My Right Foot, My Left Shoe

Classic runner’s story, maybe the injury is in a different location but it generally goes something like this:

You’re training for the next big race.  It’s still about 3 months away but you’re beginning to increase your mileage and work on your pace. Over the last few weeks you’ve had some of your best runs in a long time.  Everything is aligning perfectly into your training schedule…feeling great is just a bonus.  About 2 weeks ago you notice a twinge, it’s seems ok after a couple of miles and stretching but you take note.  The last long run was FANTASTIC!  The pace was comfortable, you felt strong, that twinge went away by mile 2.  However, something’s different this time after the run.  The twinge begins to ache. You apply the ever faithful cure, RICE.  But by morning, you know it’s not a strained tendon. You can barely walk the pain is so great.  The twinge is now something much more sinister. Confirmed by a doctor…stress fracture…the race-ender.

This is now my story.  A stress fracture in my right foot just above my second toe.  I had some of my best runs in late July and early August.  Including my last long run a week ago, 9 miles in 1:18:21. Not bad for a real shorty of a girl…all 5′ of me.  The run was very comfortable, I felt great, that “twinge” was gone around mile 2 or 3.  But after the run a few hours later, my foot began to ache more and more.  I iced it, elevated it, whatever it took.  By morning, I couldn’t put any weight on it without cringing.  It was swollen and sore.  I knew it wasn’t a tendon anymore but I would have to wait to confirm my worst fear. My appointment to see Dr. Julien, a local foot guru for runners in Atlanta, was set for Tuesday morning.  In my mind I knew what he was going to say.  I prepared myself for the diagnosis.  But I held out hope that I was just paranoid and reading WAY too many running forums on the interwebs.   Tuesday morning’s appointment finally arrived! I sat quietly tweeting on my phone waiting for Dr. Julien…I think I hear him! “Hello, Beth! I’m Dr. Julien.  What seems to be the problem?”  I explained my situation, he felt the area I had described, I cringed and he looked at me and said, “I know you know what I’m about to tell you.  I believe you have a stress fracture but we’re going to X ray it to make sure.”  The X ray further confirmed his suspicions. Then he gave me his Rx: 8 weeks absolutely NO running.  For the next 4 weeks:  Walking boot.  No weight bearing exercises. No swimming without a pull buoy to immobilize my legs.  No walking or stairs more than necessary. No carrying heavy objects or small children. Wear the boot at all times except when driving, sleeping or showering. My heart sank.   My world had just collapsed around me with one click of the X ray machine.  Now what?

Then the questions hit me all at once.  How am I going to run this race in November? What will this do to my fitness level?  How am I going to burn all those calories and stay in shape without running or being able to cross train?  But before I could begin to answer them, Dr. Julien began to tell me of yet another little issue I needed to be aware of…my bone density looked low in my X ray.  SAY WHAT?!  I’m 38 years old.  I am in good shape.  I run. I’m thin. I eat healthy. I get enough sleep.  I take calcium supplements (and have been for 5 years).  How did this happen?!  My Mother has Osteoporosis so I knew I had to be careful.  But I thought if I did all of these things it would stave it off until I was much older or maybe even eliminate the problem all together.  I was in shock. So now I can’t run for 8 weeks and I might have the bones of an old lady!  The next question hit me with the force of mack truck…what if this means I can’t run anymore?  I pondered that question all the way home, occasionally glancing over at the newest passenger in my car…the boot. I wanted to throw it out the window onto 285.  I see shoes on the road all the time and wonder how they get there…maybe this is how.  Someone gets totally frustrated or angry about a bit of news they just received and decide to toss a random shoe out the window.  Some people break plates, others throw shoes out the window while driving…it makes perfect sense to me now.

As I slipped into my newest fashion accessory , I began to feel defeated.  Here I was in the middle of my greatest running streak, in the best shape I’ve been in for a long time, enjoying the fruits of my running labor and now I’m stuck wearing the albatross of shoes…a clunky, hot, ugly, hospital grey ski boot!  It screams, “look at me…look how stupid I was for running on a stress fracture”!  This was my punishment.  Like Jacob Marley carrying the weight of his sins around in the afterlife. The boot symbolized my failure as a runner and left me wondering about the most trivial question of all…what the hell do you wear with this thing!  All that night I stared at the boot.  Maybe I can just run it over with my car.  Drop it off the deck.  Let the dogs tear it apart. It was as accident, officer, I swear!  But no matter how much I tried to be angry at the boot and what it meant for me, I couldn’t make it go away.  It was here to stay and I had to make the best of it.

The next morning after a good night’s sleep and a self-induced kick in the pants, I began my recovery workouts.  Upper body, core, hamstrings, and quads.  I ordered some swim gear for my pool workouts and began plotting out my 4-week regime.  I had a plan.  I just needed to watch my calories, take it easy and strength train.  I also began my calcium overhaul.  I want to strengthen my bones.  I read up on what I should and shouldn’t be eating, changed my supplement (which I found out was worthless) and began redesigning my diet. Everything was falling into place. I felt positive I would run again. The boot wasn’t that bad.  I would have a routine, a diet plan, and begin my road to recovery. However, when it came time to get dressed for the day, I stared at all of my shoes, then my boot, then my outfit and sank into the chair.  What am I supposed to wear with this ugly thing?  It’s about 2 inches of sole and a really dull, cloudy grey.  I am not a sneaker kinda girl, only when working out or running.  So I knew that was out.  I can’t wear flats or I’d walk like I have a stick up my butt.  My heels were all too high.  I had 2 pairs of shoes and a pair of boots that would work.  That was it.  But they wouldn’t go with everything.  Great.  Wait!  I need to go shoe shopping!  I just needed to find shoes with a kitten heel or a thicker sole.  I kept thinking, God, I hope I don’t have to wear ortho shoes!  You know the ones, the really thick rubber soles.  Like the shoes you would see nurses wearing back in the 70s and 80s.  The kiss of death for those of us who are complete shoe addicts.  To me, shoes make the outfit.

After ordering 3 pairs of fun, comfortable shoes, I knew the boot and I could come to some sort of arrangement for the next few weeks.  I had a heart to heart with it, a Come to Jesus of sorts.  I wouldn’t mess with it, if it didn’t mess with me.  My children are thrilled because they plan to decorate it with sparkles and stickers.  A boot makeover.  It’s going to stand out anyway, why not make it fashion forward!  I felt a sense of relief.  I think the boot did too.  It knew it wasn’t going to be the victim of a random window tossing, deck drop, car back over, or dog mauling.  I began to relax into recovery.

Today my 3 new pairs of shoes arrived!  I am so excited to try them all on and ponder the fashion possibilities.  It’s like Christmas!  SHOES!  I’ve never apologized for my addiction. They look great with the boot, or as good as they can look.  I feel a sense of balance beginning to return to my crumbled world.  My workouts are going well, my recovery is moving along, I’m getting used to wearing the boot, walking is a bit easier after some practice and I am at peace with my running and the fact that most likely I will not be running my half marathon in November.  The shoes are a reminder to me that even the ugliest situation can be made beautiful or at least more enjoyable.  These shoes aren’t flashy.  They have personality and lend themselves nicely to most of my wardrobe.  A pair of casual mary janes in a fun blue green with a slight heel.  A pair of kitten heels in a pebble grey for a night out with my man.  A pair of buck-like ankle boots to keep me on trend.  I’m sure there will be a few more pairs bought as I recover and transition from boot to “rigid soled” shoes. Another shoe journey.  And once that begins, my boot will go into the closet with the other shoes.  I think it will be happy in there amongst the wedges, boots, pumps, peep toes, and flats.  I hope I never have to wear it again but it will be there for me if I need it, just like all of my other shoes.

Now I could never think of tossing my passenger out the car window onto 285.  My boot has helped me realize that I need to take better care of myself.  It has allowed me to continue making positives out of negatives.  The boot has reminded me that I am human and sometimes we break.  This boot is walking me towards running again. Its purpose is far less fashion forward and more forward thinking. The shoes we walk in are a reflection of how we feel, who we are and are so much more than just a necessary accessory.  They can change your entire mood, make you feel taller, make you feel stronger, make you feel beautiful.  Shoes such as this boot and its new companions give me hope.  The shoes we walk in today lead us to the paths we run tomorrow.