Tag Archives: running injuries

Hiatus Interruptus


After my operation about a month ago, I was instructed not to run.

I guess that’s an instruction that your average human might be only too happy to receive, but for me, it was a little like telling a duck not to waddle, or a cat not to chase little red laser-pointer dots, or a leftover lasagna not to go bad in the fridge. Goes completely against nature. But I made the mistake of asking if, after the surgery, I could run, and was told “not until you’re recovered.”

“What’s that mean? How long is that?”

“Well, you’re a healthy guy. So anywhere from 2-4 weeks until you’re up to your full range of normal activities. But don’t overdo it too early or you could end up back in here.”

“When’s too early?”

“You’ll know if you do something you shouldn’t.”

I will?

How will I know? Will I immediately be in terrible pain? Or will it start sore and become awful? Maybe there will be a tearing sound with no pain at all? Can anybody ever really know anything?

So I’ve been in a state of supreme doubt ever since, and out of an abundance of caution, I haven’t run. Jogged a little. Chased my kids around the yard a few times. But no miles.

In six years, I’ve never taken such a long hiatus. Partly that’s out of fear: momentum matters, I know, and when you stop for a long time, like that hulk of an automobile growing weeds through its engine block, it’s hard to start up again. Partly it’s because I never had cause to think I needed to take such a break. And partly it’s because runners seem to be, by rule, dumb and willing to pigheadedly push through pain even when they should stop. And I, as one of my students taught me to say, am sick with that germ.

But I gave it a month. And then I gave it a few more days. Abundance of caution. I’m hardly the picture of youth anymore; I have to play smart, not hard. The goal is not to be the best, it’s to be the best I can be without blowing myself up in the process.

This morning, though, I laced up again. Beautiful morning for it — sixty-five degrees or so. Cloudy. No meteors, but I guess you can’t win ’em all. In what now seems like a sign from the running gods, my GPS watch died within the first minute (of course I could have predicted this; it hadn’t been charged in a month because I hadn’t had to plug it in for a month!). As a result, I wasn’t harried in the least by thoughts of pace or distance for their own sakes.

I just ran, stopping here and there to let the dog sniff in the high grass or to catch my breath and look out for meteors. (Sadly, there were no meteors. I may have mentioned this. I always seem to miss these celestial events. Still sad, hours later.)

I didn’t go as far as I usually do. And I probably didn’t go as fast as usual, either. But heading out this morning was more like knocking a little dust off than it was like pulling weeds out of a carburetor. The month off maybe cost me a few steps, but it didn’t put out the fire.

Better still? Tracing the outline of a shape I already knew, I find myself wanting to write more today than I have in a while. The running helps the writing, and when the running helps the writing, the writing makes me want to run.

Positive feedback loops, not negative ones.

More miles await.

And maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, meteors.


A Seed Corn Is Not What You Think It Is


**Spoiler alert. Runners tend to overshare, and I guess I’m guilty of being a runner who is all-too-willing to overshare. The post below might gross you out, but I have done you the favor of not including pictures.**

Haven’t written about running in a while, and partly that’s because, as I so often lament, there’s only so much you can say about running. But mostly that’s because it hasn’t been enjoyable.

The sardonic ones out there might say, with a guffaw, “WHEN IS RUNNING EVER ENJOYABLE?” And okay, yeah, sure, running is always a struggle, always an exercise (haw) in discomfort on some level.

But the discomfort of late has been above and beyond. Every step driving a tiny little spike into the bottom of my foot. Extra-padded shoes, hardly padded shoes. Ice by the bucket. Ibuprofen by the fistful. Spots of relief here and there, but never for more than a few hours.

Aches and pains come with the territory, but when something persists like this, you start to wonder if something is really wrong. So I took a few days off. Then a week. Then another. And still, every step felt like stepping on gravel.

I always feel awkward going to any sort of doctor. Like, this is my body, I ought to know pretty well what the fargo is going on with it and keep it in good shape well enough to go getting “professional opinions” on it. And going to the doctor for foot pain feels a little like going to the mechanic with a flat tire. Makes me feel dumb, is what I’m saying. Further, there’s always the possibility that when you go to the doctor, the doctor will tell you something is seriously wrong, and that’s not a thing anybody wants to hear. Particularly in this case, going to a foot doctor, I’m always afraid I’m going to hear: you need to stop running. But with a couple of months of pain in the bag and no end in sight, there’s little choice.

I make the appointment to see the podiatrist. But the last thing I want to have happen when I go to the doctor is to have him look at me like I’m an idiot and tell me “well obviously you have a blargle-wargle-gargle and you should’ve wobble-bobble-dobble.” So I research my symptoms. Best I can guess, I’ve got a swollen/pinched nerve in my foot. Incurable outside of surgery or a series of painful injections to literally deaden the nerve. Needles. Scalpels. Walking around on a numb or bandaged foot. Probably taking pills for months because this is America, why wouldn’t they prescribe pills?

I’m dreading the visit.

But I go. He asks me what’s ailing me, and I tell him, and he takes a look at my foot. Pokes, prods.

Doc: “Got a lot of callus built up there.”

Me: “Oh, yeah? Is that normal?”

Doc: “Probably not.”

All of which is said in that I don’t really have to think about it and it’s kind of silly that you did way I was sort of dreading. But he’s a nice guy, he doesn’t let me wallow in my stupid.

Instead, he reaches for a spikey-looking thing that looks like it could easily bring down an elk. Holds it aloft, then looks at the bottom of my foot as if sizing up a kebab for the skewer. I start to hyperventilate.

But it’s not a skewer, it’s a shaver. He starts shaving away at this thing. Flakes of dead skin sort of tinking into a metal tray.

He nods thoughtfully. “Take a look.”

I turn my foot around, peer at the sole like a monkey limbering up for a tree-jaunt. And there, right in the spot that I’ve felt but not seen for months, encased in a dead skin cocoon as it was, is this weird little blue-black speck.

A friend of mine in the third grade stabbed me in the knee with a pencil. Even today, I’ve got this discolored spot just inside the kneecap where (I’m assuming) the graphite sort of inadvertently tattooed the lower layers of the dermis. Blackish-blue and odd, just lurking below the topmost layer of the skin. Not painful, just there, and alien-looking.

This thing in my foot looks like that. And I’m thinking, what the hell is that?

So I say, “what the hell is that?”

Blocked sweat gland, he says. Gland gets plugged — bit of grime or dirt or whatever — and creates this little “core” thingy that irritates and calcifies, not entirely unlike a clam with a pearl. (“Seed corn” is one thing they’re called.) Except this “pearl” eventually becomes basically a rock embedded in the bottom of your foot. Which — no surprise — makes it feel like you’ve got a rock in your shoe, even when you’re not wearing shoes. No big deal — just shave away the dead skin, carve the bugger out, and off you go. Which he does. No X-Rays. No medication regimen. No surgery or impalement with needles. He just works with the elkstopper for another minute or so (I barely feel any of this, of course, it’s all just dead skin and callus) and then says, “all done.”

I twist my foot around again for a look. The speck is gone. In its place is a neat little indentation in the skin, as if a ball bearing had been pressed permanently into a memory foam mattress. I might feel a little discomfort for a day or so, he tells me, but nothing to what I’ve been feeling. Just the aftereffects of the tissue straightening itself out now that the obstruction is gone. He prescribes some ointment. (Breastfeeding nipple-chafe cream, it turns out, to help heal up the skin he had to shave away at. Seriously. My wife got a kick out of that.)

Still a little disbelieving, I ease myself down from the table (I’ve trained myself to ease onto my feet in every situation of late). Test my weight.

It doesn’t hurt. I try a few steps. Nothing. Dreamlike, I walk out of the office like I’m walking on bubble wrap. I stop at the store on the way home to buy some breastfeeding cream and spend the entire trip wondering at the fact that I’m walking pain-free for the first time in months. I get home and kick my shoes off, walking around barefoot on the hardwood and not having to step gingerly (I’d taken to wearing shoes or thick socks indoors like some kind of leper).

And because I’m an idiot, and there’s no sense not diving headlong into recovery, I lace up and go for a run the next morning. And it still doesn’t hurt.

It’s wild how we can become accustomed to the burdens we don’t realize we’re carrying. This tiny little speck had me walking like a man afraid to wake a sleeping baby (and I know a little bit about that). It made me give up running long enough to get good and cranky and feeling sluggish. It made me uncomfortable in my own home. I have to wonder if the speck wasn’t, in its own tiny way, responsible for a share of my writing misery of late: keeping me off balance, unable to relax, just sort of generally-being-off-kilter.

But all it took to fix it was five minutes and an elk-stopping harpoon. (Okay, it was probably just a tiny little scalpel.)

There’s a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, but I’m too busy walking on air (almost literally) to think of it.

 


Heeling / Healing


It’s no secret that my blarg is about as focused as a toddler with ADD. I write about what occurs to me, and while that’s usually writing, occasionally I stray into the muddier waters of product and television reviews, or sometimes into the less-muddy, more-poopy waters of parenting, and still other times into the not-so-muddy-at-all but rather likely totally uninteresting waters of my personal fitness.

I can’t help but wonder if my blog might garner more views if I chose a focus and stuck to it. Then again, I phrase a doubt like that and then the Ego-Writer chimes in and reminds me that on a personal and intellectual level, I don’t really give a sharknado about my views and follows and likes and all that other crap. So what if my drivel reaches ten people, or a hundred, or a thousand? (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t.) It’s all so many droplets in the ocean, so many swirling grains of silica in a desert sandstorm.

I don’t care about views really; I care about giving vent and voice to what’s on my mind, so LindaGHill’s stream-of-consciousness prompt for this weekend is timely. It’s heal/heel, which is funny, because this week I’ve been particularly concerned with the healing of my heel.

No, really. Back in the early days of this blarg, I tweaked something in my left heel, and since then I’ve had a long road of injuries culminating in a similar but entirely different and more treatment-resistant issue with my right heel. Maybe it was my Vibrams, maybe it was the fact that I pushed up too quickly after my injury, but my feet have been fargoed for a while, and I’ve had enough of it.

Now, when I’ve had enough of feeling unproductive on my book, I can force myself to sit down and work on it. When I’ve had enough of being behind at work, I can sit down and grade until my fingers curl up like burned spiders and get caught up. When I’m feeling too much like a sloth, I can haul my blubbery self out for a run or a workout. When I feel like I’ve had one too many chili dogs (okay, I don’t eat chili dogs, but feel free to insert slices of pizza or cheeseburgers or scoops of ice cream) I can starve myself the next day. I can fix most problems of excess by realizing the excess and shutting it down. Not so much this excess of pain.

I shouldn’t say excess, though. Since visiting the podiatrist back in October (I think) I’ve had varying levels of discomfort, but nothing that could really qualify as pain. I get tweaks and twinges and aches, but nothing that keeps me from walking around, nothing that keeps me from getting out for a run, nothing that I wouldn’t feel silly classifying as “pain.” That said, even on the best of days, I’m aware that all is not right with my heel; it’s always there, nagging at the edge of my consciousness like a burn on the roof of your mouth or that faint whiff of baby poop whenever I pass my hand in front of my face. (Seriously, I washed my hands MULTIPLE times, where is it COMING FROM??) It just won’t go away.

It’s so persistent, now — I’ve been dealing with some level of this ache in my foot for the past six months now — that I’m wondering if it’s not just something I have to live with. Like, I’m almost 35… well past the time when I could, for example, sprain the sharknado out of my ankle, then eat nothing but Cap’n Crunch and occasionally rub a piece of ice on the affected area and bounce back like the goldfingered rubber band man. I want to believe that I can shake this off, but I’m starting to wonder. I’ve been afflicted with this thing for quite a while… so long it’s just starting to feel normal, which frankly is not something I’m okay with.

I think it’s doubly frustrating because I’ve been redoubling my efforts at fitness in other areas and I’m making strides at a ridiculous rate. I’m pushing up my reps and my difficulties. I’m doing a ton of extra walking (my wife is partly to blame for that, since we compete now with our little step-tracking-gizmos. “Compete” is the wrong word. She stomps me in this “competition” every day). I’m losing weight again, faster than I have any right to. All of which is fantastic.

But I can’t shake this thing with my heel.

It’s troubling. Partly because I feel like my ability to run regularly and for long distances has kind of become part of my identity, even though I’ve only been doing it for three years. Partly because I feel like just about every challenge I set for myself lately, no matter how insurmountable it seems at first, feels like little more than a speedbump as I coast past it. I mean… in the past year alone, I decided to write a novel, and I finished a first draft in less than six months. I gave up sodas over the space of three or four weeks. But I can’t overcome this thing with my heel.

Tomorrow’s another long run. If form holds, the heel will feel shaky as hell for the first half mile, then loosen up and feel great for three or four or maybe five miles, then tighten up as I head into mile six and seven.

I really don’t know how to end this post. I usually like to end with some sort of turn toward optimism or at least some cheeky snide aside, but all I can muster on the issue is doubt. This issue is such a small issue in the scheme of things, but it’s still hanging over my head like a set of particularly heavy storm clouds after so many months.

Anyway… this post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


%d bloggers like this: