Creepy Somatization

And now for a musical interlude: the running song of the week is “Creep” by Radiohead.
“I’m a creep,
I’m a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.”

With five days left before the 2012 Boston Marathon, I suffer from shin pain in the left leg that got worse over the past week when I cut my mileage in preparation of the race. If the problem is really shin splints — as the doctor told me it was several weeks ago — the pain should have abated along with my tapering. It may be once again a case of severe somatization. My brain is so stressed by the race that it’s ordering my body to ail. Or is it my body trying to scare my brain to avoid racing? It’s creepy.
I wrote about my pre-race propensity to somatize two years ago in this blog. In the week ahead of the 2010 Boston marathon, I suffered from toenail and hip pain, as well as a sore throat. In 2006, before the Austin Marathon, it was my right shin: I couldn’t walk a week before the marathon. The pain went away as if by miracle on race day.
I try to reassure myself by rethinking of symptoms before races that went well. The day before the 2011 New York City Marathon (a personal record), my stomach was cramping and I felt weak. The day before a half-marathon in Wilmington three weeks ago (also a personal record), I felt exhausted and my left shin was hurting.
How can I know whether the pain derives from a real problem in my leg, or is just evidence that I’m a weirdo? I try to be rational and evaluate the symptoms: the shin pain is acute at times and very localized — possible signs of a stress fracture. But the pain doesn’t radiate across the bone and the leg doesn’t feel weak, as it would do in case of a stress fracture. And, weirdly, the pain goes away when I run very fast (I guess I know what to do on race day.)

My somatization history shows that I won’t learn any lesson whether I have a great race or do not finish. Mystery ailments have evaporated on race day in the past, and I also know how real injuries feel like because I’ve suffered from so many. But in the days leading to a race, I lose my rational mind and can’t tell them apart.

The only other runner I know who somatizes as badly as I do is my mother, who gets pre-race sore throat and fever: It must be a hereditary disease.

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