During my time healing in a therapy boot last December, I ate slices of humble pie by the plate.
Nothing like dressing up in a cocktail dress for a holiday party, sporting a clunky boot and trying to work the crowd with a limp. We went to Las Vegas for a conference, just the two of us, right after I got the boot. For that, I put my sore foot down. No way would the practicality of therapy trump fancy, sexy heels.
But I did my time, wanting more than anything to be able to run again by February 1. I'm not sure why I picked this number; February would only be five months away from the acute phase of my injury. I suppose I put myself in the bottom portion of the "six to nine " month healing phase. It seemed like an eternity.
Wearing the boot caused my left side to overcompensate for the awkwardness of my right foot. My scoliosis started to flare up since I wasn't practicing as much yoga - again, thanks to my foot - so as January began I found myself waking up all twisted, with pains across my left hip and down my left sciatic nerve as I hobbled to the bathroom.
I was a hot , stubborn mess. Then a mad mess, then a hopeless one, then a depressed one.
Finally in mid-January I made an appointment at a respected physical therapy clinic . I had been continuing my weekly personal training sessions, moving from cardio and ropes and lifting to more core and mobility work that didn't further exacerbate the cursed foot. With my trainer Troy's help, we created a new goal- a full pull up on my own. Just one little pull up. (As I came to find out, easier said than done.)
I rowed at the gym, and attempted assisted pull-ups with bands and weights. To date I haven't met that goal, but damn if I didn't try.
Doubly humbled, now. I realized how weak my upper body really was without relying on cardio bursts, and felt my cardio capacity weakening the more days I spent sitting on my ass instead of going for a run.
When I went into Spooner PT, I met Nicole, one of their running specialists. She listened to me with her full attention as I explained my plight in a torrent of frustrated rambling. With an amazing intuition towards what I needed, she basically told me that in her opinion, having helped hundreds of runners heal from injuries, the following information was incorrect.
1) Insoles were important.
2) Doing arch up/arch down exercises would help the achilles strengthen.
3) Proper running technique primarily developed from quads and hamstrings.
She debunked the verbiage my sports med doc had given me, but did agree that my gait was way off. I could barely walk , to be honest. Again, stupid overachiever me had overdone it again.
With encouragement, she led me over to some of the stretching apparatus and gently rubbed my low back. She showed demonstrated tiny movements to engage my core muscles, and reset the focus back on my poor glutes. Since I never learned how to fire my glutes when I ran, a virtual train wreck took over the rest of my body: weakened low back, shoulders holding on to too much pressue, knees taking a beating, and the achilles tendons down through my feet being asked to work triply hard to compensate.
A lightbulb went off. I liked this woman - she knew her business. Her positive excitement rubbed off on me instantly. "No wonder my achilles blew out!" I said in wonder.
I worked hard with Nicole. She slowly eased me from understanding the discrepancies in my body and how they applied to my poor running technique, to exercises that would teach my glutes what to do. I had previously prided myself on strong quads and solid abs; underneath a layer of three-babies-in-three-years skin that remains my nemesis, I knew the abs were there. But doing the small movements she asked me to do, I sweated and strained and felt sore for days. Humble pie, meet your New Year.
Through ten sessions, with videos taken to demonstrate both improper technique and the right modifications, she slowly moved me through her performance running program. I learned to lunge with a proper "ski jump" lean, jump to land on my both feet correctly, engage my glutes from tiny tweaks to larger movements, how to tilt forward and finally thrust my arms/elbows back to keep my shoulders from aching. I had been running all wrong for five years, with no discipline, all body parts from my feet up to my shoulders hanging on for dear life and doing the best they could to match my stubborn will.
Humble pie started to taste pretty good.
When can I run again? This became the irritating question I asked every day -- like a kid asking a parent "are we there yet?", ad naseum, on a road trip. Nicole as a runner understood my eagerness and empathized with the frustration, but in her wonderfully understanding way she set up tiny goals without shutting me down completely , as my sports med doc had done.
She only let me run, in a park on a particuarly steamy hot summer morning, after we had done six sessions in clinic. Since I started with her she had taken the leap to go off on her own, starting up her own company JumpStart Running. Her passion to help runners improve form to both prevent and heal from injury fueled all of her sessions with me.
I ran a few hundred yards, with her instructions to lean forward, fire up my glutes, keep my gaze up, and reach my arms all the way back crowding my brain. As excited was I to be given the running green light, I took it one step at a time. Damn it felt good.
Slowly I ran further. In between sessions with Nicole I ran first a mile on my own, measuring my achilles pain afterwards. I iced it, discouraged that it knotted up again. But believing in the healing process.
The next week after doing some of Nicole's exercises, I ran a mile and a half. And then two. Finally I did my first race in almost exactly a year - the Espirit De She again. Again with beautiful Brittany. But this time I signed up for the 5k instead of the 10, feeling nervous and jittery as I drove to the start.
I felt amazing. Fantastic, accomplished. I felt like I could've sprouted wings and ran forever, but I forced myself to just enjoy the sensation. I resolved to ease my way back. New goal: improve my 5K time without adding more mileage and forcing my achilles to over perform. After all, the adventure lies in the journey, not the destination.
At the finish, I hugged Brendan ecstatically and excitedly texted Nicole, amazed at my 9.40 pace .
And did I mention where else humble pie took me? With a few tips from my triathlete hubby, I taught myself how to swim laps. In my little backyard pool. Every day for first 15 minutes, then 20, and then 25, I flailed and heaved and worked on my technique to keep my cardio strong. Some days I hated it, and other times it became a determined meditation. If you can't run, why not challenge yourself and keep yourself moving.
Maybe I'll do a mini triathalon now, without my old macabre fear of drowning. And now that my fear of rupturing my achilles has dissipated.
The ol' achilles aches still every morning, but after an hour or so it feels fine. When I hike or run, I now apply the new form techniques without thinking about it. It took a year, but thanks to Nicole's enthusiasm, knowledge and tutelage, Brendan's pep talks when I threw a tantrum like a frustrated toddler, and my own determination, I am back in the game. Shorter distances before, but I can run again for the joy it gives me.
This week I have been organizing for my mom's upcoming visit, and came across Das Boot in the guest room closet. I smiled, looking at it, and picked it up, remembering my old fantasy of throwing it over South Mountain. Now it represents a period of frustration and depression, but also a symbol of what I can achieve when forced to fight from the back of the pack.
Das Boot, I salute you. Thanks for forcing me to power up , slow down, and race on.
For information about Nicole Armbrust and her amazing running program, visit