Immediately after ordering my finisher’s jacket, my awesome crew drove me to the showers in the Raven Hill campground. These are thoughtfully designed for the ultra runner – grab bars along the walls and big enough that if you need assistance, your assistant can help without getting too wet. After showering, we went across the street to my parents’ camper so we could try to nap a little before the long drive home. My legs were so sore. We put gallon sized bags of ice on my knees (one had developed an interesting perfectly round spot on the outside about the size of a golf ball). My awesome boyfriend and I laid in the bed but instead of sleeping, we mostly talked semi-deliriously with my parents. I think I told them at least one long-held childhood secret.
We eventually gave up on napping and went to Denny’s to celebrate my mother’s birthday. I wasn’t hungry but ordered something anyway, knowing I needed to eat. I also knew I needed to drink because (TMI WARNING) I noticed in the bathroom at the camper that my pee was unusually dark. But I really didn’t want to drink anything because drinking meant having to go to the bathroom and that meant having to squat and no thank you.
After finishing whatever meal it’s supposed to be when you’ve been awake for too long, we started the drive back home. We stopped only once, at a Bucee’s. This is good news because they have many very nice, clean bathrooms. But it is also bad news because the nice clean bathrooms are across a large parking lot all the way at the back of the large store and the stalls with grab bars are all the way in the back of the bathroom. My pee was still quite dark and I was moving very, very slowly due to the pain. I was surprised to hear from another of the first-time finishers that she felt pretty good and was able to manage stairs without a problem.
I had assumed that I would sleep very well that Sunday night at home in our own bed. The pain in my legs would not stop though. My BFF, a nurse, advised against Tylenol after an event like that so I tried to suck it up and ignore the pain. I couldn’t find any position that wasn’t painful. I gave up in the early hours of the morning and sloooooooowly made my way to the bathroom, trying not to wake my awesome boyfriend. Unfortunately, the dark pee had gotten even darker, and I’m just gonna say things were definitely not normal. I texted my BFF for her professional opinion. Of course, her response was I needed to go immediately to the ER. I gently woke my boyfriend and explained the situation.
At the ER, I was diagnosed with rhabodomylosis, some electrolyte imbalances, and an overly inflamed knee. I don’t know if they rate the severity of rhabdo, but lab values for creatine kinase are diagnostic at 1,000 U/L and apparently values up to 100,000 U/L are not unusual. Mine was much lower at 10,000. I was given IV fluids, a cortisone shot for the knee, some of whatever electrolytes I was missing, and some sort of painkiller that was supposed to make me shut up and sleep. I didn’t sleep, but I shut up. I also had to pee. A lot. They tested me again a couple of hours later, saw that the CK levels were slightly decreased, indicating the danger to my kidneys was passing. I was sent home and advised against doing anything even remotely strenuous for a week.
I went home with my prescription for daily “burst” doses of steroids for a few days, and made myself comfortable on the couch with some Girl Scout cookies. I discovered the next day that I couldn’t fit my feet into my shoes for work, so had to borrow a very ugly pair of black running shoes from my awesome boyfriend (who may have been a little traumatized by the whole ER thing). By Friday, I was almost back to normal physically, but my right leg was weirdly swollen and I still couldn’t straighten it or fully support my weight on it. After another trip to the dr, a blood clot was ruled out by ultrasound and I was told that “this and rhabdo are what happen when people try to do things that they aren’t properly trained for.” I went home and had some more Girl Scout cookies. The swelling went down by Sunday but the pain remained constant.
Two weeks later, when the leg wasn’t any better, I took a co-worker’s advice and went to a sports dr. After another ultrasound, he gave a preliminary diagnosis of a calf sprain. That was confirmed as a grade 2 sprain with an MRI a few days later. He also explained that this is what happens when we do things our bodies aren’t prepared for. I thought about the many years I have been running and all of the training miles that led up to Rocky. Then I went home and ate more Girl Scout cookies, and started canceling plans for a race I’d intended to enter in April.
I was able to start no impact exercise (i.e., swimming) the following week, but it was another week or so before I could finally straighten my leg fully. Over a month after the race, I was able to start using the elliptical. Two weeks after that I was on the treadmill. Finally, two months after the race, I did two miles on an easy trail at a neighborhood park. I alternated running and walking because the calf would cramp a little. Near the end of my 2 miles, when I was walking, a very nice woman who was speed walking passed me. She congratulated me on my effort and encouraged me, saying “you’ll be able to run a whole mile at once one day if you just keep at it!” I kept at it and was eventually able to start training again. I’m a lot slower now, probably thanks to all the cookies.