Four weeks ago, the unthinkable happened. Four weeks ago I voluntarily took a leave of absence from running.
Well, voluntary and not.
In a desperate last-ditch attempt to cure the nagging case of plantar fasciitis that has plagued me for a year and a half, two marathons, and countless hours of physical therapy, I decided to have an ultrasound-guided Tenex procedure. Basically, the doctor inserted a small needle into my foot and broke up the damaged tissue with ultrasonic waves. The theory is that removing the damaged tissue and re-injuring the tendon allows it to heal correctly. The upside is that it’s pretty effective and the whole thing only takes about fifteen minutes. The downside is that it puts you out of commission, running-wise for four to six weeks.
So while I was more than happy to go under the knife, ahem, ultrasonic X-Acto blade to rid myself of my chronic heel pain, I did not want to give up a single run. But I did. I gave up twenty runs, my place in the NYC Marathon, and untold miles of early-morning gossip with my best running bud. And here’s what I learned…
Endorphins are real. And I need them. A wise woman once said, “exercising gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!” Well, I haven’t murdered anyone yet, but I’ve been consistently bummed out for weeks. A few days in to my sentence I found myself falling down an Instagram rabbit hole, jealously ogling #marathontraining photos, silently cursing all those able to #runhappy. Reader, it was ugly.
Marathon training completely warps your sense of what constitutes a “walkable” distance. My doctor instructed me to “take it easy” my first few weeks post-Tenex. “Sure,” I thought. “No problem!” But what is easy anyway? It turns out, my natural instinct is to walk twice as much as is necessary when going to any location and avoid complicated subway transfers at all costs. What used to be a ten-minute walk to the West 4th station turned into a daily twenty-minute Odyssey, further hindered by the plastic walking boot slowly boring a hole into my left calf. Even now that I’m out of the boot but still “taking it easy,” it’s a daily struggle to force myself to descend into the bowels of the city instead of doing what sees so natural—walking an extra five minutes to the R train “right over there.”
Stretching is a privilege. Like many runners, I am TERRIBLE about stretching. Sure, after a long run, I’ll drop my heels off a staircase, or spend a few minutes of QT with The Stick. But after my usual 3-4 miles around the neighborhood? Nah. I hit the showers and then it’s on to breakfast. Well, never again! All I’ve wanted to do these last few weeks is relax into a deep, long, calf stretch followed by several bends to release my tight hamstrings. I’ll never take my foam roller for granted again. I may even go back to yoga class. (LOL)
My friends are pretty darn great. I knew this already, of course, but even my non-running friends have been so patient as I’ve howled on about all my extra couch time. I was convinced by week two that I’d become a madwoman in my attic of a third floor walk up, likely to burn the place to the ground any time my roommate left me alone to adventure out into the wide world. (Instead I re-read Jane Eyre!) But Skype visits and real visits and even special ice cream deliveries kept me entertained and relatively cheerful.
That said, literally everyone I know is thrilled to bits that I’ve been cleared to resume running (1 mile/day!) next week. Because while my friends are great, they are also human. And had they been forced to put up with me for one more week, we’d likely be friends no longer.
Ellen Cormier lives, works, runs, walks, and has lately been limping a bit in New York City.