Last week I found myself on the torture table; on the slab of punishment; the table of terror; I was asked to endure and participate in this torture -
The journey to this point began just before Thanksgiving. After a fairly uneventful running season which included 14 races over a 7 month period, something crept up. Well, really is just jumped me when I was looking the other way. Just one more race to go and then the "off-season" would bring lighter training and mental recovery, but I just needed to get that last race in. It was our sweet Turkey Trot 4 miler and it didn't need to be the race of my life; it just needed to be a race. A few days before the Turkey Trot, a sharp pain began to nag in the infamous right side, void of my ankle. Surely it was nothing so I put in a few gym workouts and laid off the run until the morning of the race. I let the warm-up dictate how I would approach the race. If there was still pain, I'd hold back a bit; if I felt fine, I'd push it. One mile into the warm-up things looked promising as there was not much discomfort, and bit of a relaxed spring to my stride. However, the next half mile revealed that indeed things were not fine. The pain increased, became sharp and stinging, undefined, radiating, moving about my ankle. Then came the mental struggle. What do I do? Run the race anyway? Was there any point at all to do that, no. But still, surely I can push my butt and drag my leg 4 miles. I already paid, picked up my t-shirt, pinned on the number, carefully selected the outfit. Jordan, my 17 year old son looks at me and bravely suggests, "Mom. You shouldn't run the race. If you run and hurt yourself you might not ever be able to run again." Blink blink. Think, ponder. I think I'll race anyway. After stretching for a long time, trying to find the right area to focus on, I rose again to do my final preparation of strides and drills. Five steps into the stride, my body informed me that I would NOT be doing the Turkey Trot this year. I actually couldn't even run. The pain was so intense, so unreasonably cruel. Why now? Resigned to the inevitable, I dealt with it, put it away and decided to cheer for the 900 others that were able to do the race, including my husband (whom I love to cheer for). But the dread and disappointment was hard to shake, and it lingered.
So I was sentenced to the wretched gym workouts again, day after day. As the air grew colder outside, I decided it wasn't such a bad thing. I would have been doing this anyway. It was my plan to hit the cross-training anyway. I just didn't like the fact that it was again thrust upon me rather than being on my terms. And there was the added lurking fear that something was really wrong and I was looking at another year of rehab'ing a stupid running injury. How many sidelines would I be sitting on this time around?
My visits to my sports Doc increased and he did his magic, and I didn't run. However, every week I gave it a go on the treadmill to see if things were getting better. Every time I strode slowly on the treadmill, about 1 mile into it, the "sharp, burning, impossible to endure, non-descript" pain hit me and I rolled to a stop in frustration. Week after week for 4 long weeks I refrained from doing anything to aggravate the area and my visits to the Doc continued. I was beginning to get desperate and was considering that I might need an MRI. No matter how much therapy I got and no matter how much I laid off running, it did not improve, and in fact got worse. Whereas it was taking about a mile before the pain hit, how it came after 1/4 of a mile.
One Friday night, just before Christmas, I set aside another "trial" to see if I could run without the stabbing ice pick doing a tattoo on my ankle. I should have known something was even more "not right" than usual because the area had become increasingly "tight" in feel, even when I walked. But ... you know ... I needed to give it a go. The first step hurt, with an immediate stab of pain, burning, radiating, sharp pain and a sense of something pulling inside. I jogged on to see if it would improve as I warmed up and I tried to move my foot in different ways and land differently, but no matter what I tried, indeed it got worse. How can this be after such a lay off and so much work to get it resolved. I sat by the track, and dropped to the ground to stretch and to probe and try to pinpoint what hurt. There was no area that hurt to the touch, no swelling, nothing notably tight. After a stretch I decided I'd just push through it and jog a few laps. No more than 10 steps later, probably fewer, in an excruciating burst of pain, something literally "popped" or pulled away, or gave way. I couldn't tell which but when it happened I knew "something" just happened. I assumed my Achilles ruptured but as I dragged myself back around the curve to my stretching spot, I thought about how my Achilles has not been the issue this time, so why would it rupture? I sat down, and as the pain subsided I dug my fingers into my ankle and the tendons and muscle all around it trying to feel what just happened. My Achilles was still fully intact and not at all sore or painful. Still there was no swelling - that was a relief, but there was a significant radiation of pain when I pressed my toes against my hand. I was pretty sure it was time for an MRI, but my doctor was out of town for Christmas so I didn't want to do anything until I checked with him.
In the meantime, I was sore for days but I continued to hit the gym to keep my fitness and my mind in check. The first thing I began to notice as I emerged from this fog of soreness was that the tightness I had been feeling was gone. Another week of cross-training in the gym passed by. Hello stinky people, noisy equipment, stale air. I wanted out of the gym and the more I wanted it the more I became afraid to test out my nimble, fragile leg on the treadmill.
Enter ... Hoka. You know Hoka. As in Hoka One One. As in Hoka One One Bondi. The overstuffed lightweight training shoe that is raved about by the Ultra-running community. I don't think it's caught on that much yet with us road-runners, but I began researching the shoe. I needed pillows to run on and if I was going to test my nimble, fragile leg on a run, I didn't want to do it in the same shoes that I was using when I incurred the injury. So. I read, and read, and read about the Hoka. I read reviews, I read stats, I watched videos and I had a runner friend against whom I bounced the idea. His reply - I am on my third pair of Hokas. Love them. Plain and simple.
They are not cheap shoes. Thank you, thank you Santa Barbara Running, for donating gift certificates to the Santa Barbara Grand Prix. Without that generous prize, these shoes might have been out of reach.
As soon as I could after Christmas, I went to SB Running and nabbed a pair of Hoka One One Bondi B Low road running model shoes. I had to test them out on the treadmill before purchasing them of course so I was now going to once again test out my nimble, fragile leg as well. The first few steps on the treadmill were exactly what I was hoping for. I was running on pillows that were as light as fluffy, puffy clouds. My foot strike sunk into the shoe and it took the impact that my foot usually takes. The shoe flexed easily, was freakishly light, encouraged proper foot strike and was literally mind blowing. I was so taken by the feel of the shoe that I forgot to notice that I was running and not having an ice pick hacking away at my ankle. I'm running on the treadmill and it hardly hurts!
In hinds sight, it was determined that I had a nerve, a significant nerve, impinged in my heel/ankle. My doctor continued to work on the tight muscles that could have been the culprit, but it was now improving since on that fateful day before Christmas when something "popped," the reality was that the nerve was finally released. And healing began.
So, with my new Hokas in one hand and my ability to finally get out of the gym and into the fresh air to run in the other hand, my son Ryan and I hit the city college to do stadium steps. It was the stadium steps that landed me on the slab of torture that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
With tight, sore hamstrings and a doctor determined to not let the nerve become impinged again, he informed me that I wasn't going to be too happy today. You know what ART is? He does that, he invented that. So I endured and even participated in my own torture as I had to move my leg back and forth while he applied ... um ... pressure. It's like purposefully keeping your hand in a flame, or repeatedly kicking your shin bone against a piece of sharp metal. But it was magic.
For me it's hard to write about running when you can't do it. As I write this, I am running again and feeling just fine now. The healed and released nerve is part of the blessing, and the new shoes are the other part. I believe that Hokas were made for me, and are made for anyone who has to spend so many miles on hard surfaces.
I'm finally able to look at the Spring and plan the races I will do. This year will also include some triathlons so I am enjoying great bike rides with the SB tri club as part of my ongoing cross-training regimen and also am looking forward to the Carlsbad 5000 which I haven't been able to do for several years. But this year it's going to happen. John and I are populating our calendar with our race plans and it just feels good and right and I am not looking ahead with hesitation and having to wonder if I will be healed by then. I am healed now.