When injury strikes - or when you think it may strike - your mind plays tricks on you. Especially when an athlete is tapering (getting close to and ready for a big race), any twinge or ache can be magnified into a race-stopping event.
In the weeks immediately preceding a big race, one is a bit on edge and out of sorts anyway. Tension and angst arise and build as the starting line looms ahead. With a lighter pre-race workout schedule, attention previously devoted to training now is free to be expended on all the concerns of the upcoming competition. The drop-off in training is accompanied by an understandable but irrational concern that one is losing fitness and is no longer working hard enough to bring his or her best to the starting line.
In short, one gets, as we used to say in the Midwest, "squirrely" when tapering.
So it is to be expected that any sign or seeming indication of injury that might impair performance or result in a DNS ("did not start") or DNF ("did not finish") status gets the athlete's alarm bells ringing.
I am a case in point (and have been plenty of times previously). While running my track workout a few evenings ago, my left piriformis (the muscle directly under the left buttox, if you need a more graphic picture!) became sore - likely from the act of leaning into the left turns and pushing off hard with my left foot, something that has vexed me previously. As I tell my track athletes, whether you think it so or not, the turns are tough on your body when you are running them hard and fast - and I am proof of that. I cut the workout short as the pain increased, not wanting to further stress the muscle and exacerbate the budding injury.
Then yesterday evening, feeling less sore, I ran a little easier on the streets of Eastport, MD, across the bridge from downtown Annapolis. The company of running partners was great and the conversation let me ignore the still obviously sore piriformis for a few miles. But as we continued, full-on soreness expressed itself. I slowed and then cut the run to 4 miles.
After the workout, at home, I used my Stick (a device for rolling out sore muscles), laid down and rolled on a foam roller and did several stretches designed to elongate the piriformis. The soreness ebbed a bit, but through the night and into today the muscle continues to bother me. I will not run this evening.
So what's the prognosis? Piriformis syndrome can be serious and long lasting, or it can subside rather quickly, especially with reduced running and continued stretching. With 10 days until the Baltimore marathon, my experience suggests it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether I will get to the line feeling 100% ready to run. I will cut back my running and do the stretching and see what comes to pass.
Such is the life of a masters endurance athlete who wants to deny the stresses of hard training and advancing age. The pain (in the butt!) is a not unexpected small price to pay for the joy of running and competing at a high level for so many years. This, too, shall pass.