in so many different directions it cannot recover as efficiently as normal. On top of that my ligaments are probably still lax from hormones. And then of course, it’s not like I’m sleeping great and haven’t been for a looooong time! Oh, and the whole heart thing 8 months ago even! Put this all together and I am just not able to train hard. I just can’t without my body revolting.

What does this mean? I am running. I have limited myself to 5 days per week (40-45 miles or so) at least through October and then I will revisit. I am likely out from formal training at least until the New Year. I nurse my kids for 2 years, but baby’s birthday is in two months and after that we’ll be cutting back her feedings so hopefully my body will be happier with training when I’m not nursing 5-10 times a day! But it’s going to be a process.

I’m lucky I’ve been able to do as much as I have since I first became pregnant back in the spring of 2008 and that I’m able to run at all right now. The focus now is on enjoying running within the rest of my life: finding balance and figuring out where it fits into my life puzzle. I’m working on my core, that has been more or less obliterated by 3 pregnancies in 4 years and letting nature take it’s course. As for my running goals and when I expect to be back at it training my tush off, well, right now I’m open-minded.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I’m starting to think that setbacks should just be expected as part of the comeback! I truly believe that taking a few steps back will lend itself to a huge leap forward! You are an incredible runner with tons of talent. Give your body the break it’s begging for and enjoy the extra time with your fam!! The best is yet to come, Salty!!! Thanks for all of your inspiration!,

  2. You are my idol, regardless of time off or no!! 5.5 years of pregnancies, deliveries, babies, and nursing? Seriously amazing that you even managed to drag yourself out of bed at dark thirty and lace shoes up with delirium.

    1. Ha! That’s one thing I haven’t been able to do yet after baby #3 is wake up in time to be done before they wake up. She wakes up several times a night and I’m just too tired and can’t forgo that much sleep and still function! Instead I slam coffee before nap time or something like that to squeeze it in 🙂

  3. I haven’t run competitively since high school, and even then my approach was lackadaisical at best. Even for recreational runners, though, it can be hard to listen to your body and to remember that you have to treat it as if it were one of your children. It needs love, forgiveness and understanding, and sometimes a cookie and a nap.

  4. Hey this is Marisa from the track, I found your website and I love it, it’s so inspiring! I’m sorry you’re still not feeling 100%, it is definitely very hard to strike the balance between pushing yourself and realizing running isn’t the most important thing in our lives. We miss you at the track, it’ll be great WHEN you comeback stronger than ever! Let me know if you ever want a partner for your runs, I’m trying to get back to seeing the enjoyment in running and not just the training parts too