Tag Archives: injury


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about signs — of improvement, or of decline. I mentioned a while back that it’s been frustrating to have no idea about whether my foot is progressing, beyond trying to make it hurt and seeing if it still does. No x-rays; no images; no reliable way to look inside at what’s bothering me (because maybe I still don’t even know exactly what is). Just pressing and resting and standing and jumping and thinking, “Is that still how it was last week?” Just waiting for something to be different.

“How did you know you were getting better?” That’s what I’ve asked everyone I’ve talked to who’s recovered from a similar injury. “How did you know it was working?” And I hear a variety of things — from “I never really did” to “one day, it was just better.” But there’s no clear path. If there were a path, I’d follow it; oh man, would I ever follow it. But there’s nothing there to follow.


I saw a new doctor last week. Actually, I saw two. One lost me in his waiting room, wanted to talk about my digestion, said the bone issue his colleague saw on the MRI was a “red herring,” and offered a cortisone shot. The other spent an hour with me, watched me walk, examined my shoes, said she thought it was a bone bruise, and rejected the idea of a cortisone shot. Two very different paths, one very confused person. I picked the second path, because I liked that doctor better. (Probably not the way one should make a medical decision, but it seemed as good as anything.)

Anyway. The whole time we talked, she kept saying, “This takes a long time.” She said it a couple of times offhand, then said it again, slowly, staring me down so I’d really get it — “this takes a long time.” And I kept saying, “I’m not in any rush.” I’ve already missed everything I wanted to do this summer and fall. There’s nothing on the calendar, nothing I’ve paid money for, nothing I need to hurry up and do. I’ve got forever.

But I don’t have forever — not really. I’m supposed to volunteer at Ironman Arizona in six weeks, and as of today, I’d be fairly useless on my feet at an aid station. I want to book a trip — I don’t even know when or where, but I want the option to dream one up. I want to do things — normal life things — like walk around at a music festival or be the one to pick up the takeout or not miss a train that I can almost reach out and touch because I can’t jog the two steps to the doors before they close. I’m not in a hurry to race, or even to run again. But I would like a sign that at some point the rest of my life will be OK. I never would have thought after that one run in June that I wouldn’t be able to dance at a friend’s wedding in October or that I’d be debating canceling a trip in November, but that’s where I am.

Is this it? Is this standard now? I haven’t seen many signs otherwise.


Or maybe I have. Last weekend, I had to drive somewhere, and driving requires two normal shoes. So, for the first time in a month, I put on my other sneaker. On the way home, I realized I needed to pop into the library. So I walked in. And back to the car. And down the block to my house from the parking space I found. Maybe a quarter-mile, total. Nothing special, except that it felt normal. When I told the new doctor about my accidental experiment, she said to do that again — not much, and maybe not outside the house again for a while (whoops), but up and down the hallway. Down to the basement. To the kitchen. Just see what happens. Hope that nothing happens.

And then there’s the itching feeling. Michaela told me about this — is your heel itching? like just under the skin, where you can’t actually scratch it? — and while I don’t think I would have called it that, I do feel something. Not always, not reliably, and maybe I only feel it because she told me to, but I swear, it happens. Maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s not.


But then there are the other signs: the two sore spots that feel the same as they’ve felt since June. The nuh-uh, no, no, nope reaction I still have to someone asking me to rock back on my heels or — god forbid — try to walk on them. The flip of a calendar to another month.

You can get used to anything, I guess.


If you’d asked me, back in June, I would have said I’d probably do an Ironman someday. It’s not something I said aloud very much, but I believed it. Not soon, but not never.

I thought I’d do another marathon, obviously. I never honestly thought I’d qualify for Boston as a younger woman, but I thought I’d be a lifelong runner who would maybe finally pull out a BQ at 55.

I’ve let go of a lot over these past three months.

I would be happy doing those things, of course — but I could be happy enough with something less. I could be happy enough being able to run for an hour. I could be happy enough never going beyond Olympic distance again. Hell, I could be happy enough as an aquabiker if I could at least walk transition without pain.

I can’t tell if those are signs of maturity or desperation, that my “happy enough“s keep getting smaller. Maybe it’s both.


“So which thing do I listen to?” I asked the new doctor. “The thing where walking feels OK? Or the thing where pressing on my foot doesn’t?”

“Both,” she said. “You have to listen to both.”

But what do I do when they’re different?

Do I listen to the person who treats a bone injury or the person who doesn’t?

This shot or that shot or the really expensive shot or no shot?

Ice or heat or both or neither?

Crutches for three weeks?

“We’ll get you running again” or “some people recover and some people don’t”?

Maybe I’m not lacking for signs at all. Maybe I actually have too many.


A Giant Pile of Meh, or: A Halfhearted Attempt to Find Silver Linings

I don’t have much good to say.

The first two weeks in the boot came and went without much (any?) noticeable improvement. (It’s honestly hard to tell, since part of being in the boot is premised on taking away the daily discomfort I was feeling. To see if things are better, I have to seek out that discomfort, which is counterintuitive and something I’ve been trying not to do.) Since my insurance changes Oct. 1 and a whole new world of medical care opens up (…and a whole new world of expenses, but that’s another story), I opted to just stay in the boot for now and pursue a raft of second/third/fourth opinions at that point.

I probably should have stopped there. However … yesterday, I ended up getting in earlier than expected with a doctor who was going to be one of those additional opinions. His take: two weeks in the boot never would have been enough; six wouldn’t be unusual; and he’d recommend that I be on crutches for at least the next two (and possibly three or more) of those weeks. That seems pretty dramatic, and it would require significant lifestyle modifications*. If it’s actually my only option, I guess it’s … my only option, but it also seems like a big leap considering the actual level of pain I’m in, even when my foot was at its worst. But what do I know?

{*To take one tiny example: The parking lot at my gym is permit-only, which is why I currently bike the mile there and back. Public transit is not a reasonable option (I’m talking, turning a 4-minute drive into a 30-minute, three-bus fiasco) and I’m loath to spend money on cabs just for that. If I drive, there’s no telling how far away I’d need to park, and this gym happens to be located smack in the middle of a large and (to my eye) relatively un-crutch-able hill. I may be able to buy a six-month pass for the permit lot if I can get a California temporary disabled permit, but I need a doctor to do the paperwork for that, and I didn’t know any of this yesterday, because just about the last thing I was expecting was to be told I needed to be on crutches. Also, even getting a disabled parking permit seems like massive overkill — ACTUAL PEOPLE NEED THOSE — so I’m tempted to just say screw it and sit on my couch rather than swim for the sake of, if we’re being honest, vanity.}

That doctor’s compromise suggestion was to keep me in the boot for three more weeks, until mid-October, and if I still had pain at that point, then I’d need to be on crutches for, um, who knows how long. I’ve been sitting with that info for almost a day now, and I’ve even tracked down a pair of loaner crutches, but … I don’t know. I’m hesitant to upend my life even further, but on the other hand, why delay the inevitable? It seems hard to believe that the six blocks I walk per day could be the difference between healing and not, but I’m not really in a position to judge. As of now, I *think* I’ve decided to use crutches only if I need to walk beyond my daily work and pool commutes, at least until after the two additional appointments I have scheduled for October 1 and 2. That gives the boot another week to be magic but doesn’t delay the process by three full weeks if it isn’t working. I guess. I think. I don’t know. But that’s where I am today.

My biggest frustration is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to check progress other than waiting to see if I stop having symptoms. It’s weird; people I know who have had foot stress fractures have had X-rays taken at various intervals to see if there’s been any healing. Maybe heels are different? Maybe because it’s just (“just,” ha) a stress reaction, it would never show anyway? I don’t know, and I keep forgetting to ask, because at every appointment the news gets a little bit worse, and then I’m too busy trying not to cry to think with a clear head. (That is extremely embarrassing but also extremely true.) I know these things are finicky and not even doctors can see the future, but … I’ve already seen two weeks in the boot turn into probably six. Why wouldn’t I suspect that two weeks on crutches would also turn into six? Then again, the boot hasn’t been that bad; I guess you really can get used to anything.

One more moment of venting: I swear, I did not try to run through this injury. I felt no pain during the run where it (apparently) happened. When I still thought I was feeling normal post-20-miler soreness, I tried one run, then shut things down for a week; one more run, then shut things down for two more; and then one final run, at which point I stopped for good. At various points throughout, both a doctor and a physical therapist told me to try running, and I was the one who said no. It didn’t “get to a point where” it got worse — it was not an issue, and then it was — and it wasn’t something I ignored or was cavalier with — at least not within the realm of the medical advice I was seeking and getting. I’ve done dumber things. Maybe this is karma for all of my previous transgressions, but this thing wasn’t dumb. I take a tiny bit of solace in that, but I also do wish I had a moment to point to to say “Oh, well, if I just hadn’t done that…”

And, just so this isn’t a total downer and in an attempt to get me focused on the positive out there, here are some things I can do:

I can get all my ducks in a row and plan for the worst cases. For example: I can research what I need for a DMV temporary handicapped placard and print out that paperwork and take it with me to my next appointment, so I’m not taken by surprise and it’s there if I need it. I can actually write down all my questions so that the next time I’m face-to-face with a doctor, I don’t get so emotional and overwhelmed that I forget how to think. I can learn how to use the crutches I’m borrowing, so that if I do need to use them full-time, I won’t fall down the stairs.

I can still swim and pool run, for now. If one of the doctors I see in early October wants me to stop, I will, but until then, you will have to pry those away from my shriveled, chlorine-scented hands. (And, to be clear, nobody actually wants me to STOP those activities. It’s more that I have to find an un-objectionable and un-ruinous way to GET to those activities.)

I can do core work. Like, come ON. The only excuse I have for not being better about this thus far is that I’m lazy. I can do it in my living room. I can do it lying down. Not doing it is stupid. I am not stupid. I know some basics, but I also emailed my last physical therapist to see if he can send me some ideas.

I can do easy, non-invasive things to try to heal. The doctor I saw yesterday recommended contrast baths — ice water, then hot water, then ice water. Buckets of water. In my living room. Sitting down. It might not work, but so what? Buckets. Of. Water. Once again, come ON.

I can read a lot of books. Anyone want to be my friend on Goodreads?


True Injury Confessions

All I notice are people’s shoes. Cute flats. Heels I could never have walked in anyway. Grubby sneakers. Sparkly sneakers. Running shoes that I can identify — brand, style — on sight. I don’t even usually care that much about shoes, but these days I can’t stop looking at people’s feet.

I smell like chlorine all the time. I have to swim with masters at least twice a week to keep my membership. (I’m swimming in the “old-people swim,” as my lane-mate pointed out yesterday, which is a little weird, but I’m also not fast enough for the “young-people swim,” and anyway, I’d rather get up at 6:15 than 5:15.) I’m swimming other times on my own or with friends. And I’m pool-running on days I’m not swimming. I think I’m actually excreting chlorine.

I can’t walk more than two blocks without a break. My heel doesn’t hurt in the boot, which is nice, but my arch cramps like crazy. I gave up and threw an arch support in there today, which maybe is a terrible plan, but I can’t imagine how it would make things much worse. Also, walking a block takes five minutes.

Also: Even trivial walking is non-trivial. At minimum, for daily life, I walk 1.5 blocks from home to my train and 1.5 blocks from my train to work, and then I reverse it in the evenings. Back in the spring, when I had two working feet and was wearing my Vivofit, my daily walking was barely a step up from sedentary. Now it seems overwhelming.

I have never been on time for more things in my life. I’m a problematically, perpetually slightly late person. Most people I’m close to know that when I say 9:15, I mean 9:20. But I’m making peace with having to build cushion into my day. I aim for the train before the train I really have to take. If I think something is five minutes away, I give it 10. I can’t hurry, so I end up being on time — or early. Hashtag life lessons.

I don’t think this is working. Obviously, I did not want to be saying that. Today is day 6; I have my check-up on day 12. The first six days have led to no noticeable improvement (and some frustrating new symptoms, like the aforementioned arch cramping). Yes, the boot lets me walk (heel-)pain free, and I shouldn’t discount that. But the tender spots are just as tender as they were last Friday, and the week before that, and the week before that. I don’t know if this is just going to take more time, or if we still don’t have the right diagnosis, or what the next move is from here in any case. I’m mentally preparing to stay in the boot at least till October 1, when my new health insurance kicks in, because I can’t imagine the next six days being much different from the past six. But maybe they will be. There’s my level of optimism.

I can’t quite stop making goals. I originally wrote “I’m done making goals,” but that’s a damn lie and I might as well admit it. I do have two goals. I’d like to think they’re achievable, but the past two months have taught me that I might need to underestimate what’s achievable. The first is that I want to be able to go on a rock climbing trip with friends at the end of October. (Climbing causes no obvious pain, but walking or hiking to a climbing site might be a challenge.) The second is that I want to be able to run pain-free — I don’t care how far — on my birthday in January. Six weeks for goal #1; four months for goal #2. It sucks to acknowledge that I might have to miss them both, but it seems worse to have no goals at all.



If a blogger stops training for a marathon and doesn’t tell the internet, is it really even happening?

(Is she even really still a blogger? Heh.)

OK. Catching up:

I’m not running The San Francisco Marathon tomorrow. Training was going really well, until, of course, it wasn’t. After the 18-miler I ran before my last post, I raced an Olympic-distance triathlon (more on that later), then ran another even more awesome 18-miler, then ran a 20-miler that felt really smooth. Until a little later that day, when I realized my right heel was a pretty sore. That was June 22. I’ve run four times since then. And that pretty much brings us to today.

I’m still trying to figure out the heel thing. I thought it was a stress fracture, my doctor thinks it’s plantar fasciitis, my physical therapist (whom I finally saw today after a multi-week wait; thanks, healthcare system!) thinks it has something to do with a lack of flexibility in my heel and/or ankle. Sometimes I think it’s getting better, sometimes I don’t. SF Marathon was the last running race on my calendar, and that ship obviously sailed, so I’m willing to take my time to fix whatever it is; I just wish I had a better plan, but I’m working on it. My dream right now is to be able to race the Olympic-distance triathlon in Oakland that I’m registered for at the end of August, but I might drop to the sprint or the aquabike.

I did work at the expo today as part of my ambassador duties, which, truly? Was a damn blast. It turns out I prefer working at expos to attending them as a participant. The best thing I did was describe the course neighborhoods and corresponding elevation changes in great detail to a group of 7 Pakistani runners visiting San Francisco for the first time. The funniest thing I did was try to answer a question about how foggy it would be on the Golden Gate Bridge at 7 a.m. The most common thing I did was answer questions about parking and public transportation, sometimes down to specific walking routes through Golden Gate Park for spectators.

After my shift wrapped up, I went Gu shopping (spotted the elusive Salted Watermelon, finally), bought a Sweaty Band with whales on it, and came home to start prepping for my massive cheering spree tomorrow. I’m planning to bike to four different points on the marathon course, armed with the famous dollar store clapping hands. If I can’t run, I might as well be as obnoxious as possible.

Meanwhile, I’ve been occupying myself by, mostly, getting really into other sports and buying things:

I’m doing a century in two weeks. I actually registered for this when I still thought I was going to run a marathon, which might have been TOTALLY insane. It might still be totally insane. My longest ride before it (and longest since the ride to Santa Cruz in March) will be about 60 miles, but I’ve been routinely riding 50 on the weekends and trying to hit 100 total bike miles a week, and I’ve been promised that it’s a relaxed ride mostly involving eating peaches from the organic farms that serve as rest stops, so I hope it goes OK.

I’m trying out for a masters group. The one closest to me requires some sort of audition. I do not know what this tryout will be, other than that it’s happening at 6:45 a.m. on Monday. The only other time I’ve tried out for anything athletic was in junior high softball, and that’s really best not recalled. I hope I do not have to swim a) well or b) fast. (I’m less concerned about (b) — the program explicitly splits itself into “fast” and “slow” — but (a) could be a challenge.)

I finally have a heart rate monitor I don’t hate. I bought a Mio Link recently, and while I haven’t (obviously) gotten to use it on many runs, I’ve taken it on a few bike rides. It’s the first time I’ve had heart rate data — after the Sports Bra Chafing from Hell, a chest strap was strongly unappealing — and I’m just in exploration mode right now, but I’m wondering if my next running comeback, whenever that might be, might be the right time to transition to heart rate training.

I did a race. This was the Vineman Monte Rio Olympic tri back at the beginning of June, better known as how to torpedo what could have been a goal race in three easy steps. (Step 1: do it in the middle of marathon training; Step 2: miss your swim wave start completely; Step 3: know literally nothing else about the course and get surprised by rough road on the bike and a tough hill at the end of the run.) It was a blast, though. I had a rental house on the river with a ton of friends, I PR’d my Olympic-distance bike, and I finished in 3:06-ish, which considering I spent 3 minutes walking in a shallow, rocky river desperately trying to get to the swim start after the horn had already blown is not too bad at all. I’m really hungry for a sub-3 Olympic tri right now, though, and I’d hoped to do it in Oakland. The whole not-running thing is casting some doubt on that, so I’ve started to think about maybe going back to Santa Cruz at the end of September instead.

And, well, there we are. More regular updates, and I hope more regular running, coming soon.

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How I’m Attempting to Fix Myself

One fact I should note right off the top: I am not a doctor. I didn’t even take AP bio. The only letters after my name have to do with writing words and organizing information systems, and it turns out that alarmist googling of Runner’s World injury forums does not in fact make one a font of valid medical advice.

What I am, though, is a runner who gets injured a lot and has to dig herself out of it.

Since I started running in 2008, I’ve been making my way through a checklist of most of the standard running injuries. Plantar fasciitis? Check. Achilles tendinitis? Sure. IT band syndrome? Reporting for duty. Not-shin-splints-and-probably-not-MTSS-but-something-else-lower-leg-ish? I got your NSSAPNMTSSBSELLI right here.

So I wanted to document what I’m doing to try to get, and stay, healthy this summer. The vast majority of these exercises came to me via the PTs at the CPMC outpatient physical therapy clinic; a handful came from my best friend the internet. Obviously, at a whopping 10 days into my return to running (which has yet to include a continuous run without walk breaks), it’s a bit early to say they’re working — but I have been at this place with injuries before, where things occasionally feel tight but never hurt, and I think of it as a small hop from there to “you’re fine; stop worrying about it.”

Of course, I might someday end up saying, oh, screw it, none of this stuff worked and these other things I’ve never even heard of today were actually the magic bullets. If that happens, I’ll update this post. Pinky-swear.


When I was first in physical therapy after my IT band went bananas last summer, I was given three main “homework” exercises: single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, and single-leg sideways step-downs. There were a few others thrown in for me to do as I felt like it or as part of a regular core routine — most notably planks and bridges — but those three were the gold standard.

When I went back for the mysterious leg injury, I got more or less the same exercises, only now I do them barefoot. The first step of each of these exercises is to transfer my weight onto the standing leg and concentrate on “pulling up” my arch. To me, that feels like pushing the base of my big toe into the ground, spreading my toes slightly and creating a sturdy base. In all honesty, I hadn’t been doing this step until, uh, last week, and as soon as I got the correction, I noticed a difference. The bigger muscles these exercises were initially intended to work — glutes and hamstrings, mostly — are stronger now than they were last summer; the teeny tiny muscles in my feet and legs, though, still need help, and focusing on my foot position forces them to wake up.

Here’s what I currently consider my Big Four, which I do at least twice a week. A full set (2x through each exercise) takes me between 20 and 40 minutes, depending, basically, on how many times I lose my balance and fall over. I used to combine them with lifting at the gym, but now that I’m doing them barefoot, I’m sticking to my living room — which is fine, because that’s where the TV is.

  • Single-leg squats. I do these two different ways: with my resting leg held up just off the ground in front of me, or with my resting leg alternately going to the front, the side, the back, and across my body behind me (e.g. crossing my right knee behind my left and reaching my right foot toward my left side when my left leg is working). I’ll either do 20 of the straight-up-and-down ones or 10 of the multi-directional ones per set.
  • Single-leg deadlifts. I’ve also done these different ways, both weighted and unweighted. I always start with my working leg very slightly bent at the knee and my free leg extended behind me. In one version I hold a light weight in one hand and, as I hinge forward, aim it in three different directions: the outside of my standing leg, my ankle (e.g. straight down), and the inside of my standing leg. I always forget which hand the weight is “supposed” to be in, but according to my PT, it works with either, so I alternate. In the unweighted version, I hold onto something like a skinny PVC pipe (at PT) or my Stick (at home) with both hands and hinge straight forward, keeping the stick/pipe level and maintaining stability and control with my standing leg. I aim for 10 of the multi-directional ones (30 total, though I can typically only get through 7 or 8 rounds with good form so far) or 15-20 of the straight-up-and-down ones.
  • Sideways step-downs. I hate these with a fiery passion, so I guess I need to do them. I stand with the foot of my working leg on the outside edge of a box and my free leg dangling off it to the side. I bend/squat with the working leg until the foot of the free leg just barely touches the floor, then push myself back up. I do 15 on each leg.
  • Single-leg calf raises. An oldie but a goodie; I started doing the double-leg version after every run a couple of years ago. (I live on the second floor, so when I come in the door, I do 10 on the bottom stair and 10 on the top stair.) I’m now also doing a single-leg version on the same step I use for the step-downs, dropping my heel off the back and pushing up fully onto my toes. I shoot for 15 on each leg and usually want to cry by 12.

And I’m also doing a few things every day, or at least five times per week:

  • Ankle inversion/eversion with a resistance band. Cris explains this well.
  • Balancing on one foot. Just…balancing on one foot. I do 30 seconds with my eyes open on each foot, then 30 seconds with my eyes closed on each foot. Luckily, I watch a lot of TV, so I do this during commercial breaks, which also makes commercial breaks go a lot faster.
  • Foam rolling/Stick-ing/rolling on a lacrosse ball. Like, a lot. Again, good thing I watch so much TV. I try to get my IT bands, hamstrings, quads, and calves with the roller (regular most of the time, trigger point when something feels especially in need of attention) every day. I’ll also sit with a lacrosse ball under any knots in my calves and then roll the inside of my left leg on it. I’m trying to use The Stick more, because it can be very targeted, but I’m a little wimpy with it and don’t think I apply enough pressure.

Some things that occasionally get thrown into my routine:

  • Catch on a bosu ball. I stand on the squishy part of a bosu ball with both feet while someone else throws a light, soft medicine ball at me in different directions and I reach to catch it without coming off the bosu.
  • Bosu steps. I stand behind a bosu ball, squishy side up. With one foot at a time, I’ll step partially onto the bosu — not fully onto the surface but just enough feel resistance — and then push back and repeat with the other foot. I’ve also done these standing to either side of the bosu to get more practice moving laterally.
  • Karate kicks. I like this one cause it freaks out my cats. Standing on one leg, lift the opposite knee to waist height and then kick that leg to the front, then side, then back. I repeat 10 times or until I fall over.
  • Bridges (two-legged and single-legged); planks (regular and side). Since I started going back to yoga, I don’t do these as much on their own, but sometimes if I’m already lying down I’ll throw a couple in.

And, most recently, I started doing the MYRTL routine (PDF; video) after every run. Given that it’s supposed to help with hip stability/flexibility, which I know I need, I figured it wouldn’t hurt. That was my actual logic: “I figured it wouldn’t hurt.” And that, folks, is why I’m not a doctor.

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I’m not good at “easing in.” I’m all-or-nothing, inertia personified. I don’t feel right unless I’m fully committed to whatever course of action I’ve picked. And yet I’m sitting here on the first day of June, 10 days from marathon training D-day, in limbo.

I’m four weeks out from Wildflower, two weeks out from the end of my total break. It’s been a surprisingly hard month — hard to stay patient and hard to get going again, a double-whammy that I probably should have seen coming.

And…I’m not better. I mean, I’m better, but I’m not fixed. That spot just above my ankle still feels like there are gremlins tugging on it from the inside, squeezing tight and not letting go.

So I’m stuck. I haven’t cheated on the plan; I haven’t run in a month, other than about 20 steps while trying on shoes. I did see another doctor for a second fourth opinion, and he spent all of two minutes poking at me, then said, “Well, if you’re not wincing, you must be fine” and “Some people just aren’t meant to run.” (ETA: He also seemed confused about why I would stop running and said he didn’t see a risk of further damage. I am not actually an idiot; I just play one on the internet.) I see my physical therapist again next week, and my podiatrist the week after that, but … so what, I guess, is what my attitude’s become. And it’s not a great attitude, I know that, but I’m having a hard time mustering anything else.

That’s not how I wanted to feel as the calendar clicked over to June.

I wanted to be excited about training for a marathon. My first marathon! The thing I’ve planned this whole silly year around! Instead, every time I think about it, I’m just … sad. That seems so silly and juvenile, written out like that. But yeah, that’s it. I’m sad. I’ve been trying to get on the bike and in the pool, to maintain any semblance of fitness — which, by the way, in two weeks off? total nosedive — but if they’re also pissing off my leg, then why bother with any of it?

Well, because, I guess, that’s what my identity is bound up in now. I didn’t realize it fully before this, and anyone who knew me five years ago — hell, two years ago — would find it hilarious that somehow I became someone who doesn’t know who she is if she’s not swimming and biking and running. But that’s who I’ve turned into, and I’m not ready to let go of that. Maybe it would be smarter to let go of it, but I’m not ready.

So the deal I’m making is this: If at any point I start to feel worse than I did when training for Wildflower, I’ll stop. And otherwise, I’m forging ahead. I’m doing it with a vague sense of dread, instead of the lightness and freshness I hoped the month off would bring, but I want to at least try.

If I’m not wincing, I must be fine. I mean, someone with a medical degree told me that, so it’s true, right?

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Four Things Friday

1. I did not run on the treadmill at my podiatrist’s office after all. Apparently that comes later, after the new orthotics are broken-in. By the miracle of math, the follow-up appointment will be on my first official day of marathon training — I know it’s official because it’s on my calendar and stuff — so I need to get a couple of test runs in slightly sooner than planned, but the general idea of run-walking my way back into things in early June is still a go, assuming sparkle leg here agrees and the doctor I’m seeing on Monday (the long-delayed “second opinion,” which is now technically a third or fourth opinion) doesn’t come up with all-new ideas about what’s wrong with me. I really just want to go for a run without stressing out about it, one of these days.

2. Speaking of the new orthotics: Holy hell, they are beasts. It’s a good thing I’m not a zero-heel-drop zealot, because these are basically kitten heels all on their own, even before they go into my tank-like running shoes. You guys, I have feelings about this. (They may make me 5’2″, though, so that’s … something.) The problem about being less of a blind follower this time around is that this seems wrong, or at least wildly countercultural. Like, while other people are bouncing around in their cute little PureWhatevers, I’m wearing a higher heel than I do on a daily freaking basis. I used to wear my old orthotics in one pair of my everyday walking shoes, but I can’t do that with these; my heel pops out immediately. As a midfoot (or, maybe more accurately, whole-foot) striker, I have a hard time imagining how this is going to feel when I’m running; the forefoot is just a regular insole, so maybe I won’t notice anything, or maybe I’ll constantly feel like my heel is going to fly out of my shoes. I don’t know; like I said, I have feelings. Also, at least the manufacturer was nice enough to put a young trail runner on the cover of their “Orthotics and You”-style brochure, because everyone in the rest of the pictures is old. Old, old, old, in old-people shoes.

3. The shoe part of things was, as ever, bizarre and fascinating. My marching orders were to order the Brooks Trance, Mizuno Wave Alchemy, and Saucony Grid Stabil. I then went off-script and threw in the Mizuno Wave Ascend because I’m looking for trail shoes and had planned to get the trail Adrenalines, but if Adrenalines aren’t right for me after all, well, I don’t know anything anymore. The Trance and the Alchemy both advanced to the “buy these from a place where you can run outside and return them if you hate them” round, with a slight preference for the Trance from my side and a slight preference for the Alchemy from theirs (I thought the whole shape of the Alchemy was weird). The Adrenalines are not officially out of the picture, though they ranked a solid No. 3 from the people who know things. The Saucony was out immediately — fascinating to me because, from the description, they should have been the most “stable” of the three and yet my feet felt floppy and like they didn’t know how to control what was happening. I know a couple of ladies who may be reading this have fit people for running shoes before, so I’m dying to know: WTF? Is there some limit of stability after which my feet just say, “Eh, we’re just gonna do our own thing, cool?” Also, the Wave Ascends literally didn’t even get into the hallway before they were rejected, so if you know any good stability trail shoes, help a girl out, mmkay? (Incidentally, all of the shoe-trying happened sans orthotics, which I guess I thought was odd. Like, on the one hand, yay! You like the way these shoes fit me before I’m wearing orthotics! And on the other hand, why the orthotics, then? So many feelings.)

4. I don’t think rest agrees with me after all. Sure, it was great when I was lying inside a cabana all day, but now my days are basically bed –> work –> couch –> bed, and my body is starting to rebel. My piriformis, which is often cranky but was blissfully silent during all of my Wildflower training, is starting to yell at levels I haven’t felt in months. My back is stiff. My ankles don’t remember how to move without cracking, and my knees find me vaguely annoying. I’m basically the poster child for Sitting Kills. I’m walking Bay to Breakers on Sunday, and then I think it’s time for a swim.

Tell me about your shoe issues. Come on, we can work through it together!

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Doing Nothing, and the Looming Something

For the past nine days, the only pool I’ve been in is this one:

(Thanks, Hotel Zoso website)

And by “in” the pool, I mean “leaning on the wall, reading a magazine, drinking a gin and tonic.”

Despite all of my “I want to race NOW NOW”-ishness, it turns out I’m quite skilled at doing Nothing. In fact, the more Nothing I do, the more I want to do Nothing.

I saw my physical therapist for a post-Wildflower check-in on Saturday, and he asked how I’d been feeling since the race. “Um, actually? Great. I had to run for a train on Monday and I didn’t die. I stopped being sore around Tuesday.”

“That’s awesome!” he said. “So what have you been doing since then?”


“Nothing? Come on. Seriously. What have you been doing?”



“OK, fine. I stretched a couple of times. And foam rolled. And, um. I haven’t stopped walking?”

A couple of hours later, I was on a plane to Palm Springs. Pete and I have been going to Palm Springs for four years now, since the Ace Hotel opened — literally since it opened; we made reservations not knowing we were going to be among the Ace’s first guests, so it’s a good thing it opened on time. The first time, Palm Springs was largely a base for us to explore Joshua Tree, but we quickly discovered a lot to love about the town itself — not least of which is the skeptical “but…what do you do in Palm Springs?” reaction we get from anyone under the age of 75 whom we tell about our plans. What do we do in Palm Springs? We sit. And drink. And read. And sit. Sometimes in a hammock. Sometimes in a pool. Sometimes, when it’s not 105 degrees outside, in a hot tub. Lots of reading, sitting, and drinking. (Palm Springs also has good hiking, many hotels that loan cruiser bikes, and swimming pools that are plenty big enough to actually swim in, but those things are easily ignorable if the goal is to plop down somewhere and never move.)

We branched out this time — the still-weirdly-high-seasonal rates at the Ace forced our hand — and stayed downtown at the Hotel Zoso, which lacked the hipster-y food and cocktails of the Ace but also eliminated the long drive to downtown and, well, the worst of the hipsters. The pool was small, the hot tub irrelevant, but the pool bar…existed, which is really all I require, and the set of free, first-come/first-served canopied cabanas were a surprising plus for us pale folks. We were also spitting distance from some of our standby restaurants and self-serve yogurt, plus a slightly longer walk to our favorite brunch and new-favorite pizza (with peaches and radicchio — good lord). I missed some things about the Ace (e.g. a pool area open later than 10 p.m.), but I can’t argue with the sheer convenience of the Zoso.

I also can’t argue with this view.

So now I’m back, but I’m still not doing much of anything — unless you count obsessively planning for when I will be doing something again, in which case I’ve been quite active. I’m Type A-ing all over a marathon training plan, and researching yoga classes, and sort-of starting to redeem a pilates studio coupon I bought months ago (creating an account on the site counts, right?). My original goal was two weeks completely off, and I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting it.

The longer this recovery period lasts, though, the more nervous I get. Buried up there somewhere is the fact that I’ve been feeling mostly great since Wildflower — better than I expected, better than I probably have any right to feel considering that I’ve been semi-injured for more than three months. It’s not my first significant time off of running — three weeks right after my leg first went nuts, another week in March — but neither of those breaks seemed to make much difference, so it’s tempting to think that the time off everything is doing me some good. At the same time, though, I felt better 48 hours after Wildflower than I had at virtually any point since January, which makes much less sense. Everything about this injury has been baffling — from its origins to its sporadic appearances to its complete evasion of meaningful medical diagnoses. For whatever reason, Wildflower and its immediate aftermath seems to have knocked things into some sort of equilibrium, and I’m terrified to disturb it.

But I’m going to have to disturb it. On Thursday, I’ve got a blind date with my podiatrist’s treadmill and all the shoes I ordered after my appointment last month. I thought about delaying it, but I also need to get my shoe situation sorted out soon. And then there’s the matter of wanting some semblance of fitness going into marathon training, considering I’ll already have less of a base than I would hope to have. If I had a nickel for every person who told me, “You know only running is the problem,” well … I’d have about 15 cents, but that’s still more than the zero cents I’d have for the people who believe my suspicion that maybe swimming and cycling played a role too. And “Just stop if it hurts” is little comfort since I tend to go from zero to OMG INJURED with no warning.

Still. Nothing to do but to do something, I guess. Soon. Just…not yet.

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Orthotics as Morality Play

I saw my old podiatrist today. I would put this in the category of “getting out the big guns,” because my insurance doesn’t cover her. At the end of our appointment, I paid an amount that — to borrow a phrase from Katie — I’d prefer not to spend anywhere but Bloomingdale’s. I left hopeful but also very, very conflicted.

Back in 2008, this doctor made me orthotics as one part of treatment for plantar fasciitis. I was new to running and naive and had what seemed like an unlimited supply of money to spend on health expenses (best insurance situation ever, ask me about it sometime, especially if you work in HR and could set this up for your employees, because it was brilliant), and I think I would have done anything anyone told me to do. I’d been running for less than a year. I didn’t know anything about running, and — probably more crucially — I didn’t think I knew anything about running. I didn’t do research or read blogs or Runner’s World forums or subscribe to running magazines. When I went to a doctor, and that doctor said, “this is your problem, this is how we treat it, cool?” it was cool.

So I got orthotics, and I wore them religiously. I give them credit — a lot of credit — for getting me back to running pain-free. But in the years since, I’ve learned more about biomechanics and foot strike, and I’ve become aware of how much information is out there to contradict the traditional views of pronation and correction — barefoot! Newtons! zero drop! — and I’ve occasionally felt guilty about the little pieces of foam inside my shoes. I deeply believed that orthotics were the reason I could keep running. Simultaneously, I deeply believed that they were a band-aid solution.

When I hurt my IT band last summer, the “band-aid solution” voice started to win. It was the only running injury since my first that I couldn’t easily explain (me deciding to put myself in neutral shoes and then run a half-marathon doesn’t count; that was just dumb). I had a gait analysis that revealed some issues with my form, and I started physical therapy to try to strengthen those weaknesses. I also switched shoes, again — my long and tortured history with shoes is right over here — and after a few weeks, my physical therapist suggested that maybe I was being overcorrected. The striver in me was thrilled — I have fixed myself with single-leg squats! I am the American dream! I kept running in the Adrenalines with orthotics most of the time, but I also got PureCadences and ran a little bit in them — sans orthotics, gasp — and started looking at Ravennas.

And then this leg thing happened. And two different medical professionals called my orthotics “flimsy” and suggested maybe they were part of the problem. I knew, deep down, when I decided to go back to my old podiatrist what her answer was going to be. Whatever my own conflicts, I made the choice to see a doctor who has no reservations about orthotics being the solution, and there I was this morning, paying a hold-on-and-let-me-vomit-while-I-give-you-my-credit-card amount of money to try another type.

A couple of hours later, the sticker shock has worn off. There are a load of less-expensive ways I could have gone about this, with over-the-counter inserts and the like, but that’s kind of the “buy six pairs of crappy Old Navy pants instead of the one quality pair of J.Crew pants” problem, and I like to believe that in adulthood, I’ve learned to go for the quality. I pay this much yearly for contact lenses — another “elective medical treatment” my insurance doesn’t cover no matter where I go — and hell, those go in the trash every two weeks! The difference is, I believe in contact lenses. I can see when I wear them, and I prefer them in comfort and style to my glasses. There’s no moral gray area there.

Paying that much for something I don’t completely believe in? And then starting yet another quest for the super-perfect-magic-bullet shoes that I don’t think exist, starting with a list of shoes that seem heavier and more “built up” than anything I’d normally try? That’s a harder call. That approach worked for me once. That approach also failed me at least once. But so has every other approach I’ve tried.

The prevailing attitude reads, to me, that there is a Right Way and a Wrong Way to run these days. Right Way: less shoe, fix your biomechanics, get your own body to be strong. Wrong Way: more shoe, stiffer orthotics, rely on external products to correct your problems. To choose the wrong way feels like a failure: I tried to fix and rely on my body, but I didn’t do a good enough job.

For the past several years, when people have brought up the benefits/drawbacks of different running techniques and shoes and whatnot, I’ve tried to shut it down with, “whatever works for you is the right thing for you.” But when nothing consistently works for you? It’s a whole lot harder to be so flippant.

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Running Silent

I had my MRI follow-up today. Medically, I am in one piece. Medically, there is no next step, at least not with this doctor. He sent me off with instructions to stop heel-striking, lose weight, and possibly go back to Superfeet inserts (that another doctor said were a main contributing factor to my first running injury in 2008). I’m mired in this muck of opinions — I’m a heel-striker! I’m a midfoot striker! I’m a severe overpronator! I’m a “textbook neutral runner”! (someone told me that two weeks after the severe overpronator comment) I’m too fat to run! Maybe I should run more to be less fat! I need orthotics! No, not those orthotics, different ones! And heavier stability shoes! I need to go minimalist! I need to go to yet another $400 running clinic not covered by insurance where I’ll hear some combination of the above again! — and I’m not seeing a path through it at the moment. So I’m going to talk about something else.


I’ve said before that I started running because I wanted an excuse to buy an iPod Nano. I love making playlists. I love seeing a new podcast pop up in iTunes and knowing that I’ll get to listen to it during a long run. I love hearing a new song and thinking, “I can’t wait to race to that.”

But triathlons don’t allow headphones or music on the course. (They also, according to the Wildflower athlete guide I received today, don’t allow crawling.) So when I started training with TAG, I quit running with music cold-turkey.

Lots of people in my group train with music. On our longer runs, I see iPods and headphones come out of pockets and fuel belts around mile 2; the group’s split up, we’re running on our own or running too hard for idle chatter, and the music kicks in. I’ve had my Shuffle with me a few times, but I’ve resisted. I needed to get used to hearing my breathing, my footfalls. I needed to know that I could run on my own with only myself to listen to.

I’ve done it before; my first race was a no-headphones race. (Granted, at that race I latched onto a girl who was playing music through her phone on speaker and didn’t let her go till we crossed the finish line.) So I knew I could leave the headphones at home. What I didn’t know is if I could enjoy running without them.

I know a lot of people think of music as a crutch for runners, and I’ll admit that’s true for me — but beyond that, it’s a key part of what I love about the experience of running. My long runs are my chance to see the ocean, check in on the Golden Gate Park buffalo, and catch up on Pop Culture Happy Hour. It’s the most enjoyable form of multitasking I can imagine.

As it turns out, running silent hasn’t been as hard as I expected it would be. I still prefer running track intervals with Kelly Clarkson keeping me company, but running till I want to puke feels like running till I want to puke whether I have a soundtrack for it or not. And my group runs are reasonably social; usually I’m with a group for the first miles and the last miles and only have to entertain myself in the middle. Sunday’s race was actually the first time in six weeks that I’ve longed for music; I wanted so badly to hear anything but my own ragged breathing. But it’s survivable.

So what do I do when I’m running without headphones?

– I sing to myself. All the damn time. I wish I could change these songs the way I’d move to the next song on a playlist, because I’m the queen of earworms and bad at actually knowing lyrics, so I’ll get the same 30 seconds of music with three words stuck in my brain. (Last Tuesday, I saw Jeff Mangum play; on Sunday, I spent my entire race with “do de do do do do in the aeroplane over the sea/ something something soft and sweet do do do do do do do do do do do dooooo” on an endless loop.)

– I write blog posts. Like this one. I’m a cliche of myself.

– I think about television. Like, I’ll recap an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in my head. Old habits die hard?

– I bargain. “Run to that intersection and then you can look at your watch.”

I wish I could say I contemplate life, or my career, or the state of world affairs. Instead, I’m ranking the best all-time Project Runway contestants and singing 2% of an indie song with the wrong words.

This should be the point where I say something like “but I love it! I feel so free running without music. I understand it now! I’m more in touch with the world and nature and my body!” But oh, hells no. The headphones are back May 7. I have 500 unlistened-to podcasts, for starters, and I cannot wait to have a Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me quiz to escape into when things get rough during a race.

But it’s been good for me to try. I know that. And I’m not afraid of running silent anymore. I know I like it better when I have the option of music, but I don’t need to shy away from races that don’t allow it or opt out of a run because I forgot my headphones (yeah, I’ve done that). Not my favorite tool, sure, but one I’m glad to have in my toolkit nonetheless.

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