Too Much. Too Soon.

Now that summer’s coming to an end, I guess it’s about time for me to write the post I’ve been dreading for weeks.   Anyone who has visited this blog before knows I’ve been dealing with old injuries and new injuries for the past two years.  Several months ago, I found myself in a good place.  The Plantar Fasciitis was manageable, my runs were getting stronger and easier, and I truly felt like I was on an upward trajectory.  Not wanting to encounter another injury for a very long time, I researched and embraced a more minimalist approach to my running.  I bought minimalist shoes and started wearing those 24/7.  I started weaning myself out of my orthotics.  And most significantly, I joined the Spaulding National Running Center to help me transition safely and fully out of my cushioned stability shoes.

The Running Center opened recently near where I live in Boston.  It’s headed up by Irene Davis, PhD, a very well known expert in bio-mechanics and a strong proponent of running barefoot.  The program works like this:  Your first visit is an hour long, or longer.  You do a bunch of strength tests and run on the treadmill both barefoot and shod, while they video tape you.  About a week later, they send you a full analysis of  your running gait and strength tests and make recommendations for a safe transition into minimalist running.  Mine started with a couple weeks of strengthening therapy with a physical therapist, as well as continuous testing of my PF to make sure I wasn’t aggravating that.  Then they started the gait re-training portion when I started to run on the treadmill barefoot.  This part of the program lasts for 3 weeks.  They ask you to commit to going in 3 times a week for 3 weeks.  It’s a very condensed program because they don’t allow you to run outside of their offices for those 3 weeks — they only want you running under their supervision.

It all made sense and I was gung ho to get started and move forward with my minimalist running.  The first 2 weeks went okay.  They started me with running just 5 minutes.  That was enough to seriously wake up my calf muscles.  And quite honestly, they hurt the entire 2 weeks.  Some times were worse than others, but they always hurt.  The therapists continuously monitor your pain and soreness and adjust the program accordingly.  But on the third week, my original injury (the PF in my right foot) flared up and I had to skip a scheduled appointment.  I went to the next appointment and casually mentioned that I had been having some pain on the top of my left foot.  They said I should halt the running until that cleared up.  I went home and googled the symptoms and my heart just sank.  Everything pointed to a metatarsal stress fracture.  Though there is some controversy about whether shod runners or barefoot runners experience stress fractures more often, it seems to be widely accepted that stress fractures are a common injury for those transitioning to minimalist running too quickly.  Your body quite simply can’t adapt to the new stresses and it breaks down.  That’s what happened to me.

That was over 8 weeks ago and I haven’t been able to run since then.   After the first 4 weeks, I went to a doctor that the folks at the Running Center recommended to me.  He didn’t take x-rays.  He didn’t suggest an MRI.  But he did tell me I could start doing the elliptical again and see how that felt.  My foot felt better, so a week or so after my appointment with him I did the elliptical.  I could only go for about 15 minutes before the bottom of my foot started hurting.  So I halted all activity again.  Then I tried a short jog/walk session and that hurt it too.  After a week with it still hurting, I went to a podiatrist who took an x-ray, told me I have a 4th metatarsal stress fracture and she doesn’t like the way it’s healing so she put me in a walking cast for 3 weeks.  I go back on September 6th to see how it’s healing and see if I can resume any kind of activity.

So how do I feel about all of this?  Defeated.  Truly.  I’m frustrated.  I’m discouraged.  I feel like I was trying to do everything right… seeking guidance and care from running experts and trusting that would keep me injury free.  Now I’ve lost the entire summer from running and have no idea when I’ll be able to run again.  Not to mention the financial investment I made with the care I was receiving (a large portion was not covered by insurance).

I’ve never had a stress fracture before, but I have been injured and I know my pattern… I feel sorry for myself for awhile.  Then I start doing crazy research on how to get better.  Eventually I accept it and do other things until I can run again.  I guess that’s where I’m at right now.  I’m trying to embrace other activities.  I’m doing some of the yoga poses that I can.  I’ve tried to swim as much as possible.  But mostly I’m getting pretty un-fit and just waiting until I can run again.

I’ve been MIA on Twitter because it’s too hard to read posts from all my running Twitter friends.  The last 3 issues of Runner’s World and Running Times are collecting dust until I have it in me to read them.  I just want to be among the running again.  I know I’ll get there.  But “the only way out is through” so I just have to take it day by day and wait until I get the thumbs up to try a short run again.

My apologies for the long post.  I don’t particularly like writing about injuries or negative feelings, but I know that misery loves company and I’ve learned a great deal about my injury by reading other blog posts, so I figured I’d share my story too.  I have a ton of information on stress fractures that I won’t bore you with here, but feel free to send me an email if you want more info!   Until then…. happy running and I’ll keep you posted on my recovery.

– Signing off with my new Best Friend (fondly referred to by my friends as ‘Das Boot’)

Das Boot

Gone Baby Gone

Wow, almost 2 months since my last post.  Nice work!  It’s clear my motivation to write goes down the tubes unless I have something funny or enlightening to share.  And quite honestly, I was a little cranky for most of March.  It all started when my Plantar Fasciitis decided to invite more people to the party.  And by “more people,” I mean, my other foot.  I guess it wasn’t enough that I’ve been battling this shit for 20 months.  My left foot apparently wanted in on the action.  When I first started feeling the symptoms, I kind of ignored them.  But then it was obvious that something was wrong and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I did the usual:  Rest, Ice, Compression, Cry, Eat, Feel Sorry for Myself, etc..  But after a few Graston sessions with my chiropractor, it’s starting to feel better now.  My right foot (the original injury) is still wonky.  But that doesn’t freak me out as much.  That injury is like a familiar old friend in some ways.  It can be a total pain in the butt, but at least I know what to expect from it.  I know how far I can push it.  And I know what to do when it’s acting up.  Having the left foot flare up was more than I wanted to handle.

So.  I didn’t run for a couple of weeks.  One thing these injuries have taught me is that it’s not the end of the world if I can’t run for a few days, or even a couple of weeks.  It’s when I fear the worst — months and months of inactivity — that I start to freak out.  But I try to take it one day at a time and I’m happy to say I’m back on the mend.  Sort of.  I’m running about 5 miles a few times a week and will start to inch that up a bit in the near future if all goes well.

Anyone who has suffered from PF knows that there is not one specific way to get rid of it.  Different people respond to different treatments.  Some people swear by the boot or Strassburg Sock, but neither of those work for me.  I’ve found that stretching my hip flexors (the suspected culprit of this whole thing) and calf muscles, along with icing, foot strengthening, and regular Graston/ART sessions with my chiro have helped me the most.  I also very recently started wearing new shoes.  Yup, I’m going minimal.  SLOWLY.  My chiro finally talked me into it.  Most avid runners have been watching (and participating in) the conversations/debates about minimalist running for years now.  Because of my injury, I have always been interested, but never thought I was in a position to try it.  I’ve been wearing orthotics for the PF and thought it was counter-intuitive to wear orthotics with minimalist shoes.  Boy, was I wrong.  About 3 weeks ago, at the recommendation of my chiro, I broke down and bought these babies:

They make my feet so happy

They are the New Balance Minimus 20 trail running shoe.  I can’t explain how they make my feet feel, except they make them feel “right.”  They’re not truly “barefoot” running shoes like the Vibram Five Finger (though Vibram does make the outsole of these shoes) and they do have a very slight drop (I think it’s 4 mm).  But I like them so much, I went out and bought the newer version (Minimus 20 v2) in a lighter color.

Aren't they pretty?

I’m breaking them in slowly.  I’m wearing them all the time, but still using the orthotics about 70% of the time, and only up to 15 minutes of running so far.  Believe me, I don’t want to risk further injury.  But so far, these shoes have felt better on my feet than anything I’ve worn in a long time (I’ve been a long time Asics wearer).  I know minimalist shoes are not for everyone, but I think they are perfect for me right now.  I’d love to hear from any of you about your experiences (good or bad) with minimalist shoes.

So what else have I been up for for the past couple months?  Starting a new project which involves running that I’m very excited about, but can’t write about just yet.  I’m also about to celebrate a birthday.  And for some reason there are many people in my life who are having babies.  Like, babies EVERYwhere.  Not in MY belly, but everywhere else, it seems.  In fact, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re wearing protection or you might get pregnant too.  It’s so weird!

I promise to not let another 2 months go by without an update.  I have too many exciting things to write about…

Run for Sherry

I woke up this morning thinking I would have to run on the treadmill (snow) or not run at all (foot).  To my delight, I was able to run, and because we got about 2-4 flakes (instead of the 2-4 inches predicted), I ran outside.  I ran alone, which I thought might be lonely on this particular occasion, but it wasn’t.  In fact it was the opposite.  I didn’t feel alone at all.  I felt like each and every runner participating in the Run for Sherry was right there with me in spirit.  After a brief moment of silence for Sherry, I hit the trail for a slow, steady, quiet run.  I run these trails all the time, but today I really took the time to appreciate it all:  the weather, the river, the packed dirt trail, the fellow runners, and the fact that I could run.  That I was running.  Because a fellow runner, Sherry Arnold, lost her life doing that one thing that bonds us runners together.  Which is unspeakably unfair and wrong on so many levels.  I didn’t know Sherry.  I don’t know her family.  I know of her because of her cousin Beth who writes one of my favorite blogs.  Beth organized this event and I’m so glad she did.  Not only will Sherry’s family be able to witness the outpouring of support, but it gives all of us runners — forces us, really — to take a moment and forget about the petty bullshit.  And to really appreciate what we do have.  I hope Sherry’s family felt the love.  And I hope they continue to find support as they try to move on from this tragedy.  I felt honored to be able to be part of the process.

Wearing my "Run for Sherry" Bib

Run For a Fellow Runner Who Has Been Lost

Last week there was an article about a woman in a suburb of Boston who was attacked while on an early morning run along the course of the Boston Marathon.  That article hit close to home because I am a runner in Boston who usually runs in the early morning hours.  Fortunately this woman was able to get away.

Two thousand miles away, another runner, another woman, was attacked and sadly had a different outcome.  This woman’s name was Sherry Arnold.  Sherry was a 43-year old mother and math teacher and by all accounts, was a wonderful and loving person.

Sherry’s cousin Beth writes one of my favorite blogs, Shut Up & Run.  Her posts are funny, inspiring, and very down to earth.  Beth has been giving the running community continuous updates on the ongoing investigation into Sherry’s disappearance and in turn has received an outpouring of support on her blog.

After the arrest of two men — one of whom confessed to Sherry’s murder — Beth decided to organize a “virtual run” in Sherry’s honor to be held on February 11th at 9:00am MST.  As is typical of the tight-knit running community, the news has spread like wildfire, and people all over the country — the world, even — are planning to run in Sherry’s honor. I am planning to run in Boston at 11:00am EST.  If there are any local runners who would like to join us, please send me a message at happilyeveralone@gmail.com.   We’d love to have you along.  For more information about Sherry and the virtual run (and to print out a bib) click here.

Though it is a deeply sad event that will bring runners together on February 11th, it’s a testament to the solidarity of the running community to rally around one of our own who has been lost.

Treadmill or Trail?

After yesterday’s snow – and reading some local runner blogs about the slippery running conditions – I woke up thinking I might have to succumb to the treadmill today.  I have been injured enough the past couple of years, I didn’t want to risk a bad face-plant.

But I looked out my window and everything was snowy and sunny and sparkly and I decided I’d rather risk the trail than miss a run outside on this beautiful morning.  And I’m so glad I did.  The conditions were fine and if I had chosen the treadmill, I would’ve missed this:

Snow covered river

And this:

Beautiful Blue Sky

And this:

Ice Crater

And this:

Empty Silent Benches

And this:

Bottom Up Boats

It was slippery and the snow made it a slow-go, but the bright sun, crisp air, and beautiful scenery made it all worth while.  Think I can make it through the whole winter without a step on the treadmill?  One can hope!

Running is My Religion

Even though my father is a minister, I have never considered myself a religious person. I was brought up Unitarian, which is a very open-ended, free-thinking religion, which is part of what I love about it. But it also means there’s very little direction in terms of spirituality. You’re forced to find your own. I guess I would say I haven’t been given the gift of faith just yet. But running? Running is the closest thing I have to a religion. Running calms me. Running gets me outside of my head and into nature. Running gives me the mental space to sort through difficult things, and often get answers. Running pushes me physically which brings my body to an energetic, yet peaceful and calm place.

I’ve been battling injuries for over a year which kept me from running until very recently. Being back in that space — moving, breathing, thinking, observing, pushing — makes me realize how important it is to me and how nothing else in the world can replace it for me. So today I brought my camera with me to share a day in the life of my religion. Running.

Path to Enlightenment

Holy Water

My Pew

Fellowship

Fellowship

Fellowship

Choir

Minister

Heaven

My Year of Injuries

So I’ve cautiously entered the world of running again.  And when I say “cautious,” I mean I was downright petrified to take those first few steps, for fear of a major setback.  A little background:  last year — August of 2010 — I was training for the Baystate Marathon.  Training was going well enough that I actually thought I might qualify for Boston.  Then on August 29th, 2010, I did a 17 mile training run.  The run went fine.  I was sore afterward, but nothing unusual.  The next day I woke up with stabbing, burning pain in my right foot.  Not the heel, particularly, more on the inner-side of my foot where the heel and leg meet.  I thought it might get better as the day went on, but it did not.  In fact, it got worse.  I remember looking at one of my colleagues, tears springing from my eyes, saying “I fear this means Baystate is out.”  She told me to stay off it for a week and I remember thinking a week was like a lifetime.  I only had a little over a month left to train, so staying off it for a week would derail everything.  But I instinctively knew that this injury was not something minor.

I went to the doctor and he took X-rays.  No sign of a fracture.  (I would later hear from a different doctor that a fracture would not be evident on an X-ray this early after the injury.)  He diagnosed me with acute Plantar Fasciitis.  I was shocked.  I’d had some minor PF issues in my running career, but nothing that kept me away from running for more than a week or so.  This did not feel like PF to me.  Still, I took his advice:  wear supportive sneakers at all times; do calf stretches consistently throughout the day, every day; and absolutely no running for 7-10 days.

Well those 7-10 days came and went and my foot wasn’t any better.  By now I had accepted that the marathon was out.  I just wanted to run again.  I got a referral for a well-known Physical Therapist in Boston and went for an initial visit in mid-September.  After examining me, he said that I had torn the fascia in my foot.  So not just inflammation, but a full-on tear.  He was optimistic that I could rehab within a couple months and get back to running.  I worked with him from September-December, and still I wasn’t getting better.  I was at the point where I could do the elliptical.  And the pain had lessened somewhat since the beginning, but if I did something as small as walk around barefoot for an evening, or wear any shoes other than my sneakers, it would completely flare up again and take weeks to get back in control.  By December, I was at my wit’s end.  I went to yet another doctor, at a different hospital, with a well-known and highly-recommended orthopedics department.

After examining me, this doctor was convinced I had a calcaneus stress fracture.  Put me in a boot and crutches right then and there.  Scheduled an MRI for the following week.  Did I mention this was December 30th?  Happy New Year to me.

A week later, I got the MRI.  Two days after that, I called the doctor to discuss the results.  (Meanwhile, I had been wearing the boot and using crutches for over a week.)  Our conversation went something like this:

Doc:   “Everything on the MRI looks fine.”

Me:  “Fine?”  “FINE?!?”

Doc:  “Yes – it looks good. I don’t see any overt signs of a stress fracture, but I do think there’s one there.  I’d like you to keep using the boot and crutches for another 2 weeks and come back and see me again.”

Something didn’t sit right with me.  Since wearing the boot, my foot had not only NOT gotten better, it felt worse.  But I figured 2 more weeks wouldn’t hurt it and I scheduled a follow-up appointment with the doctor.

Meanwhile, I had an unrelated appointment with my chiropractor.  When I showed up wearing a boot and using crutches, he was shocked.  I’ve been working with this chiropractor for years, and being the type of person who would always rather heal things naturally if at all possible, I had worked with him to heal a hip injury a year earlier with lots of ART, assisted stretching, and spine adjustments.  When I told him everything that I had been through over the past few months, he asked if he could look at my foot.  After examining it, he said he was sure I did not have a stress fracture, that I did in fact have an extreme case of Plantar Fasciitis.  He proceeded to do Graston on my foot, which was extremely painful.  I was convinced he was doing more damage to my foot, but I really trust this guy, so I stayed with it.  I left the boot off for the rest of the day and woke up the next morning and my foot actually felt better.  I never wore the boot again.  I started going to my chiropractor every week for more Graston and ART.  Slowly but surely, my foot started to get better.

Let me take a step back here and just say that running is my passion.  Running is like my religion.  It keeps me sane, it keeps me happy, and it’s something I love in a way that I love nothing else.  So this injury did not come lightly to me.  Not running for more than week was torture – much less four months (and little did I know how much longer I had).  So in between all of these doctor visits, I obsessively scoured the web for any and all solutions for Plantar Fasciitis.  I bought anything and everything I could get my hands on (a night splint, the Strassburg sock, a massage ball, a massage stick, athletic tape, shoe inserts, the list goes on and on).  Nothing worked.  Until my Chiro started doing the Graston.

My Chiropractor told me that he can usually get runners back on the trail within a month of starting Graston.  We’ve since discovered that I would end up being his toughest case.  It took me four months before I could start easing my way back into running.  And I had setbacks.  Did too much too soon.  Wore the wrong shoes.  Didn’t keep up with my stretching.  This went on for several months until August.  A full year after the onset of this injury.  Finally, in August, just in time to run the Beach to Beacon 10K in my home state of Maine, I had reached a point where I could run a couple times week without flaring up the PF.  The PF was still there, but I could keep it at bay enough to run.

Then on Labor Day I had the brilliant idea to try water skiing for the first time in my life.  Third try up, the boat shot off and my right ski wobbled off to the left, crossing over my left leg, causing me to feel a big rip/stretch in my right leg.  I fell down in the water, completely defeated with the knowledge that I had just f*cked up something and it could be bad.

Well it’s now November and after two more months of Physical Therapy for the leg, and continued Graston treatments for the PF, I am finally running again.  At the suggestion of my PT, I started out by walking  5 minutes, running 5 minutes, walking 5 minutes, etc.  I’ve never done that before coming back from an injury, but I highly recommend it.  It gets you out there – and you don’t stress the body anywhere near as much as a full-on run.  I’ve now moved up to 5 minutes walk, 10 minutes run, 5 minutes walk, 10 minutes run, etc.  and I’m up to about 5 miles of this.  Three times a week.  Three times a week, I get to run!!!  I used to run 6 days a week and 3 days would’ve been a very slow week for me.  But right now?  It’s heaven.  But I’m still scared.  I still have not fully healed from the water ski injury (same leg as the PF) and my PF is still not fully healed, but I’m out there.  I don’t want to jinx myself.  I almost don’t want to get too excited because I fear I may have a setback, which would be heart breaking.  But for now, I’m just full of gratitude for the ability to get out there and run again.

So while this injury was one of the most frustrating and difficult things to deal with, I did learn a lot about myself as an athlete.  But that is a post for another time.  For now, I will focus on the road ahead and immerse myself again in the running community – something I wasn’t able to do for a long time because it just made me sad.

Coming soon: Plantar Fasciitis:  the Evil Beast that can Teach you or Tear you Down; Why’d I get injured in the first place?  My favorite running bloggers, My training/racing schedule