Now that I’ve rejoined the land of the living for over a whole week, it’s hard to remember ever stumbling around on crutches. I’ve been wearing the boot a lot. I don’t wear it 24/7, but for lengthy bouts on campus or running errands, it has been helpful. Throughout the week there’s been some swelling along with pain near the talus, which I’m sure isn’t unusual after surgery. So staying strapped into the boot during the week alleviates that, and it was starting to feel better this weekend. It’s helpful to ice and elevate (I should follow my own advice and do those things more often), and to get out of the boot for periodically to avoid stiffness.
Here’s a list of the “workouts” I was able to accomplish last week:
Mon: 10 min bike w/ zero resistance, lift + core, pool for drills and walking
Tues: PT session with BFR cuffs, 15 min aqua jog, core
Weds: 20 min bike w/ zero resistance, 15 min aqua jog, core
Thurs: 20 min aqua jog, core
Fri: 30 min bike w/ zero resistance, lift + core
Sat: 30 lap swim + walking and drills in pool
I did a fair amount of gardening this weekend because I think it’s about to start frosting for good, and my weeds were out of control. So I cleaned up beds and dug up the mint that was starting to run across the yard. My tenant’s boyfriend called me a 70-year-old. Okay, well, I’d rather tend to housekeeping priorities that bring joy instead of hiding in bed with a hangover on a Sunday morning, if that’s what you’re implying. Because yeah… I’m definitely too old for that.
Anyway, this first week has been productive without over-doing anything. There is literally no rush, so I’m like hey even if I need to use the boot for the next two weeks, that’s okay. I changed my expectations more than once, but was also surprised a couple times by how easily things were going. For instance, I’m realizing I won’t be ready to attempt yoga for a few more weeks still, but aqua jogging 20 minutes was way more manageable than anticipated, aside from super tired hamstrings.
Jeeeezus, I have written and re-written this post about a zillion times because I can’t think of anything to say. I’m coming up on four weeks post-op, with just over two more weeks to go on crutches, and I suppose my lack of heart-warming content is due to the fact that I have literally nothing going on. I’ve become the human form of my own cat.
Just waiting and napping and reading and waiting some more. No advancements to be made with PT, no new doctor’s appointments. It’s like the third lap of the mile. Everything got off to a rolling, panicky start and now we’re stuck in the longest, most agonizing lap. Startin’ to feel that burn…
I enrolled in classes at the university again, because ya know, there’s nothing more fun than being 10 years older than the freshmen. I’m cobbling together an Interior Design minor and trying to reconcile that with a yet-to-be-declared Kinesiology major, which mostly still exists in its previous form as a minor from my undergrad days. Which I got somewhere else. If you need an example of someone who has no fucking clue, you found her. My future looks like a Pinterest board.
Basically, what’s gonna happen is I’ll end up going all the way through a PhD here in Kinesiology and then decide to go into real estate.
While selling homebrewed kombucha at the farmer’s market because I haven’t made any money in 25 years.
Anyway it’s such a beautiful fall afternoon that I think I have to to throw my book in a tote bag with some snacks and drinks, sling the whole thing over my shoulder, and crutch out to the porch for a while.
It’s already been two weeks since surgery. Where does the time go? Yesterday I had my post-op review and got the stitches taken out. Here are the questions I took with me, and the answers I received.
How much longer am I restricted to non-weight bearing?
I have been sentenced to the full 6 weeks. Which means I have one more month to endure crutching, hopping, crawling, and pit chafing. I will probably rent a scooter or a peg leg before classes start next week. How I plan on actually getting to campus is still TBD.
Why do I require 6 weeks instead of 2, or 4?
The way it was described to me was to think of a jelly donut. The fibrocartilage needs time to lay down and become strong, or the first steps I take will squish all the jelly out of the donut. Ya feel? It’s disappointing, especially because there isn’t any pain and it seems perfectly possible to walk. But for the sake of healing properly, I’ll take the advice.
When can I start running again?
In 6 months.
Hoooooo, that’s not what I was expecting to hear. I was hoping like 12 weeks. By the time I can run again, a full year will have passed since I last considered myself “healthy” enough to run. A full year since I knew I had to make a change and get help.
My immediate thoughts: at least I won’t be tempted to run over the winter on slick or frozen surfaces or over snowy terrain, and I won’t risk damaging a post-op ankle in an accident. It’ll give me time to really make sure I am healed and strong, and I can spend that time learning to love any form of cross-training I can get my hands on, like it or not.
Can I use the pool?
So… I was told not for four more weeks. But the reasoning was only that getting into and out of the pool may pose difficulties, and “how are you supposed to crutch across a wet pool deck?” Touché. But I’m already eyeing those disability chairs at the rec center, ya know, that dunk you into the pool and lift you out again when you’re done. Methinks I can take advantage of that opportunity, yes? I have to wait for my incisions to be 100% healed, but I’ll probably go for it earlier than four weeks unless I am strongly convinced not to. I am stubborn. Should I swim or no?
What kinds of PT and exercise can I do right now?
Pretty much what I’ve been doing. Core, upper body weight lifting. Nothing that requires applying weight to the operative area. I visited my PT this morning, and he gave me a set of band exercises to try. Gotta keep my intrinsic foot and calf muscles awake. There’s not much else I can tackle for now.
Continue to keep the foot elevated if I am sitting for long periods of time, and ice if swelling occurs. I can switch from bathing with one leg sticking out to sitting on the floor of the shower in three days.
Okay. I can do it. I’ve been on crutches longer than this before. And then what’s another six months. This will finally give me the downtime I’ve always wanted to try some spin classes. I say that with only mild sarcasm. Who wants to run outside in December anyway?
My attention is pulled from staring out the window. I suddenly can’t remember what we were just talking about.
“After all you’ve had to go through, will you even want to?” my dad asks.
For someone like me, this is a question with only one answer. But many runners get asked this all the time — and in fact, it’s not the first time I’ve had this question (suggestion?) posed to me while dealing with a major injury. It’s akin to the fabled non-runner doctor trope who suggests that you might as well stop running forever because your knee is hurting a little bit ergo running is bad for you. I admit to not being entirely appreciative of the fact that, for much of our population — including our parents, partners, friends, all of whom merely put up with us — running for pleasure is so absurd that most would happily take the get-out-of-jail-free card to never have to do it again. I wouldn’t run unless a bear was chasing me! (a terrible time to opt for running, IMO.)
Asking a die-hard runner if she ever intends to run again is like asking a mom if she’s still interested in momming when her kids come home from summer camp. I can’t imagine life without running. And while I intend to get back out there one day, I am fully aware that it may never be the same again. Training for competition and logging “high” volume mileage might be a thing of the past. And, sure, if I quit the sport today, I’d be reasonably satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. But running is my lifelong pursuit, as personal and purposeful as running a business, or writing a book, or traveling the world. Whether I can run 5 miles a week or 50 does not matter.
But I didn’t have surgery just to come out the other side assuming that I might not have a chance. To say it feels like a new beginning might be a stretch, but the future looks brighter on this side. Many runners have come back from far more invasive and serious procedures to resume their practice stronger and smarter than before. I have to believe that I have a place within that narrative.
It’s the home stretch, and I’m so excited. I am ready to get this over with, make it to the other side, and prepare for the long, slow return to running (maybe by like… 2019?). If you are faced with an unfathomably long break from running, you may be wondering what kinds of new hobbies could possibly be out there to compete for second fiddle. I know there is no way to completely fill the void, but in the last few weeks I have discovered a couple substitutes that work for me.
Gardening. I’ve been trying to makeover a previously neglected and overgrown yard since the early spring. I spent weeks raking, chopping down tree shoots, and digging up grass in order to make way for flower and vegetable beds. Some tasks are a decent workout, even if tedious, but runners who know the benefits of getting the small things done will find a lot of satisfaction in the end result.
Biking. Though I had to part ways with it eventually due to pain, it’s still the next most enjoyable form of exercise to me. Find routes that are challenging, and your runner brain will love the endorphins. It’s also a great way to revisit running routes that you are sorely missing, and feel some wind in your face. Bike while running errands or commuting to work to sneak in extra cardio throughout the day.
House therapy. Ok, I’m not, like, some HGTV maniac. But a year ago I refinished my dining room table and chairs, and after that I was kinda hooked on home improvement. This spring, I have also done things like paint my entire house, install new light fixtures, and replace cabinet hardware. Stuff like this can be tough to fit in when you’re spending your free time running and recovering from running. Let those creative juices flow and challenge yourself to learn a new trade.
Hitting the gym. I’m more of an out-the-door runner, and in case you missed my last post, I hate the gym. But being injured makes a strong case for going. I used the elliptical until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and currently I’ve been acquainting myself with the pool. I also started lifting weights again. There are group classes to take advantage of, like pilates, which is a fun way to sneak in your PT work without even noticing. Yoga and barre offer core and muscle conditioning that can aid the return to (or continuation of) running. Find alternatives that work for you. A sweat is a sweat.
Reading. By far my healthiest sedentary habit. I’ve been tackling a list of “feminist” reads that I made up myself — it’s almost 100% stuff written by women of color, LGBT women, or women suffering from mental illnesses — sometimes these categories overlap. We’ve all read the “traditional” bullshit they feed you in high school and college. Patriarchal garbage IMO. I’ve enjoyed all of these books so much more. Don’t forget to exercise your mind.
I have a lot of gratitude going into surgery. It’s a relief, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to consider it as an option. It’s also given me a new perspective on time away from running, and with that the realization that life goes on, that the absence of running is tough, but not impossible, to endure. This is a time to heal, to reflect, to set new goals, to remember not to take running for granted when I get the opportunity to return. The next few weeks are somewhat unchartered territory, and a few of my newfound hobbies will be impossible to stick with while I’m recuperating. Gonna have to learn some couch hobbies. That’s why I haven’t started the new season of Orange is the New Black yet — you gotta give yourself an automatic win sometimes. But there will be PT appointments, and small sprinklings of normalcy that return slowly as I make improvements. I’m optimistic, and one day all of this will be a thing of the past.
Here I am at 6 in the morning trying to explain that I’m not a morning person. I’m not. This is a fluke. I’m actually an insomniac and I have been awake since about 2:30 am. Normally, shorter bouts of sleeplessness eventually lead to falling back to sleep and rendering myself incapable of being awake before 8 or 9 am. Now, if you have any scary Type A runners in your life (and if you can’t name one, it’s probably you) then you know that sleeping past 5 am is seen as a sign of weakness. Like do you even try to be a runner??
I’m also a huge procrastinator. Why get up at 5 when I can get up later? Why go to the gym to ride the elliptical for 30 monotonous minutes of staring at the clock when I can go laatterrrrr.
Let me first make a confession… I actually hate the gym. Going to the gym feels like a chore, mechanical and sterile. Don’t get me wrong, I always feel the way you’re supposed to after the gym, all high on endorphins and shit. But the gym just isn’t fun. You know it. Admit it. The gym sucks. I like to be outside, where the scenery changes and the air is fresh and I don’t count the minutes. Plus, there’s the added thrill of discovering a new route, or running super fast down a hill, or finding some sprinklers, maybe losing a contact lens or being chased by a dog! Running is less of a chore and more of a compulsion, an opportunity. I can roll out of bed in the morning or collapse in a heap on the floor after work and still mumble, “ok, gimme five minutes and I’ll put my shoes on.”
Not so much with going to the gym. Like, if I’m even the tiniest bit too hungry, I’m like ya know, I probably shouldn’t risk it. It’s called flexibility, right?
I follow a lot of runners on the social media. Pro runners, elite runners, friend runners. My favorites are delightfully transparent about the times when they’re just not feeling it. Usually, it’s because they’re pregnant, but still. The takeaway is that often our bodies need and deserve breaks that we aren’t allowing them unless pregnancy or a giant injury gets in the way, and maybe the best way to deal with it is to embrace the option to be “flexible” or downright lazy. If I bargained for cross-training after work only to wind up not feeling like it when I get home, it’s nice to be able to throw away my neurotic tendencies and just say no. Trust me, I’d prefer to get up and go before work, I’d get a lot more done that way, but if you didn’t see this whole story arc coming from a mile away, please refer back to the part where I mentioned a fondness for sleep and procrastination.
Call it what you want — flexibility, procrastination, laziness — but not being held to my own batshit standards of running x miles per week no matter what is kind of a relief. I mean, I gave up on that months ago and I’m still alive. For now, I neurotically wrote a pool plan that I will sort of follow up until surgery that looks something like this:
Day 1: 30 minute aqua jog + PT
Day 2: swim 20 lengths, 10 min aqua jog, swim 20 lengths + lift
Day 3: 30 minute aqua jog + PT
Day 4: swim 30 lengths + PT
Day 5: swim 20 lengths, 20 min aqua jog, pool intervals, 10 min aqua jog + lift
Days 6-7: PT, yoga, or rest
It’s the procrastinator’s method. You can shuffle it, swap out, save one for tomorrow, whatever. Slice it how you want. I also haven’t been to yoga once. And the BEST part is, I can accomplish all my PT work without even being at the gym. I have a spot carved out in my garage where I can do my core and glute work. No fighting college kids for space or equipment, it’s free, the music is better, and the cat likes to join in.
If reading about not following a plan is making your eye twitch, you might find some relief in these resources. Pro trail runner Megan Roche recently suffered a talus injury as well, although not the same as mine, and she did a feature for Trail Runner magazine about her comeback cross-training routine. Runner’s World also has a six week cross-training plan that I meticulously copy/pasted, and then saved for later (like a true procrastinator).
Enjoy your downtime. Rest. Use all this free time to make new hobbies. Stick to the things that serve you. And never forget that Des Linden won the Boston Marathon after taking several months off. Running will always be there when you’re ready to come back, when “later” eventually becomes “now.”