One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Two and a half weeks ago, I was out for a quick and dirty 4mi run when I decided to throw some speed intervals in the back half in order to shake some of the dust out of my legs and the boredom out of my head. I got two steps into my 3rd interval when I felt a sharp pain in my left foot. I stopped, walked for a minute, and tried again. Nope. Nope. Nope. I limped the 3/4mi home, threw some ice on my foot, and steeped in the quiet panic of a person thrust into the reality of a potential injury. I spent a day or two sulking, limiting my time on my feet, and crossing my fingers that it was just a mild tweak – something that would just magically heal with positive thoughts.

With some gentle yet firm nudging, I booked an appointment with Dr. Chin at The Running Institute – Chicago “just in case it didn’t just get better on its own.” I stared at the calendar for almost two weeks as training days flew by. I spent two weekends trying to avoid glaring at runners I didn’t know, and I took my stopwatch to the local track to support those I did.

Earlier this year, I began to remember how much I enjoyed what a run did for me. Now sidelined, I’ve started to remember how much I enjoy what training does for me. I love feeling the strength in my legs: how they feel gliding across the pavement, or how proud I am of the muscle definition in my quads and calves. I love dripping with sweat, and feeling the slickness of my skin. I love feeling the exhaustion of a hard workout. That last mile, that last interval, that last push – there’s nothing quite like rounding the final turn, and knowing the satisfying stillness that comes from a tired mind. I miss the routine and the endorphins and the release and the reckless abandon with which I can eat cheese. I began to realize how completely lost I felt, and how important those hours in my shoes each week had become. I was forced to try and process and channel my energies into other things: I journaled, I walked (limited amounts at a time), I vented, I googled rudimentary strings of words like “foot arch pain death ouch why,” and “what are hobbies people without feet can have;” and I sat in solitude at my local Walden and tried to settle my anxious and frustrated self.

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A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us. – Thoreau #MyWalden

Today, I sat in the doctor’s office with a different kind of anxiety. What if he can’t tell me how to fix this? What if he tells me it’s a stress fracture? What if he tells me he has to amputate both feet and an arm for good measure, and that my mom no longer loves me? I nervously explained in far greater detail than necessary what happened, how many miles are on each pair of shoes I own, what my first pet’s name was, and so on. I second-guessed how to walk down the hallway, and nervously stumbled as I overthought a basic motor skill most 2yos have essentially mastered.

He suspected a Ganglion cyst (most likely caused by my recent shoe switch) was aggravating my tendon, and I asked the same kinds of questions over and over again in different ways, immediately forgetting everything that was explained. I stared at an ultrasound image and tried to piece together what I was seeing (Note: I never understood what I was seeing.) I cried quickly and quietly when the doctors stepped away, not because I’m dramatic, or because it was anything close to a death sentence. Despite the doctor’s detailed and patient explanations, I was overwhelmed with what felt like a very fast-moving diagnosis that I didn’t understand, and I hate feeling weak in front of others.

We discussed my options, and given the position and shape of the cyst, it made the most sense to move forward with a cortisone shot. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t seriously think I might pass out thinking about that tiny needle just hanging out in my foot for longer than I’d like, or that it was comfortable, or that I didn’t whimper a little bit. It’s not something I ever wanted to say I’d experienced (I recommend having someone around to hold your hand and distract you from the dull ache that comes after said shot), but hopefully it will mean that in about 10 days, I can start slowly working back into my routine.

What this means for the Chicago marathon, I don’t know. I’ve lost a lot of time and miles at this point, and if five previous marathons have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t cram for a 26.2 mile exam. What I do know – thanks to a really great support system – is that no singular finish line defines me, and that no setback is permanent. If Chicago doesn’t happen this year, I’m a short road trip away from a thousand other transformative finish lines and celebratory beers.

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5 Comments

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  1. I LOL’ed at “what are hobbies people without feet can have.” Hope the cortisone shot works wonders. If not, it sounds like you’re mentally in the right place to go with the flow.

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  2. That’s tough. Any better? I am signed up for 26 in Philadelphia and I seem to have adopted a similar attitude. If I pack it in at 13 that’s ok and if I don’t get a medal that’s ok too. As the Amish around these parts say,” We get too soon old and too late smart.”

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    • Follow-up appointment is tomorrow, and have stayed away from weight-bearing activity since the shot (per doc’s orders), so unclear as to whether it’s “better,” per say. Walking pain has almost completely diminished (save for post-significant walking), so I’m hoping that’s a sign towards complete and full recovery. I like that saying — here’s hoping for a perfect balance between youth and knowledge. 🙂

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