I have the worst luck.
In case you hadn't already guessed. Murphy's Law is in full force lately, and nothing I do seems to turn out right.
Last week, I went to the doctor for a bone density test, just to make sure there isn't a larger underlying issue that caused my stress fracture. Turns out, I have osteopenia. Not osteoporosis, but osteopenia. It's what you get right before you get osteoporosis, and it means my bones are a lot weaker than they should be. And in case you've forgotten, it's important to note that I'm 30 -- a good bit too young to have to know these words.
My bone density level is well below normal for my age, and if gone untreated, I'm on track to have osteoporosis by the time I'm 60, if not sooner. Lots of things can cause this, but lack of calcium is the main issue. (I'm about to get all science-y here.) The doctor checked my vitamin D level -- since your body has to have sufficient vitamin D to absorb calcium -- and found out it's way too low. If you're not getting enough vitamin D, it almost doesn't matter how much calcium you're getting because your body can't use it. So now the plan is to load up on vitamin D3 -- 10,000 IUs a day! -- plus Viactiv, plus a healthy diet rich with calcium. We'll check my vitamin D level again in June and see if things have improved. As for my bone density, it can get better and I may be able to postpone or avoid osteoporosis later in life, but it will take a while to be able to see progress.
What does this mean for running?
I'm going to have to be extra careful. After my stress fracture heals, my right leg is going to be quite a bit weaker than my left leg because I'm not using it. But that goes for the bones too, not just muscle. Weight-bearing bones, like feet, legs and hips usually have a healthier density level than upper body bones because they have to work harder, so they're stronger. But now that I'm taking weight off my right leg, I'm probably losing a smidge of bone density on that side because it's totally taking a break. (NO PUN INTENDED.) That means when I start running again, I'll be even more likely to get injured again, at least until I build my strength back up.
I'm dying to shop for a race. I'm aching to set a goal. I want to know what month -- what YEAR -- I'll be able to train for a marathon again. But I can't set any goals because I'm just not sure. I'm trying to be optimistic based on the experience of others, but in the end, I have to be realistic about me and what I'm capable of. Beth at Shut Up + Run has been fantastic to lend advice and provide encouragement because she had this same stress fracture and osteopenia, and she bounced back and ran Boston just six months later. But Beth was fit enough to QUALIFY for Boston. She's a triathlete. She's Wonder Woman. I'm a back-of-the-pack finisher who's still new-ish to running and not super fit and strong. That's not low self-esteem talking; that's just how it is.
So for now, I'm doing a whole lot of nothing. No pool work, no recumbent bike. I'm just trying to survive the trek to my desk every day and not smack anyone with my crutches. But when I'm cleared to walk and run again -- and who knows how many more weeks or months that will be -- it's going to be slow going, focused literally on taking one step at a time.