Some of the most difficult stories to tell are the most powerful. They are the ones that move us, that change us, that inspire us. For the past few days, I’ve vacillated over writing about running because it’s tough to think about. But it occurred to me that someone else is out there likely dealing with the same injury. And while talking about it won’t make it go away, it will help me to honestly acknowledge what’s been going on.
I haven’t run without pain in the past 18 months. To put things in perspective, I only starting running regularly 2 years ago, meaning that most of the time, it hurts for me to train. This all started at the end of the Brooklyn Half in 2017, when I finished the race with swollen toes on my left foot. I believed I could outrun that injury. And I did. Less than one month later, I crossed the finish line at the NYRR Mini 10k, and the swelling had subsided in my toes. I continued training for the aggressive race calendar that I had planned for the balance of the year.
In September of 2017, I started experiencing shin splints. Given that I was a month out from my final race of the year, Rock n Roll Lisbon, I decided again that I would tough it out. Instead of following my normal training routine of a speed run, a hill run, and a long run weekly, I cut out my speed runs. I hoped that training at slower paces would lessen the strain that sprinting put on my body.
In October of 2017, I crossed the finish line in Lisbon, free of shin splints. I thought I was in the clear. I took a week off from running (my usual after a half) and got back to it the following Monday. Only this time, I started experiencing pain in my left heel. I chalked it up to overuse, so I took another week off. This time the pain didn’t go away.
Without any major races planned, I had no reason to keep up with my weekend 10-milers. Not surprisingly, they became less fun for me as I refused to acknowledge that something was wrong but deep down, I felt it.
But I didn’t want to go to the podiatrist because I was afraid. I was scared that someone would curb me, tell me to stop running, tell me to stop doing the only thing that has gotten me through the past few years of my life. After my first half marathon, I was swept off my feet. I lived and breathed running and I didn’t want it taken away from me. I was going to do everything I could to hold on to it, even if it meant putting myself on the line.
I’m not sure what finally motivated me to call the podiatrist. Maybe it’s because I now live in Boston and see runners everywhere I look and want to be out there. I haven’t run more than 6 miles since my last half marathon in May. In my mind, making the appointment was a sign of defeat. And I didn’t want to surrender.
When I finally made my appointment, I got too worked up. I called and rescheduled because I wasn’t in the head space to go. When it was finally Monday, I knew I couldn’t delay any longer. So I laced up my running shoes one last time and I ran to the podiatrist.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. How bad is this pain if I just got up and ran two miles to see a doctor about how I can’t run? It’s not a bad pain, it’s more of a never-disappearing dull ache. And I had a feeling it would be my last run for a while. So I made my playlist and ran over the bridge, untimed so I could just run for fun.
I arrived to the office out of breath. I stayed outside the door for a while so I could pretend I had just casually walked in from the street.
As I talked about my symptoms with the doctor, the fact that I’ve never run more than 15 miles in a week without some sort of pain on my left side and my current issue with my foot, two things occurred: one, she determined that I have bursitis in my heel and two, the unevenness of my legs is likely the cause of my recurrent pain from long distance running.
And it gets better. I’m not supposed to run for a month, but cycling, stair stepping (on the balls of my feet), and lifting are ok. So I will be finishing BBG Round 2 next week like I planned. In a month from now, we’re supposed to reevaluate. But the reality is, I don’t know how long it’s going to be until I can run again, until I can sprint again, or until I can train again. And I also don’t know if given all that’s going on if I can ever train at the intensity that I want to.
It brings me back to the question of whether my body is cut out for long distance running. While exercise is good for you, it shouldn’t be so painful.
When I think about when I’ve been happiest in the past few years, it’s crossing the finish line after months and months of training. There is nothing that compares to that experience. And I hate knowing that I may have to walk away from this running life that I just started building a little over two years ago. But I also don’t want to be going from injury to injury, hoping that it’s not as serious as it feels.
So as I sit here, trying to redevelop my workout plan, and thinking about how I really wanted to enter the NYRR United Airlines lottery tonight but won’t even be able to run the race if I got in, I will leave you with this: I started running because life threw me a curve-ball and I threw it right back, so even if I don’t know my way out of this, I know I will find one.