I’m surrounded by athletes. They’re everywhere I turn. Susan’s massage clients, my friends from the fitness center (which is also where I work), the other volunteers on the committees I’ve joined. They’re triathletes really—runners, swimmers, cyclists. But we’re old, or aging at least, and most of us have dropped a sport or two. I’m a good example, I don’t swim anymore. And by ‘anymore’ I mean for thirteen years.
Susan and I were shopping at CVS with our toddler, Sophie. Just eighteen months old, she was in her rattle phase. Every bottle on the vitamin shelf a potential toy. She tried them all, looking for the perfect shake—maximum noise. She had already elicited a comment from the store manager and admonishments from other shoppers. She was driving us nuts. To get her to stop, I suggested a shoulder ride. I swung her up over my head and began to slide her down onto my shoulders, a leg on each side of my head. Sophie had other ideas. She squirmed out of position, and I pulled something in my neck. I was done with swimming… for the rest of my life.
Polling my friends, the only thing unusual about my story is that it happened in my early forties. These career-ending injuries typically happen later in life—ten or fifteen years later. And they happen slowly over time. Spent knees, shoulders and backs. We modify our workouts, trying to minimize discomfort, and one day we awake to the realization “Hey, I’m no longer a swimmer!” Or a runner, or even a cyclist.
Right now, I’m not a runner either. I’m taking my longest break in God-knows-how-long. I’ve finally picked up plantar fasciitis, a common overuse injury in the over-forty crowd. And over the past couple of months, I’ve learned that just about everyone I know—all those athletes—has had it at one point.
This is a good time for a break. I just finished a big year. A June marathon, an October 50K, and the 3rd slowest 15K of the morning out at Strawberry Hill’s Twisted Turkey. Actually, my race didn’t feel horribly slow, but I was definitely jogging. And I came in third-to-last (three years ago, I age-grouped). While I enjoyed my race in a relaxed brisk-morning-on-the-trail sort of way, it’s clear that I’m ready for a running reboot. I’ve been talking about building speed since July, but every weekend, I go out and trot 15 to 30 miles—barely faster than a walk. It’s just a bad habit.
Well, now I’m breaking that habit… because my foot hurts.
My plantar fasciitis (PF for the rest of this story) started in July, although at the time, I thought it was a bruised heel. Too much time in my six-year-old Keen sandals—the soles compressed to resemble cement. Too much time walking around town barefoot—on actual cement. Too much heel-striking: when my mileage creeps into the teens, my form becoming sloppy. Simply a bruise. Spending more time in better shoes fixed me right up. The pain went away until October.
What is PF?
Plantar—pertaining to the sole of the foot
Fascia—a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ
Susan and I have the same argument every time I cook chicken breasts. I’m good about trimming off the fat (even though I love all forms of cooked fat—bacon and pork chops being my favorite, but I’m pretty happy with grilled chicken fat as well). But there’s also that thin membrane that coats the whole breast. It’s sort of a translucent, white film beneath the skin. I never cut that off, and Susan says it ruins the texture of the chicken. That’s the fascia. That’s what is swollen in my foot.
Surrounded by athletes: when I mention my PF, people glance away. They let out a little gasp and shake their heads. You’d think I told them I have inoperable cancer. Every one of them swears “it’s impossible to cure.” But they they’ve all had it, and they don’t have it now. Somehow, it goes away.
My October 50K did me in. I felt good after the run. But a week later I ran six miles, and my bruised heel returned. The next weekend I ran ten, and I finished in an ugly limp. I called up Tom. He’s a local orthopedic surgeon, and he’s a pretty strong athlete. He’s still a triathlete, a real one—he just ran an Ironman a couple of months ago. He’s had PF, too. He poked once, twice at my heel and gave me the news. He showed me a stretch and told me to ice and rest.
But I still had the Twisted Turkey to finish my annual racing calendar. I always run this race. I already paid for it. Tom said it wouldn’t do much harm, just slow down my recovery. So after a month of not running, I jogged a 15K, and I haven’t wanted to go running since.
I guess I’m still a cyclist. But I don’t ride much. And now the weather’s getting cold… (sigh). I ride to work every day, but that doesn’t really count. The round trip is a mile.
What I’ve been doing for the past couple of months is spinning. I’m an indoor cycle instructor—I get paid while I workout, so in my mind that makes me a professional athlete. I play an hour of music and I choreograph a challenging ride for a room full of people. Lots of intervals, lots of speedwork, lots of climbing, and slow grinding flats. Each week, I teach my class, and I pick up a couple of extra hours on a spin bike—either subbing for another instructor or simply hopping onto a bike with a set of headphones.
Cardiovascularly, spinning’s a good approximation of a running workout. And because I’ve been running for forty years, I’m not concerned about losing my fitness. My muscles will remember what to do when I return to running. Plus, I can’t get any slower.
I’ve been dreading this injury for years. Worried about the overuse injury that knocks me off running for two or three months. But since it happened just before winter, and because I’ve met all of my annual running goals, I don’t seem to care at all. This just gives me permission to be coddled, to keep my winter workouts indoors. I’m not going to worry about the approaching sub-zero temperatures and the short hours of daylight, those winter challenges that leave me wondering when I’m going to run.
Because I’m not going to run. I’m going to put my music library on shuffle and veg-out for ninety-minute increments in the spin room at my work.