What’s a Runner Who Doesn’t Run?

I’ve been to see the podiatrist for the second time this year.

It’s odd how much I’ve grown into the label of a runner over the last three years, but this year has been instructive. My non-running time has added up to be almost as much as my running-enabled time, and even when I have been able to run, it’s been in a severely diminished capacity from where I was last year at this time. That being said, my first trip to the podiatrist was encouraging. The doctor saw the inflammation on my x-ray, gave me a local treatment, a stretching regimen, an icing regimen, and seemed pretty confident that a) he’d identified the problem and b) would be able to solve it. And he was right — the tweakiness in my left foot is virtually gone, less some tightness in the morning.

My second visit has only been frustrating.

Nothing to show on the x-ray, which he says is a good thing, but it also means that the cause and source of the pain are harder to identify. He poked and prodded at my Achilles a bit and said that while he can definitely pinpoint the location of the injury, he can’t really tell what’s going on. Sometimes, he said, the Achilles can tear (if in the case of a violent and acute injury — like I stepped in a pothole and hyperextended the thing) or almost “fray” (from simple overuse… also, the idea of a tendon “fraying” is enough to send me scrabbling up the walls to throw up in my mouth). But he sees no sign of any of that sort of damage. No local treatment this time, since he can’t be sure what’s causing the pain. Just a renewal of some anti-inflammatory meds (which I’m almost convinced are just sugar tablets at this point), a heel insert for my shoe (to take some of the “pressure” off the tendon, with the added side benefit of making me feel positively geriatric), and an appointment to come back in three weeks to reassess.

I asked him if I need to think about giving up running for a while. I’m not sure if he heard the trepidation in my voice and didn’t want to crush me or if he’s genuine, but he said to just give it a week and then go out for a slow, short run… with the shoe insert. Which I’m sure is going to feel like I’m running in platform heels. So I’m going to try going for a run on Saturday, which will be my first in a month (minus the test run which I cut short less than a quarter-mile from my front door a week and a half ago). But I have to confess I’m not optimistic. Something in my gut is telling me that my feet need a hard reset; that I need to take a few solid months off to give the old peds time to shake off whatever’s ailing them, and spend the meantime tiptoeing around them and not stressing them out too badly (in much the same way my wife and I lightfoot it past the kids’ bedrooms when they’re falling into a tenuous sleep).

What am I going to do if I can’t run?