Thursday, July 29, 2010

Injured reserve

I am in week 3 of training for a marathon in November, although I have been running all year in preparation for this training and completed a 10K in June. This blog will serve as the lasting record of all of my steps, and mis-steps toward making that goal happen.

When I first started these crazy shenanigans, I set about trying to read up as much as I could about successfully running a marathon.

Most of my reading was done online, which means I’d start to read an article on “The 25 things you must do without question in order to complete 26.2 miles,” get distracted after Tip No. 4 and spend the next two hours watching funny pet clips on YouTube. 

Spotty as most of my information was, the one thing on which everyone seemed to agree was simply this: During the course of training for a marathon, one has to come to terms with the idea that at one point or another, they are going to get hurt.

Get hurt, I say? I can deal with that. 

I once nearly hacked off the tip of my finger with a … well, a hacksaw. I’ve chipped teeth, did my best to walk straight through a Plexiglas window thinking it was a door, shredded some cartilage in my knee, stepped on a nail, fit my whole fist in my mouth on multiple occasions and even fell off a pile of crates and used the corner of one such crate to cushion the fall with my forehead.

I can deal with getting hurt. That’s what I said at least.

I mean, what are we really talking about  -- Shin splints? Hip flexors? Plantar Fasciitis? Pulled hamstrings? ITB Syndrome? Stress fractures? Sprained ankles? Contusions of the male ego? Carpal tunnel?

Child’s play. All of it, it turns out.

What no one was willing to talk about, at least not before Tip No. 8 in the “100 Easiest Ways to Avoid Getting Injured While Taking On An Ill-Advised Running Program” article, was that when you get hurt, it’s not something you’re going to be willing to talk about either. At least in mixed company.

I’ve fallen victim to chronic bloody nipples. 

Seriously. Stop laughing.

It’s actually a surprisingly common affliction, particularly among those of us men with upper bodies shaped much more with Jell-O molds than granite chisels and who wear cotton or other “textured” clothing during long, decently warm runs.

What happens is, the moisture from the heat of the run (a.k.a. sweat, but I don’t want to gross anyone out, especially while writing anything about bloody nipples) gives some extra weight to the fabric. As the miles add up, the fabric repeatedly brushes across the skin and, particularly in sensitive areas, begins to wear a raw, bloody wound on your chest.

Gross, right?

The thing is, it really hurts.

There’s really no way to compensate during the actual run, like one might be able to do after rolling an ankle or tweaking a hamstring.

Once your nipples start bleeding, you either stick your chest out and run proudly with red circles growing on the front of your shirt or you more or less tuck your wrists in toward your body, flare your elbows out and run like you’ve got chicken wings for the remainder of the run. 

The pain doesn't really set in until after you're done. 

But it’s not like a sprain or a pull, where you can just stretch it out real well before the next run, wrap it up and hope for the best. It’s just kind of there, and it only gets worse.

I mentioned what "excruciating" pain I was feeling to my wife, who’d just recently finished breast-feeding our second child through his first eight months.

She laughed.

And she laughed. 

A couple days later, when she’d finished laughing, she offered me the use of her leftover nipple shields -- which basically look like the top of a baby bottle. I gave it some honest consideration …

In the end, I turned back to the internet for help and read about wonderful inventions like athletic body glide, which is basically some sort of Teflon-infused substance you apply with something resembling a stick of deodorant and your clothes just slide freely over the sensitive areas. 

Apparently, some people go the cheaper route and just use generic petroleum jelly. Others just go without wearing a shirt (an option I declined because of the above-mentioned Jell-O mold defect) while others still buy shirts made of special anti-chaffing materials. 

One guy out there said he bought a ladies’ training bra and began wearing it during long races. He said it easily hides under a T-shirt and stops the chaffing.

 My first thought was, “But, dude, you’re wearing a bra!” Plus, can it really hide that well under a T-shirt? He closed his statement by saying “Go ahead, laugh it up. I‘ll see you at the finish line bloody nipple free” So I did. I laughed it up. For a long time.

A couple days later, when I’d finished laughing, I decided to buy a big roll of waterproof super-adhesive tape. I read that there are some who put a square of tape over the sensitive areas and that takes care of the problem. Because it’s waterproof, you don’t have to worry about it coming off once you get all sweaty.

What no one said is that this is not the option to use if A) your bloody nipples are still healing or B) you, like most men susceptible to bloody nipples, are exceptionally hairy. I know, I know, common sense, right?

First time out, the tape worked like a charm. No blood, no chaffing. 

But the problem with waterproof super-adhesive tape is that it lives up to its billing, particularly when it comes to chest hair. I found a little disclaimer in the fine print later that read “WARNING: This compound may form a symbiotic relationship with whatever it comes into contact with. It’s highly likely this will never come off. Just so you know.”
So, logically, I hopped in the shower because surely the best way to remove waterproof tape is to get it wet. 

The water didn’t help with the actual removal, but it did help mask my shrieks of pain..

In the time since, I have seriously reconsidered keeping the windows open in the evening, because I secretly dread a conversation like this drifting out into the neighborhood air:


Me: (unintelligible whimpering)

Wife: Honey, are you watching YouTube again?

Me: No … I’m in the shower.

Wife: Are you OK?

Me: I’m fine. I’m just …  (incoherent mumbling)

Wife: Can you speak up? I can’t hear you over the water.

Me: I’m pulling the tape off my nipples. 

Wife: A bullying ape coughed on your nickles?


Wife: Why in the world did you tape your nipples?


Wife: WHAT?


You get the picture, although I’m not sure the neighbors would.

So I stuck with the tape. I’m slowly developing a tolerance to the pain of taking it off, which in the grand scheme of things is about the same as the actual bloody nipples. 

Either way, I feel like I’ve now logged my proper battle scars for this journey. I won’t complain again until the shin splints set in -- or the roll of tape runs out. Whichever comes first.

I’m in the middle of a 15-mile week and it’s going well. Things start to pick up quickly in the next three or four weeks, so I’ll be able to tell by the end of August if this is actually going to happen or not.   

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