Some Roads Don't Lead to Boston

by Jeff  Burtka

The road to Boston is long and winding.

“All roads lead to Boston” is a motivational saying among marathon runners who have run or want to run the Boston Marathon. We runners often use it to lift people up who are struggling with their training or as a mantra to motivate ourselves to keep going during a tough workout.

This past weekend, I became terrified that my road was no longer leading to Boston. Last Friday, I felt pains in my left leg and foot that I’ve never felt before and couldn’t finish a run for the first time in months. My online medical “research” was inconclusive, but some sources told me it might be a stress fracture, which could sideline me for several weeks. I decided to ice and rest it for a few days to see if that helped.

Yesterday, after three days of no running or cross training, I decided to roll out the twenty-year-old Concept 2 rowing machine I had buried in the basement. After 35 minutes of rowing, the pain was back (although maybe “discomfort” is a better word because it really wasn’t that painful). I ended up texting my brother, who is a physician, and explained my symptoms to him. Being a good brother (and good doctor), he said it might be a stress fracture and that I should see my doctor.

Several months back, I chose a practice for my primary care where all the physicians are board certified in sports medicine because I wanted to see someone who would understand running injuries as well as my somewhat insane desire to run marathons. Luckily, I was able to see one of the physicians today who totally gets marathon running and has an amazing bedside manner.

He listened to my explanation of my symptoms and my running history. He explained what a stress fracture would feel like, physically examined my leg and foot, and took a few x-rays to see if there was anything else going on (he did say an MRI would be better to catch a stress fracture but that an MRI was unnecessary at this time since I was not showing the usual symptoms of a stress fracture). He told me I was perhaps being overly cautious, but that I was a smart for not pushing through the pain. He talked to me about my goals and commended me on running so many miles over so many years without injury. I have to take it easy and will only do cross training for cardio for two weeks, but with more than 100 days until Boston, I am happy to do anything to ensure that I am healthy at the starting line.

The two best moments of my unspectacular running career were qualifying for the Boston Marathon in May and actually being accepted into the Boston Marathon in September. I am going to listen to my doctor, and my body, because I don’t want to blow this one opportunity to line up in Hopkinton and to experience a marathon that so many people dream about running. I have raised a lot of money for the ChadTough Foundation and don’t want to let down my donors or the kids with DIPG whom I am dedicating this race to.

I have lofty marathon goals that I ultimately want to meet, but I am going to save those for a fall marathon. For now, I am going to cut back on my intensity and miles a little bit while training for Boston. I would be lying if I said that I won’t run hard when it’s race day, but I am going to try to soak everything in. I might even stop to give my family hugs, and might even give a traditional kiss to a Wellesley girl with my wife’s blessing (don’t worry, Allison, it would be on the cheek and would be totally PG).

Some roads don’t lead to Boston, and those roads often are paved with stubbornness and bravado. If you’re a runner, remember to listen to your body and to see a doctor if you are at all worried about an injury. Being sidelined for a week or two is better than being sidelined for several weeks or months.

See you in Hopkinton. . . I hope.