Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now

I’m a runner. It’s something I’ve worked on since the first time I officially, with purpose, went on a “run.”

I was 13 years old at the time, and stuck with my new morning exercise routine of a quick jog to the road and back for maybe two days. As it turned out, running was hard. My lungs hurt and my legs felt heavy. The fall air was crisp and burned as I gasped on the dirt driveway in the early morning fog.

I didn’t run again until I was an undergrad at UALBANY. I earned a few credits taking exercise classes over the years – including two credits in bowling – and the most influential for me was a basic conditioning class. It was gym class, basically, and I really liked the activities and challenge of pushing myself to become stronger. It was there that I ran my first mile without stopping.

Running and I were not a natural fit. It honestly took years before running and I could cohabitate in a comfortable way. But once that gelled, running became my number one activity. I’ve run some pretty great races and have made many memories on my feet while traveling. One of my favorite runs ever was in Rome on a rainy morning in February. Everything was misty gray and pale umber and I couldn’t stop smiling. Magic.

Of course, running is very demanding on one’s body. Injuries like stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and joint pain are kind of inevitable, I think. After working through shin splints as a new runner training on school marble floors, I began to have some hip issues. I cross trained by cycling until an injury took me off my bike and into a sling with a severely separated shoulder.

All the while, I couldn’t wait to get back to running.

I started pushing my distance from 5Ks to 10Ks. My hips hurt, but winter and a ton of snow came, and I cross country skied every possible day. It alleviated the discomfort. I added hot yoga and monthly massages into the equation. I ran insane trail runs and starting doing half marathons. I pushed on.

But then my feet hurt. Often. I can tolerate the bones of my hips aching – especially if I pregame a run with an Aleve, but the burning sensation(s) I experience on the bottom of my feet is intense. The ball of my foot starts to feel like it’s on fire after about 6 miles, which makes the remaining 7-plus pretty damn uncomfortable.

I saw a podiatrist. He helpfully told me that “running hurts.” Four years later, I finally tried a different podiatry practice where I was taken seriously and diagnosed with bunions, neuromas, and hammer toes, oh my! I got some new inserts with an aggressive metatarsal pad that caused agony every time I ran, until I fitfully tore them out. I didn’t run for about five weeks.

My feet still hurt.

I went back to the podiatrist, modified the inserts with a lighter padding, and stoically allowed her to stab the nodules on the arch of my foot with a needle I was afraid to even look at. It hurt like a mofo and I had to recall my Bradley Birthing Method class and the lesson of breathing and softening, when all you really want to do is scream and clench every muscle in your body.

She said I did great and taped my foot to provide support as my masses – in theory – broke down from the steroid injection.

I can’t run for two weeks and I’m kind of crushed. When I took that recent five week hiatus, it was prompted by a combination of traveling, needing my body to not hurt so much, and trying to not be so damn rigid. But, I’m done with that.

Since I can’t run, I won’t be able to take one of my favorite running routes in the world, which happens to be on the Cape. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of the view running North – East? I never know on the Cape – on Ocean View Drive in Wellfleet. And the hills are just tremendous. Finishing at Newcomb Hollow is the icing on the cake.

Last week (pre-podiatrist visit), I got out for a hot and hard couple of miles along the Mohawk. I did not feel like a runner, which panicked me. I went to a yoga class and felt better.

The night before my podiatrist appointment, I ran, for the first time since late June, my usual 5-mile loop. As I started out, Amy Winehouse in my ears, I was relieved to immediately identify myself as a runner. It felt natural again.

My plan is to dial down my distances and incorporate more yoga. Instead of four running days and one yoga class a week, I’m working towards three running days and two or three yoga classes each week. I’m optimistic that I’ll still be able to make my goal of 25 half marathons.

In keeping with that optimistic outlook, I ordered a new pair of running shoes.

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