Several times over the past few months I have thought it is time to write a new blog post. Every time, including now, I stop short because I just don’t want to address what I am dealing with. Today, however, I find myself on a four hour cross country flight. I could read, but the topic I am going to share keeps going through my mind. Blogging may be motivational to the reader, but at times it is cathartic to the writer. This post just may be a combination of motivation for you and cathartic for me.
I have not run a mile or more since December 22nd. Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows I am not close to being a fast runner. But it is a passion of mine. Swimming is the sport I am most proficient at of the three – swimming, cycling and running. Have you ever heard of a swimmer’s high? Right. So when things get stressful, I run. When I want to take in the beauty around me, I run. After my iron distance triathlon in October, I took two weeks off from running while my body healed. By early November I was anxious to get back running. I started easy and then built up doing a few speed workouts. I had registered for the Houston half marathon in January and I wanted to get a good base. By mid November I started feeling a sharp pain in my left ankle. It is on the top inside, close to where I had hyperextended it a year earlier. Like most runners do, I ignored it.
The pain didn’t go away. It wasn’t constant but rather showed up after running several miles. I taped it for support – no help. So in mid December I went to see a sports chiropractor. Maybe a bone was out of place. After three weeks of adjustments, nothing changed. Then I went to see my general physician, maybe I had a stress fracture in my ankle. He sent me to a orthopedic foot specialist. I left the specialist’s office in an air cast. While walking in it was a bit cumbersome, I have to say the cast was incredibly comfortable. I wore it for two weeks leading up to an MRI. At this point I had canceled the Houston half marathon and the Shamrock marathon in Virginia Beach in mid March was looking questionable. I was okay with it. I wanted to get strong so I could participate in an half ironman in August and, yes I am a glutton for punishment, I registered for Ironman Maryland (again) in October.
When the orthopedic foot specialist came in the room to give me the results of the MRI I was prepared to hear the worst, which would be a stress fracture. But that wasn’t the worst. I didn’t have a stress fracture. He told me I have arthritis in my ankle. I have sprained my left ankle at least six, if not eight, times since I was a child. He said arthritis was inevitable. He didn’t spend much time with me though. He said if he were me he wouldn’t run, but he doesn’t run anyway. I was given a prescription for orthotics and told if the pain was too bad he could fuse my ankle. What? Not a chance.
The next day I was on the phone with my general physician. He suggested going to a sports orthopedic doctor and got me in to see one of the best in town – the orthopedist for the Cleveland Browns. This appointment was much more helpful. The doctor examined my ankle, focused on exactly where I felt pain and went through my MRI screen by screen with me. He was looking at it for the first time and as he studied it he pointed to the screen and showed me why I have such sharp pain in one specific spot. I have developed a bone spur on the end of my tibia (main bone in the calf) and it is stabbing my talus (bone at top of the ankle). He looked at me standing and said I pronate significantly (leg and foot roll inward) and that, along with the cartilage deteriorating, had caused the spur to develop.
What is the solution? He told me orthotics should help correct my pronation, pain management with NSAIDs, and he pointed out the elephant in the room – stop running and start cross training. I told him I was a triathlete and about all of the other training I do. Apparently even sports doctors are puzzled by all that triathletes do and question why not running is a problem. I will say he had a good poker face when I explained my weekly workout schedule. If I wanted to run and could tolerate the pain, he said it wouldn’t make my arthritis worse. I do run the risk of developing a stress fracture in my talus as a result of the spur hitting it while running. He also referred me to his colleague who is a sports orthopedic ankle specialist, a combination of the past two orthopedists I have seen. I knew that if I went to see her, we would be talking surgery. At that point I was not prepared to have surgery as I still wanted to do the two triathlons later this year.
That was January 26th. Since learning about this I have gone through several stages of the five stages of grief. I am past denial now. Denial and bargaining go hand in hand frequently. Oh and depression jumped in the mix now and then. After getting fitted for custom orthotics, I thought I could substitute the elliptical during the week for my week day “runs” and do a long walk/run on the weekend. That plan lasted a week and a half. Even the elliptical hurts at times from the movement and the spur. I would go through bouts of sadness (not lying, I still do) as I was forced to accept my limitations. Bargaining with myself as to what I could do to get to the starting lines of the races, I even considered cortisone shots before the races to mask the pain.
Acceptance is where I am at now, although sadness rears its face occasionally. I am pulling out of both races. Just typing that sentence has brought tears to my eyes. Great, I am sitting on an airplane trying not to cry. Since I couldn’t go to Houston in January, I have a free ticket to use. Since I am not running a marathon later this month, I have vacation time to use. I decided to fly to San Francisco to visit my friend and go up to Napa Valley. We went together back in December of 2012. I blogged about it here. We are both celebrating big birthdays too. Since I am spilling my guts in this blog, I may as well get it all out there. I am going to turn 50 on Wednesday. My friend’s birthday was in January. Now it may be a little more clear why this has been so hard for me – I am getting old and falling apart! I say that in jest. A little. (At least I am not crying on a plane anymore.)
I decided to meet with the sports ankle orthopedist. The appointment is scheduled for mid March. If removing the spur will help reduce the pain, I am going to consider surgery. The stabbing pain is beginning to show up during the day, outside of fitness. I am swimming and cycling much more, as well as increasing my weight lifting routine to strengthen bones since I am not running. I am also working with the lifeguard who taught me how to flip turn. Now he is helping me on the other strokes. I have freestyle down, but my butterfly, breast and back are terrible. Maybe I will compete in masters swim meets in the future. I am also considering aquabike races – the swim and bike leg of triathlon. As triathletes age and/or get injured, they still want to compete and aquabike races were born. I am beginning to turn the corner, or page if you will, to see the opportunities that lie ahead. Running took up a lot of my time, I haven’t gone skiing in decades – I may get back into it. Cross country as well as downhill. While the optimism is peeking through, I am not totally there yet. But like the sun at the earliest of dawn, I see it on the distant horizon.