Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Achilles Heel, Literally

I have let too much time go by without writing here, because I've been overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to summarize everything I've been doing the past few months (to say nothing of pretty much all of last year...). Finally I realized there would be no way to write a thorough summary all at once, so I decided just to jump in where I'm at now, and I'll fill in pieces from the past as they become relevant, in this post and others.

Right now, what I urgently need to get off my chest is that I'm thinking of quitting running.

Maybe "quit" is the wrong term to use for this situation, as I don't intend for the break to be permanent. I just might need to take some time off in order to let my plantar fasciitis heal completely.

It first started flaring up about a year ago, when I was focusing on changing my running stride in order to end and prevent further knee pain. I moved from a heel strike to a mid-foot strike, and that along with hip strengthening exercises made my knee feel as good as new! Unfortunately, heel pain quickly cropped up in its place.

The pain wasn't too bad at first, and usually only bothered me for a while after a run. In fact, it was so mild that I didn't even associate it with running right away -- I just thought I was having this weird, random heel pain some days! Finally I hit up Dr. Google for a little self-diagnosis, and the answer was pretty obvious based on every description I read.

Luckily the internet is a treasure trove of useful tips for combatting this particular annoyance, and I have tried nearly every one: foam rolling, extra stretching of calves and Achilles, never going barefoot/mostly wearing shoes with adequate arch support, stretching/massaging feet and legs before getting out of bed in the morning, custom orthotics, rolling feet on a lacrosse ball, rolling feet on a frozen water bottle, KT tape, and most recently the famed Strassburg sock. Each method has brought some measure of temporary relief, but the problem has not gone away.

Now, the pain was still manageable last year and I wasn't really worried about it. I was able to run a solid Army 10 Miler in October, and then my first half marathon in November! The PF did not get in the way at all. Then I took a few months off running due to illness, the holidays, and then my tonsillectomy. By February, I was able to walk barefoot around the house again without pain. I thought the problem was gone.

When I started running again, everything was fine. Then when my spring 10K plans fell through and I decided to run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler instead, I had to rapidly step up my weekly mileage, and the pain started creeping back in. It has been a huge problem ever since.

After Cherry Blossom, I eased up on the running in order to help the PF go away, and to focus on my swimming and biking to prepare for this tri season. But I do have to do some running, and so despite my best efforts, I'm still hurting a lot. I don't want to resort to cortisone shots or surgery, but I'm running out of other options!!

My situation right now is unique. I've been laid off from my job and haven't been able to find a new one yet, so my finances are limited. I can't afford a fancy sports massage that might loosen up my calves and fix the root of the problem. I might see a doctor and hope they will prescribe physical therapy that would be covered by my insurance. Other than that, all I can think to do is get through Iron Girl as best I can, and then take an extended break from running.

It breaks my heart a little to be thinking of this. I haven't registered for any fall races yet because I can't justify spending the money when I'm unemployed, but missing those races will make me sad. Fall is my favorite time of the year to run!! And I don't look forward to starting from scratch with running all over again for the billionth time. So part of me still hopes that one of these days, all the PF therapies I've been doing will finally work! On the other hand, if I use all that time I would have been running to get much much stronger at swimming and biking, then I could be setting myself up for a fantastic tri season next year. So maybe it will be worth it in more ways than one?

I haven't made a decision yet, and I don't think I really need to right away. As long as I don't have any income, I won't be tempted to register for fall races, so basically I can wait until after Iron Girl to decide whether to take a break from running or not. I just wanted to get my thoughts out right now in order to start processing them all. If you have any helpful insights, feel free to share!