With the inspiring finishes to the Brisbane Twilight Half Marathon still flashing before my eyes, I knew deep down that I had to give running a go once more this week. It was just a matter of when…
With a doctor appointment scheduled for Thursday, I had a deadline. I’d promised myself I’d at least test my foot and ankle out prior to the visit with the surgeon so I’d know one way or another if I was on the mend, if the Cortisone shot had worked, and whether or not I’d need an operation.
My plan was Tuesday. Tuesday has significance, as over the last 3 years of my running career Tuesday has always been my recovery day, the day I’d hobble about my block and force my body back into running after all the damage I’d inflicted upon it over the previous weekend.
Tuesday morning came and went. It somehow managed to poor down with rain for about 5 minutes right at 6am when my alarm went off. I rolled over and went back to sleep. That has never happened before. I chose sleep over running. I used the weather as an excuse not to get out there. I was horrified. But at the same time, I was relieved. My ankle wasn’t great. It still hurt even just walking to and from work. It needed more rest. But I didn’t have any more time.
Wednesday came and went, so it was Thursday. I had to run. The weather looked bad; rainy and dark. But I had to do it. I had to run. I needed answers. After the Cortisone shot, the ankle has been much better, but far from perfect. There’s still shooting pains, random soreness, instability, weakness. It’s just not quite right. I needed to test it in a run so I could walk into the doctor’s rooms that day and say with no hesitation, “Cut it open. Do the arthroscopy!”
So, I slipped on my Vibram Five Finger shoe-gloves, some old shorts and a t-shirt, and went out and ran. It was ironic. Here I was back in casual clothes running. I’d gone right back to the beginning. I was re-living stuff I’ve been writing about in my forthcoming book, Running Against Time. The circle was complete. I was back at the beginning. The only difference was, the Vibrams.
I’ve made a committment to myself that if I return to running, it will be barefoot, or as close to barefoot as can be – Vibram Five Fingers. Having screwed up my ankle so badly with traditional runners, I’ve lost all faith in that type of footwear. Plus, my previous specialist had advised me that I needed to change my running style from a “Heel Striker” to a “Forefoot/Midfoot Striker”, or the remaining cartilage in my ankle would be gone within months. The easiest way to do that, is to go barefoot, which makes it near impossible to heal strike. Shoes, it would seem, are just too risky for me.
I walked to the first corner thinking, “God these Vibrams feel good.” That’s always my initial reaction. If you’ve never tried them on, my advice, do. They are a party for your feet. I like them better than barefoot. I would choose them over any other footwear for any situation… if they were more acceptable! These things make me feel alive. I rounded the corner and started to run. I hadn’t run in 6 months. I had never felt the true sensation of running in Vibrams, despite owning them for 6 months. This was pure running bliss. I ran, on the forefoot, lightly, with agility, round the next corner, along the straight and up the first hill.
I started puffing and breathing heavily. “What was going on here?” I felt out of breath. There were pains in my chest. I had to gasp for air. My legs were burning up. My calves were screaming. This was terrible. Flashbacks of my first ever run in Japan came back to me. “I’m back to square one,” I thought in horror. But I’d been eating well. I’d lost the weight and kept it off. I was looking fit and healthy. Unfortunately, just below the surface, there was no running muscle or physical fitness to back up the appearance.
I thought, “If I get to the next corner, I can walk the rest of the way.” What? Seriously? Walking? I’d never walked in a run. That was against all the rules. No way! I pushed on, and, the ankle was holding up. Muscles were screaming at me from all over my body, but the ankle, it was feeling blissfully well. Indeed, it felt strong!
I completed my 3km run and staggered into the house, broken, but elated. I’d just been for a run. It was the shortest run I’d ever done since moving to Alderley, but it was a run nevertheless. I’d run. And the ankle had held up. So what now? What do I tell the surgeon?
As I walked from my office up to Spring Hill for my appointment, my mind raced. The ankle felt good, but then, as I climbed the hill to the hospital, pangs of pain shot through the area. Here it was, that annoying, not debilitating, but certainly irritating, pain. What do I tell him? Even as I sat waiting to see him, I had no idea what to say.
I told him exactly that. I told him I’d run, it felt good, the Cortisone had done something, but it still hurt randomly. He looked puzzled. He thought about it. Then said, “I guess the Cortisone has done something then, which is great, but it’s no good if there is still some pain there.”
“What about another shot?” I felt like a Cortisone junky, and hated myself even as I said it.
He shook his head. “No, we don’t recommend multiple Cortisone shots, especially in the ankle. It can damage the cartilage”
Great! That would be all I needed. More damage! “Well, I don’t know if I should go ahead with surgery?” I said. “What should I do?”
Dr Sterling is fantastic. He understands me. He understands my situation. His advice, run for a week. Push my ankle as hard as I can, and see what it does. “It won’t do it any harm,” he said. In the meantime, he’s booked me in for surgery on the 18th of April. Thus, I have 1 week to decide. I’m giving my body an ultimatum. It’s make or break week. I need to make a decision.
So this morning I took another step in my return. I put my running clothes on. For the first time in 6 months I had running shorts and a running t-shirt on. It was surreal.
I ran the 3kms again, a bit sore and sorry from the previous run on Thursday. I had hoped to run on Saturday, but the calves were just so sore, I had to postpone until Sunday. They still killed. Running forefoot was throwing up more challenges than I’d expected.
The good news is, the ankle felt great! Not a single bit of pain throughout the entire run. It was brilliant. Felt good once home, also. The bad news is, now, as I write, there is some pain whenever I get up and walk about. The pain is there again. So what now? What do I say to Dr Sterling?
I need to run again. Maybe on Tuesday. Maybe on Thursday as well. Then, I need to decide one way or another. If it had been a decision facing me months ago , I would have been all for surgery all the way,. But now, finally, once I’ve found someone willing to help, the ankle has improved. Can’t win! But that being said, in some ways, I can’t lose this week either. My ankle holds up and I don’t need surgery – BIG WIN. My ankle fails on me – SURGERY, and the chance of putting it right good and proper. That’s how I’m going to look at it…