I’ve been recovering from some foot injuries since the new year, and spent the better part of January and February not running. This was an adjustment, given that last year I ran at least thirty miles every week but one. In a number of ways, it wasn’t fun either. I don’t enjoy working out on a stationary bike or on an elliptical trainer. These were my two most common workouts.
An MRI in late January revealed three problems.
First – I had a stress reaction in my third metatarsal. This is essentially a precursor to a stress fracture, and was the one that concerned me the most. If not allowed to heal, I could have been relegated to crutches, and off of running for months. For this, rest was the recipe.
The second issue was one I knew about already – a Morton’s Neuroma in my second metatarsal. I’d been dealing with this one since recovering from my bike accident. It’s a sometimes painful, sometimes uncomfortable growth, usually resulting from compression due to narrow shoes or footstrike. The treatment can be exercises to extend and strengthen the foot, a dome-shaped insert into your shoe which forces the toes to spread out a bit, cortisone shots, or if none of these other things work – surgery to address the growth on the nerve cluster. I got a dome, and hoped that would help.
The third thing ticked me off, because it’s essentially something I’ll have to live with. I have bursitis in my first and second metatarsal joints. For this, the treatment is to exercise it – to strengthen and increase flexibility. There’s not really a cure per se, but it can be improved.
Okay – so I spent time in the gym and at home working out on stationary equipment for the first two months of the year. Not entirely satisfying. But one of the things I learned during my recovery days in 2008 was that it’s much better to focus on what you can do, verses what you can’t. In fact, this is a great metaphor for life. It focuses your energies on the things that you can control or influence, and tells you to accept or deal with the other stuff. Also worth noting is that this was my first injury since the big one in 2008. And given all the running I was able to do last year, that’s not bad.
Okay – so I began running again last week. First time out, I mixed in five minutes of running with a minute of walking, for about thirty minutes total. My foot hurt a bit, after a couple of running repeats, similar to before I stopped. I was nervous. But I went out again the next day and ran another thirty minutes. This time, I ran in the Kirkland Watershed Park, which has a nice 1.25-1.5 mile loop on nice soft dirt. Aside from dodging a snarling dog, this went pretty well. My legs were a bit tired, my feet a little sore, but not bad. Two days later, I ran about 10k, on the trails nearby my house. I felt some pain after being out about 40 minutes, but continued focusing on a nice, easy pace, low gait, and driving from my hip flexors. The idea was to limit the amount of pounding I was doing on my feet, instead remembering the good advice from Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. This is to run with the land, not just on it. Glide with it.
Well – given that I’m out of practice running, and probably 5-10 pounds over where I want to be, I’m not gliding yet. But I am feeling better about my running. I’m not sweating the pace, and am trying to stay mostly on soft dirt trails. I’m trying to put myself back in the mental space I gave myself when I’d begun running again in December of 2008. I wasn’t able to run fast, or particularly long. But I was totally focused on running for the sake of joy, Getting out and soaking up the fresh air and positivity. This focus and feeling propelled me to doing 11 marathons in just eight months. Powerful and genuine stuff.
I remember a conversation I had with some folks at work recently. One of them is a runner, and has completed a couple of marathons – so we share this crazy hobby. I said that for me what mattered was having something I enjoyed pouring my heart into. It could have been writing or photography. For some people it can be quilting. For my wife, it could be triathlons. For my daughters it could be acting. The common thread is having something that takes you outside of yourself, challenges your perceptions of yourself, and helps you grow in so many ways.
For so many reasons, it feels good to be running again. I’m cautiously optimistic that I can run some distance. I ran yesterday with friends for the first time in a long time too. It felt great.,