Running from the Hard Stuff

I don’t do running posts here so much anymore. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing (probably an indifferent thing ultimately), but every time I find myself writing about running I find myself wondering how much can really be said.

It’s a run. You put one foot in front of the other until you’ve had enough or until you can’t any longer, and um… that’s pretty much it.

That said, even given the understanding (and it is my constant position) that every run is a good run, yesterday’s was a bit better than average. It’s been a long time since I had a run without any pain — ball-of-the-foot pain, ankle pain, bottom-of-the-heel pain, back-of-the-heel pain — and as a result I’ve approached every run for the past three weeks (following a month off) with a fair amount of trepidation. Fear that my feet are still jacked up and will therefore screw up the run, fear that I’ll do further damage to my feet and screw up any future runs, fear that while taking it easy to avoid exacerbating my existing injuries I’ll stumble into some other entirely new injury.

But, see, there I go, taking a thing that’s incredibly specific and realizing that it’s a lot bigger than I thought. Running in fear of injury has me going slower than ever and heading out on shorter distances than I’ve run since I got started two and a half years ago. And yes, I’ve been successful in avoiding injury that way, but I also feel as if I’m not accomplishing much, either. Rather like a tightrope walker doing practice runs on a line just a foot off the ground. Sure, they’re good for fundamentals and building confidence, but sooner or later you have to go and climb the building again, man.

With that in mind, and after a quick little jaunt on Saturday with no ill effects, I set out for a five mile stint yesterday and allowed myself to go as fast as I liked, rather than reigning myself in like I’ve done for the last three weeks. I wasn’t setting speed records or anything, but I got my pace under ten minutes per mile, which is about a full minute per mile ahead of my pace on any other run I’ve had of late, and about the fastest I’ve gone since all my injuries started. Five miles later, the feet are tight and sore, but not showing any pangs of injury, and here a day later, they’re still showing all clear. That’s room for hope that my injuries may finally be on the ropes.

But where was I? Right. Jumping to conclusions and making metaphors out of molehills. Because I wonder if, not unlike the way I’ve been babying my injury of late, I’ve not been babying my edit of late as well. Shying away from the hard work. Giving myself overlarge pats on the back for accomplishments that really aren’t so grand. Simply pacing back and forth on a line one foot off the ground. I tell myself that I’ve got lots of time ahead, what with the holidays coming up, to make progress on the edit, and I’ve been using that as an excuse to let the hard work at hand slide. I tell myself that I cleared a ridiculously high hurdle and earned a bit of a step back from banging my head against the wall, and now I feel my momentum slipping away. Taking the easy way out.

Back when I started the first draft of the novel, I set what I thought was an ambitious goal for finishing the thing, and I shattered it into thousands of sparkling shards, finishing almost a month ahead of schedule. Then I set a deadline for my first edit, not knowing what the process would be or whether the goal was reasonable at all, and it looks like I’m not even almost going to make that goal. Now, to be fair, the beast has shifted and changed form and whereas I thought I was facing down a steaming, stomping minotaur, I’m actually battling a winged harpy that screeches and attacks from all angles, so I’m not mad at myself for taking more time than I thought I might. Still, if I’m honest, it’s sliding on me. The Grinch’s sleigh sliding inevitably down the mountainside as he clings hopelessly to the rails.

Well, the run can often be instructive, and this weekend’s run is telling me that it’s time to stop handicapping myself, stop shying away from the thing that’s difficult and do it because it’s difficult. My feet are healed (or at least healing) and ready to carry me back to longer distances and faster paces. As for the edit, I think I’ve enjoyed my tiny victory enough; it’s time to face the harpy and buckle back down to work.

Baby Steps Don’t Fargo Up My Feet

I think there’s little as frustrating to somebody who’s been productive as the inability to produce at the level you know you’re capable of.

Okay, that’s vague as anything. Specifically, I’m talking about running. If you follow, you may know that this has been a year plagued with injury for me. First one foot, then the other; the soles, then the ankles, then the heels, until I start to wonder if I’m not so much doing damage to myself as my body has simply passed its sell-by date and is withering and falling apart like a bunch of rotted grapes.

But I’ve been to the doctor, and the doctor said to give running a try again, so run I did. And I’ve gone on two runs now, my first in a month (which honestly felt like an entire season, given all the crazies I was stirring during that month). And they’ve been okay. There’s tightness and there’s uncertainty, but no pain. Such an astounding lack of pain, in fact, that I’m having all the delusions of grandeur that accompany a return to form: “maybe it’s not so bad. I can do another mile!” or “this isn’t so bad. I can go faster!” And while I almost certainly could do those things, that would almost certainly be the most direct route back to injury.

So I am tempering the glee that comes with being able to run without crippling pain by forcing myself to take it slow, listen to my feet, and make sure that I don’t rush myself right back into the podiatrist’s office again.  But taking it slow is an agony. My body chemistry has changed over the last three years, to the point where the run satisfies something like hunger in my brain, and like an alcoholic feeling the pull of a perfectly mixed gin and tonic, I’ve got the scent of these last couple of runs in my bones. The chill bite of the fall air in my lungs, the regular tap of my feet on the pavement, the ebbing drone in my mind as my focus slips away and I embrace the calm.

My wife and I are signed up for a race in a week and a half, and I may actually be able to run at least a portion of it with her. We’ve signed up for another in January. I won’t be running my farthest distances or my fastest paces by any stretch, but I’m pretty confident that simply being out there will be enough. For now, it’s time to suck it up and accept that it’s not the time to run fast or far, and appreciate the fact that I can run at all.

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?

Modern Medicine is Magic (a running post in which you can see the inside of my foot and it looks like a horror movie)

So I’m a runner.

I caught this disease almost two years ago (no, it was earlier than that, but I date it from my first race which was on Cinco de Mayo, a “holiday” whose legitimacy it is not the goal of this blarg to explore) and have since embraced it, the way Rainman kinda leans into the skid and accepts that while he may never be a dashing, smooth-talking ladies man, hey, he can count the balls off some beans.

That is to say, running is not the best of hobbies to have.

Let me clarify that.  I call it a hobby because in a lot of ways it’s no longer about the exercise, it’s about the meditation, the focus it brings, and yeah, let’s be fair, it’s still in no small part about the exercise, but let’s push that aside for now, I’m going somewhere here.  Yes, hobby.  A hobby is something you enjoy doing, something that eats up a (often unhealthily [yes, unhealthily, shut up]) disproportionate amount of your time (money, thought, money, sense of a well-rounded life, money…), and as I’ve mentioned before, for a sport that professes to be about simplicity and an escape from big gyms and monthly fees and expensive equipment, you can drop a fargoing bundle on running gear. And it’s not the best of hobbies to have because it becomes difficult, when you have a (growing) family and a (beyond) full-time job and, let’s not forget, I also just took up capital-w Writing as another hobby (because I have time for that like I have hair on my head [spoiler alert: the key word is “shortage”]), to make time for Everything Which Must Be Accomplished Today.  Less so when you start out and it’s a twenty- to thirty-minute jaunt here and there, more so when you really lose your mind and begin running for nearly an hour at a time four or five times a week, and two hours on the weekend (because daddy needs his long run, no I don’t have a problem just GIVE ME THAT LONG RUN).

Anyway, there’s a problem with running and it’s this:

Dondraper it, let me try again.  There are some problems with running, and one of them is this:

Nope, still not there.

Running is a problem.

Here’s one reason.  We’re built to run, sure, great, fantastic.  The body and its legion of interconnected systems combine to make humans one of the kings of distance runners on our little blue slice of life.  However, most of us lazy Americans don’t give running a try until we’re old enough to know better.  Our lives of leisure and sedentary work and Law-and-Order marathons have caused those finely tuned systems to atrophy.  So we jump into running, and it hurts.  It fargoing HURTS.  Blisters, shin splints, sun burn, broken toenails, bloody nipples, ALL of these things can happen, sometimes within your first few steps out the door.  And a lot of people try it for a week and it hurts TOO DONDRAPER MUCH and they quit.  Hard to fault them.  Others think, “hey, this hurts, but it’s kind of awesome too,” and they keep at it.

Now, the body adapts fast.  It builds up resilience quickly.  And as any runner who makes it past, say , three months (I just made that figure up, but let’s go with it because this is my house) will tell you, once you get to the point where you can run a few miles, the rest is mental.  So if you didn’t drop out when it started hurting (which was immediately), you’re unlikely to drop out barring serious injury, and you’ll keep pushing up the mileage and the duration and you’ll find yourself smashing through your own boundaries and personal achievement and yay yay yay I’m awesome, running is awesome, the world is awesome, yay running.

Problem is, running is not like other sports.  You don’t take spikes to the knee making a tag at second, you don’t get a three-hundred pound linebacker smashing your brains into mush on every snap, you don’t take ice skates to the teeth when the puck does the thing with the hockey implements.  Okay, I don’t know a lot about hockey injuries, but I HAVE AN IMAGINATION AND ICE SKATES ARE DANGEROUS AND THOSE GUYS ARE BIG AND FAST.  Running injuries are subtle.  Like a fine wine (except that they crush your soul rather than bringing sweet, sweet music into it), running injuries develop over time.  Figure a conservative 1000 strides per mile times an average of 4 miles per run (my average in 2013)  times let’s just say I ran every other day last year and that’s a Holy Sharknado lot of steps you’ve taken, each one magnifying the entropy that your thirty-year old (indulge me) frame has slid into over the past YOUR WHOLE LIFE of not doing anything active outside of an occasional game of yard football.

So, my feet hurt.  And they finally hurt badly enough and longly enough (yep) for me to go see a doctor.

X-rays, poking and prodding, lots of questions.

Turns out that while I have no structural deficiencies (no broken bones or heel spurs or stress fractures or duck-feet), I do have a mild form of plantar fasciitis.  The phrase the doctor used was “you have a high arch, but your foot is behaving as if your arch is flat.”  I asked him what the haberdashery that meant, and he responded with words that may have been answers, but I still have no idea what he actually said.  Basically, I think what he said is that because I have healthy feet and because I have good running form, I’m overworking the plantar fascia (the tendons along the underside of the foot) and then they recede and shrink up like your business in a cold pool when I go to sleep at night, then they get extra stretched out again when I run again, wash, rinse, repeat.  (Healthy feet + good form, then, equals injury.  THIS IS RUNNING.)

The treatment?  Stretch it and ice it.  Seriously, that’s it.  He gave me a cortisone shot (I’ll come back to that) and some pills to take if I have more pain (the pills may cause a slight evacuation of my stomach contents, so, you know, USE SPARINGLY) and a see-you-in-a-month.

Two things bear mentioning from my little visit with my healthcare professional.

First, x-rays.

wpid-imag0945.jpgThose are goldfinger alien appendages.  Seriously.  From the above angle they look like the long, taloned claws of the grim-reaper dunked in phosphorescent goo (and, by the way, look at the big bone [the tarsal?  Go science yourself] just below the “toe joints” [yeah, SCIENCE] and tell me those don’t look like demonic slitted eyes gazing into your soul.  SERIOUSLY WHAT ARE THOSE).  And then…


If you’ve seen the first thirty seconds of Terminator 2, I need say no more.  If not, what are you doing here?  Go watch it.  Anyway, that’s a fargoing cyborg death-claw-foot, not a human extremity.

Second, the shot.  We’ve all had them.  Shot in the arm; if the doctor likes you he’ll tell you an amusing anecdote about fly fishing or his fourth-grader’s art project and you’ll be so bored you won’t even notice the needle sliding in, and then it’s over.  Dentist shots aren’t so quick or painless but at least you can’t see it happening so there’s that.

A cortisone shot is different.  First of all, the needle is longer than anything piercing your skin has any right to be.  My stomach did a backflip as soon as he uncorked the thing and I was literally unable to look away from it; all I could think was how it could possibly penetrate my flesh that much without causing searing, blinding pain.  The doc assures me that he’ll freeze the skin and I won’t feel anything except a little pulling.  Okay, sure, but I still can’t take my eyes off the thing.  He sprays a stream of this liquid at my heel and it feels like I’ve dunked the thing in a supercooled ice bath; the needle goes in and sure enough, I feel nothing.  But I see it.  The needle goes in and in and in, like a snake down a drain.  (Real or plumber’s, you decide!)  Then it stops, and he begins to depress the plunger.

Emptying the syringe takes him at least a minute.  Part of it’s because he’s deliberately going slow, which he explains is to allow the medicine to empty into the tissue without displacing things too rapidly, which would cause serious pain and discomfort.  The other part is that, its, uh, payload is dramatically big.  Again, all I have for reference are those doctor’s office inoculations, so maybe my scale is broken like the pollen count mechanism here in Georgia… but I won’t get sidetracked on that (tonight!).  3 ccs, he says.  Anyway, he’s sitting there pushing this clear fluid into the side of my heel and my eyes are just frozen to it like a five year old’s tongue to a light pole in winter, and I keep saying “uh huh, right, sure” to whatever he says in his reassuring voice.  It goes on too long, and my skin looks like one of those closeups of water that you see where the surface isn’t broken, it’s lifting up and sticking to the sides of the straw or string or whatever’s stuck in it, and I’m thinking of all that fluid oozing into my heel and oh my god, where is all that stuff going, it’s not my bloodstream because that’s not the point, and I feel myself getting dizzy.

Lunch almost comes up, but just like that, it’s over, the swordfish spike comes out of my heel, and he’s wiping it off with alcohol.  “All done,” he says, and I ask the question I’ve been afraid to ask because I’m somehow certain the answer will be no: “can I keep running?”

He laughs a little.  “Oh, sure.  I mean, don’t go running six miles on it tonight or anything, but you can return to your regular activities in a day or two.  Just keep stretching and icing.  Now the nurse will come in for your ultrasound.”

Thank crikey.  Wait, what?

The nurse comes in with this wand which makes no sound, not least of all ultra (okay, I apologize to the readers for the horribleness of that joke, but no, I’m not taking it back).  She slathers it with goop and rubs it all over my heel and the back part of the bottom of my foot for a good five minutes, explaining that this will distribute the cortisone all throughout the soft tissues of my foot.  Small talk about our kids (being a parent somehow makes small talk in odd situations so much easier than it ever was in the years BS (before sprout).  Then she’s done, she packs it all up, and sends me on my way, telling me to be careful the rest of the day and not take part in any strenuous physical activity because my foot is going to feel a little numb.

That clear fluid from the syringe, the cortisone, is made of fairy tears or unicorn pee or something.  I put my heels to the ground and feel nothing but a dull tingling in my ENTIRE left foot, like I’d sat on it funny for an hour and it has that pins-and-needles thing going on.  This feeling lasted for the entire rest of the day.  No pain, just that bizarre, stars-exploding-in-my-nerve-endings kind of feeling every time I take a step.

I wake up this morning and the sharp pain I’m used to feeling in my heel on my first steps of the day is just gone.  I rouse the sprout (okay, he was already roused and chasing his toy dinosaurs around his room) and take him downstairs – the stairs that usually intensify the pain in the heel, and again – nothing.

I won’t be running on it again today, but hopefully before school’s back in, I can take it for a spin and see how it’s doing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: modern medicine is magic.  I learned this firsthand when my son was born with half his insides on the outside, and I’ve learned it again since this doctor was able to pull the evil out of my heel like sucking up milk through a straw.

I don’t always blarg about running…

More work on the Project, more stumbling blocks, more throatpunches for the stumbling blocks.

I don’t pity Future Me when he comes back around to the words I got down today.  I went back and forth several times during the writing trying to decide whether I wanted the scene to be set in one place or another, whether or not I wanted a certain character to be present, whether whole swathes of exposition should be there at all… yeah, today’s draft is basically a thornbush of dubious dialogue and confusing directions to my Future Self.  “SOME TIME PASSES” and “PROBABLY GOING TO WANT TO CUT THIS” and “WHOOPS NEED TO DO THIS SOONER” are just a few of the notes scribbled in blood in the margins.  Okay, not scribbled in blood, but only because KEYBOARDS DON’T BLEED.  The id-writer had no patience today for sorting through things, and with good reason: I find myself mired in a scene that probably went on for too long.  It gives a lot of exposition which I feel is useful for me but not necessarily useful for any hypothetical reader; information that is probably better discovered scrawled on the cliff face as you hurtle downward past it toward the rocks.

Maybe that was a bit too stream-of-consciousness to make sense.  Can’t question it.  Today is a day for progress.

Anyway, I got the requisite 900 words (953 to be exact) but I’m not quite satisfied, so I will probably go back to it later.  In the meantime:

A post about running!

I don’t always blarg about running, because for the most part, there isn’t that much to say.  I mean, sure, every run is a good run, and every run is a revelation of the air in your lungs and the majesty of nature and the dodging of traffic and blah blah blah.  But you can only write about that so many times before it all sounds like so much whooshing in the ears.  So when I write about running, I try to have something specific to say.

My running has been in the ditch this year, and that could be more literal only if I had actually fallen into a ditch.  In January I suffered a horrific illness which kept me bedridden for days followed by a truly unpleasant foot injury (I snagged it on a nail in the back porch) which had me hobbling for weeks.  My wife would want me to point out why I was barefoot on the back porch in the dead of winter in the dark, and I would point out that every story needs a little mystery.  (I was peeing to save water vis-a-vis not flushing the toilet.  This made perfect sense to me at the time.  It was a weird month.)  GOLDFINGER IT.

So that was January, and in proper tolerate-no-weakness, progress-or-death fashion I went right back out and attempted to run way more than I should have as soon as the foot was even functional again.  Because I had to make up for lost time, right???  SO I INJURED IT AGAIN.  This time it’s a lot less obvious what the nature of the hurt is — something in the heel, probably a strain or a sprain or plantar fasciitis or I don’t know I’m not a fargoing podiatrist.

Whatever it is is (yes, “is is” is sometimes correct, holy Sharknado I just blew my mind by writing “is is” is and it was STILL correct) bad enough that I’ve scheduled a meeting with a podiatrist in two weeks.  I’ve been to the doctor’s office for my own discomfort exactly twice in my life (that I can recall.  And if I can’t recall it, it didn’t happen.  I think that sounds like a good rule).  Both times were for what eventually turned out to be kidney stones.  You know, only EXCRUCIATING AND BRAIN-CHOKING PAIN, the kind of pain that makes you wish you could literally disconnect your head from your body for a while to make the pain stop.

This pain is not that bad, but it’s gone on long enough that it’s time to acknowledge that there may be something actually wrong.

But here’s why I’m stupid.  (Really, I should be writing, here’s why I’m stupid IN THE HERE AND NOW OF THIS MOMENT TODAY.)  I am doing the classic guy thing: “naw, it’s fine, rub some dirt on it, no problem” in that I have started running again regardless.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not out there gritting my teeth and fighting back tears at every step.  In fact, when I run, the pain for the most part goes away.  It’s later in the day, after I’ve been sitting or walking around, you know, NOT RUNNING, that it starts to hurt.  So I have logicked for myself that it can’t be an issue of actual damage (elsewise it would surely hurt all the time, I mean, that makes SENSE, right?) and must therefore be something more like a strain (some muscle or other gets stretched out and relaxed during activity, then tightens up like a piano wire afterward).  This makes sense to my lizard brain and is how I’m justifying continuing to run.

We will see in a few weeks whether it’s actually fine or whether I’ve destroyed my feet beyond repair like Kathy Bates in Misery.  (Pardon me while I throw up in my mouth a little bit.)  So far it’s fine.  But therein lies the problem.  I convinced myself that it’s not so bad; that I can continue to run.

Let me detour to reiterate a fundamental truth that I believe to be true.  THERE IS SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY BROKEN ABOUT RUNNERS.  Bear in mind, I’m talking about capital-R RUNNERS.  Ask the average person if they’d like to go out for a run, and they are likely to say anything from “No” to “Get bent” to nothing at all in favor of a speedy shin-kick.  Ask a Runner, however, and the answer will be something like “Hey, yeah, I could go for three or four or five miles, I mean I ran this morning but I could use a few more today, in fact why don’t I run from my house to yours so that I can make it an even 10?”  We are messed up, and I fully own belonging to that group.  Card-carrier.  Except we don’t have cards, we have dirty socks and worn-out shoes.

And yes, I’ve read the articles and some books and the studies that show that humans are basically custom-built to run long distances, and I buy most of it.  THAT DOES NOT EXCUSE THE BEHAVIOR.  What kind of an idiot convinces himself that he’s not really hurt so that he can engage in the activity which probably injured him in the first place — an activity, by the way, which is utilized as punishment in VIRTUALLY EVERY OTHER SPORT.  It’s like that parasite that takes over an ant’s brain and forces it to camp out on a blade of grass for the sole purpose of getting eaten so that the parasite can end up in a cow’s digestive tract.  (This is a real thing, I read it on The Oatmeal.)  There’s some similar parasite that infects the brains of normal humans and causes them to think it’s a good idea to run for hours and hours and hours every week.  I’m convinced of it.

So I’m injured and finding ways to run despite the injury.  Such, it seems, is life.  I’m doing it smarter this time than I did back in February; taking nice short distances, going at what feels like a snail’s pace.  So far, it’s working, though it’s tortuous reigning myself in when my brain is constantly whispering go faster, go farther, you’re a wimp, GO GO GO.  But I’m determined to make a positive out of it, and here’s another thing I’ve convinced myself of.  While my physical self has suffered, my metaphysical self has grown. While my body is waning, my mind is waxing, and while my running has been pathetic of late, my writing has been prolific.  The trick will be to keep the two balanced as I (hopefully) bring my physical self back up to speed (oh no, the running puns are starting again, HIDE).  Hopefully there’s enough wax to go around.

+2 points for the continued metaphor, but -10 because… ew.