Thursday, July 2, 2009

Riding-Related: Running and the Foot Saga

Okay, so this post doesn't have anything directly related to motorcycle riding, but there is a connection between being physically and mentally fit and being able to stay on the motorcycle for extended periods of time, day after day.

Running has become a part of my life, ever since my husband died. It's not so bad. The shoes and other gear are so much better than they were 20 years ago. Shoe technology has become more sophisticated than ever. Sort of like motorcycle tires. Different compounds, different shoe lasts for different types of running strides, better cushioning, better foot stabilization. They make it so much easier for old people like me to get out there and do 20-30 miles a week without injury. Or nearly so.

I began running seriously in February, 2001 and have vivid and fond memories of every single race I've entered. I've accumulated many marathon and half marathon finisher's medals, even a couple of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place awards in shorter races. The long running distances seem to come naturally for me. I'm not the swiftest person on the race course, but I've proven myself to be consistent and to have the ability to put in negative splits, something many runners are unable to do. My running partner used to call me the Energizer Bunny, since I could keep going, and going, and going...

Unfortunately for me, though, I have osteopenia. This means thinning bones (the bane of being light-boned to begin with, and having a hereditary tendency as well). Despite taking once-a-week Fosamax to slow down - even to reverse - the steady decline in bone density, I managed to get a stress fracture on my left heel. At first I thought it was plantar fasciitis, and was doing all the things you're supposed to do to help that condition heal. But all the while, I was puzzled how I could have developed this condition since I didn't have any of the risk factors: I don't have flat feet, I have a very neutral gait with no excessive pronation, I don't have tight calves, ACL, or hamstrings. Nonetheless, this pain had been nagging me to the point that it finally cut my training short in October 2006, preventing me from participating in the 2007 marathon.

A long rest, stretching exercises, and then gradual return to running the summer of 2007 seemed to be going well. The pain in that left heel was mostly gone, reduced to a very dull ache if I'd been on my feet for a long while. So in August 2007 I began to increase the miles - gradually - in preparation to doing the Marathon in January 2008.

When the weekly long run distances got up over 10 miles, though, the pain started to return. Then, in early December 2007, I was at Cedar Key FL for a motorcycle group get-together. This is a great place to get a long run in, and I had worked out a 12 mile route on the island for that Sunday. The run was going well until, on the return leg, about 8 or 9 miles into it, I felt - and seemingly also heard - a sharp stab in that left heel. It was so sharp and so strong that it brought me to an abrupt halt. I began to walk, putting as little weight on it as possible, and limped the remaining distance back to the motel. It was getting no better and, in fact, seemed to be getting worse.

Back at the motel, I crafted an ice compress using a zip-lok bag I had in my room and applied it until the ice melted, then went and got more ice and continued the application for another hour or more. By that afternoon I wasn't able to put any weight at all on the foot. This was totally unlike any previous pain or discomfort I'd had with the foot. I began to question if this was plantar-related or maybe something else.

Once back in Houston, a consultation with a surgeon in our BMW club changed my self-diagnosis of plantar fasciitis to a diagnosis of stress fracture in the heel. This made sense, given my history of osteopenia (and my really low T-scores: -3.4). I stayed off the foot completely the whole rest of the month of December and first week of January 2008. But I was determined to do the Houston marathon one way or the other so, undeterred, I bought some orthotics specific to my problem and bought a pair of running shoes one size larger to accomodate them. When I went to the Fitness Expo the Friday before the race, I changed my race registration from the full marathon to the half marathon. I was determined to walk a half marathon...and I did. Every step was agony, but I finished in 3.5 hours. Stupid, I know.

The event completed, I could then give the foot a complete rest. I stayed off the foot as much as possible. When I was on my feet, I wore supportive and well-cushioned shoes. No more flip-flops. All that spring and fall I bicycled for exercise. And I registered for the Half Marathon which would be in January 2009. I simply could not let this foot problem get me down.

So, in October 2008, I began, gingerly, to start running again. I'd put some significant mileage on the bicycle, trying to maintain an aerobic pace - between 12-15 mph - but I could tell it wasn't the same. I was gaining weight and I clearly didn't have the endurance I had when I was in peak marathon form. A trip to Spain in early November and all the stairs and hills we encountered in our sightseeing confirmed that. I had a lot of work to do before mid-January. I had to reassure myself that it would be OKAY if I had to walk part of the race. The important thing was to be out there doing it.

The training went well through the fall and winter, by mixing in some cross-training by bicycle and reducing the weekly running miles. It was just enough to allow me to gradually increase the distances and the foot was holding up well. I knew from running other races that I didn't have to actually attain the mileage of the race before the actual event. If I could get within 2-3 miles of the race distance in training, the excitement and hoopla of the actual event would carry me along. The down side of this is that my weight continued to creep up. I just wasn't getting enough training in.

Through the Christmas and New Year's holidays and into early January, when other runners would start tapering before the race, I continued to increase the distances. But then the flu bug hit me! I stopped all training completely the week before the race and concentrated on getting over this bug! It took over my sinuses and moved into my chest - never a good thing for a runner. This really sucked big time! And it wasn't getting better, it just kept moving around from head to chest. Ack!

I went to the Fitness Expo to pick up my race packet and to browse the vendors a bit, but I felt about as unwelcome as Typhoid Mary. All runners are super-paranoid the week before a race!
I don't blame them!

So on race day, pumped up with cold medication and pockets bulging with tissues, my friend drove me to the start line and I ran the half marathon. Well, I managed to run the first 7 or 8 miles of it before the cold medicine began to wear off. Then it was: run, run, walk and blow my nose, run, run, walk and blow my nose....

By the last 2 miles, I could no longer run (I could hardly breathe!) but was still able to keep a 15 minute-mile pace walking. And I had run out of tissues, which was miserable. The last meet-up point with my friend before the finish line was at mile 8 and I didn't think to arm him with extra tissues. But...I finished the race. That's the important thing. I promised myself a long hiatus after the race, and that's what I did. No running for two months, and then some sporadic outings here and there through March and April.

But come May, 2009 I had to get back at it. I needed to get a good mileage base in before the marathon training cranks back up in early July. So that's where I am today. I've been running 4 days a week since Mid-May, putting in 12-15 miles a week. Six weeks of this and my endurance is now at a 5K level and I've lost 8 pounds. One more week at base mileage and training will begin.

So here's the mentally fit part: Keep pressing on when all you want to do is stop. Running marathons and half marathons these past seven years, boy do I know that feeling!

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion; objects at rest will stay at rest.


  1. Wow its time that I focus on my physical well being. During my last long ride at the end of the day I started feeling some back pain. Thats never happed before..

  2. "Keep pressing on when all you want to do is stop."

    I love how you wrapped up your story Barb! What a wonderful testimony... :)